Editor's note: On September 6, organizers of the recall effort aimed at Governor Jared Polis acknowledged that they didn't collect enough signatures to trigger a vote. Continue for our previous coverage.
Recall mania is a thing in Colorado, with Governor Jared Polis and Senate President Leroy Garcia the most prominent targets among a slew of progressive officials whom right-wing activists would love to dispatch...or at least irritate. And Colorado Democratic Party chair Morgan Carroll has clearly had enough.
"This makes a joke out of our entire Democratic process," she says.
Representative Tom Sullivan agrees. The father of Alex Sullivan, who was killed in the July 2012 Aurora theater shooting, Sullivan became a recall-effort piñata in part because of his advocacy on behalf of red-flag legislation, which created a mechanism for taking firearms from individuals deemed a danger to themselves and others. The effort to oust Sullivan was dropped in June; afterward, he told Westword that he hopes to help change the state's recall rules to prevent them from being misused, as he feels they were in his case. "They could say, 'We don't like you because you wear green shoes' and that would be good enough," he said. "That's all they have to do right now."
Carroll is definitely on board with Sullivan's thinking. Recall zealots "have simply decided that the process gives them a way to overthrow elections that just happened in 2018, and they're counting on manipulating low voter turnout to change outcomes," she says. "But at the end of the day, this isn't about them. Voters deserve to have their 2018 votes count and have their elected officials focused on solving problems for their districts instead of fighting recalls."
According to Ballotpedia, there have been thirteen recall attempts in Colorado in 2019 to date. Some have pertained to local governments and agencies, including recalls aimed at mayors in Brighton and Estes Park, plus efforts focusing on members of the Cripple Creek-Victor School District RE-1 school board and Fort Morgan City Council member Dan Marler. But the majority name Democrats elected to the state House or state Senate (in addition to Polis, of course). Those who fit in the former category are reps Bri Buentello and Meg Froelich, while the senators are Garcia, Pete Lee, Brittany Pettersen and Jeff Bridges.
Thus far, the Colorado Secretary of State's Office has approved seven recall petitions for circulation, with entries for Polis, Garcia, Lee and Pettersen active. The other three include an earlier Pettersen version, the withdrawn Sullivan salvo, and a petition against Representative Rochelle Galindo, which became null and void in May after she resigned amid sexual-misconduct allegations.
The petition against Polis is a particular long shot because of the number of verified signatures required by the September 6 deadline: 631,266. With just a week to go, there are signs that the effort's organizers are on the cusp of surrendering.For example, 9News recently revealed that an anti-Polis group had donated more than $29,000 of the $108,000 or so collected to fund the recall to "Colorado for Trump," explaining in its campaign filing, "Board approved expenditure for pivoting purposes." In Carroll's view, "That's illegal."
Far fewer signatures are needed to put a recall on the ballot for the other trio: 11,304 for Lee, 13,506 for Garcia and 18,376 for Pettersen. Moreover, Garcia and Buentello are from Pueblo, where Representative Angela Giron was recalled in September 2013, along with John Morse, a senator for the same Colorado Springs-area district that Lee serves now. The pair were bounced mostly for their advocacy of tougher gun laws passed after the Aurora attack that took the lives of Alex Sullivan and eleven others.
Red-flag legislation — which President Donald Trump talked up in August after massacres in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, though he seems to have cooled on the concept since then — is cited as a reason for most of the approved petitions, along with support for bills regarding the national popular vote, regulation of the oil and gas industry, and comprehensive sex education. But as Carroll points out, Garcia "didn't vote for the red-flag bill," forcing his opponents to use his "yes" vote for the aforementioned fossil fuels measure as its chief rationale for why he should be disappeared.
Here's how Carroll explains the recall tactics against Garcia, in particular: "There's a low threshold of signatures needed to get it on the ballot, and the people who are motivated to recall somebody can show up in greater numbers than the people who don't want a recall. It's the enthusiasm factor. So that voter-turnout disparity, that asymmetry, is tried and true, and it's worked before."
According to Carroll, "This isn't about anybody's vote on something. It's simply, 'We want power. We didn't like the results in 2018, and we want to change them.'"
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Even if their approach doesn't work, recallers still feel that they achieved something, Carroll admits. "It costs people money and time and puts them into a 24/7 campaign mode," she says. "Instead of getting bills ready to run and doing what they were elected to do, which is to represent their district, they have to put a lot of their energy into fighting the recall — and the people who lose are the voters of Colorado. There needs to be some window where the campaigns end and elected officials govern. But right now, the ratio of campaigning versus governing is really out of whack."
While Carroll doesn't favor doing away with recalls entirely, she says that "they need to be rare and reserved for misconduct in office, and not just be a brand-new political tool that anybody can use anytime for any seat. Because of the way it's written right now, it's been turned into a game, a political football that they can use whenever they want, and not just when someone really violates the public trust after they get into office." She's uncertain what the final shape of any recall reform legislation will be, but notes, "There are going to be a lot of conversations about how we can protect the right to recall but make sure the process isn't abused."
In the meantime, Carroll sees the current use of recalls as a prime example of misplaced priorities. "This is a radical overreach by Republicans," she says. "Instead of focusing on regrouping and figuring out how to improve their candidates, improve their policies and learning how to campaign better, they've simply decided to take advantage of the recall process."
Click to read Colorado's recall election rules.