DENVER—In the end, Democrats needed state Sen. Evie Hudak to resign to save more than just their control of the state Senate.
Analysts say Colorado Democrats pulled the plug on Hudak’s political career in order to avoid the collateral damage to the state legislature and Democratic candidates, including Gov. John Hickenlooper, from the threat of a recall fight dragging into January and beyond.
“This is like a tourniquet. You’ve managed to stop the bleeding for the moment because otherwise, this was going to be an issue they [Democrats] would be dealing with during the session,” said Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli.
“They would have been debating gun control. They don’t even want to talk about it,” Ciruli added.
Hudak turned in her resignation effective immediately Wednesday in the face of a recall effort spurred in part by her March votes in favor of gun-control bills. A Democratic vacancy committee will now choose her successor, thus ensuring the party retains its 18-17 Senate majority.
The timing came as something of a surprise because the recall wasn’t a sure thing. The recall committee, Recall Hudak Too, had six more days to turn in petitions before the Dec. 3 deadline, and organizers had admitted that they were struggling to meet their signature goal.
The official Democratic Party line is that Hudak sacrificed herself in order to spare her Jefferson County district the trouble and expense of a special election.
“I think what happened here is Sen. Hudak came to the realization that she didn’t want to put her constituents, the people of Arvada and Westminster, through a very divisive and costly recall,” said Colorado Democratic Party chair Rick Palacio in a video interview with the Denver Post.
In her resignation letter, Hudak said she wanted to save Jefferson County taxpayers an estimated $200,000 in special-election costs, prompting KOA-AM talk-show host Mike Rosen to note that Hudak also supported Amendment 66, the $1 billion tax increase defeated by voters on the Nov. 5 ballot.
“Yes, what a wonderful sacrifice she’s making. Of course, these same Jefferson County taxpayers, if Democrats continue to control the legislature, will wind up paying much more in higher taxes,” said Rosen.
A more likely scenario is that Democrats realized the Hudak recall would keep the gun-control issue and its companion, the state legislature’s liberal overreach, in the news as the party enters the 2014 election season.
“They assessed the risk and they were unwilling to take it,” said Ciruli. “Number one, they thought they could potentially lose the seat . . . She was not a strong candidate, it was a difficult district, and very importantly, they would have been battling this next January and February. Hence, they would have gone into the year defending issues they don’t even want to talk about at this point.”
Democrats, already wrestling with the fallout from the glitch-filled launch of the Affordable Care Act, didn’t need the recallers reminding voters about Hudak’s gaffes, such as telling a rape victim during a hearing that she probably wouldn’t have been able to defend herself with a gun.
“It’s not just the gun issue,” said Compass Colorado executive director Kelly Maher on KOA-AM. “It was a host of things: Evie never saw a tax increase that she didn’t like. She was offensive and condescending to people as they were testifying.”
The prospect of a recall also coincided with polls showing falling approval ratings for the Democrat Hickenlooper as he gears up for a tough reelection race.
“The governor, he’s at risk–his numbers are not good, and he’s worried to some extent that he’s being hurt by the legislature,” said Ciruli. “So I don’t think she [Hudak] was given much choice. She was encouraged.”
Recall Hudak Too posted a victory message Wednesday on its Facebook page: “Colorado Hat Trick,” referring to Hudak’s resignation as well as the earlier recall defeats of Democratic state Sens. John Morse and Angela Giron.
Democrats point out that they didn’t lose Hudak’s seat. Still, not losing isn’t exactly the same as winning.
“There’s only one way to describe losing three senators, and that’s that the issues you legislated on last year are still causing you tremendous backlash,” said Ciruli. “It’s hard to put a positive spin on that.”