Gun Culture

Gun-Rights Activists End Campaign to Recall Tom Sullivan

Tom Sullivan, who lost his son in the Aurora theater shooting, speaking at a Moms Demand Action phone bank event.
Tom Sullivan, who lost his son in the Aurora theater shooting, speaking at a Moms Demand Action phone bank event. Courtesy of CMDA
Send your thoughts and prayers to Colorado's most extreme gun-rights group: Its controversial efforts to recall State Representative Tom Sullivan, a first-year Democratic lawmaker who ran for office after his son was killed in the Aurora theater shooting, are officially over.

Kristi Burton Brown, vice chairwoman of the Colorado Republican Party and leader of the recall campaign, announced in a Facebook post today, June 11, that the campaign is ending its efforts to oust Sullivan this year.

"While we are pulling the recall today to focus on other essential efforts, Sullivan does not get a free pass," Brown wrote. "2020 is the year to oust him, with the support of voters who now know how extreme he is."

The Sullivan recall was a top priority for Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and its founder, Dudley Brown, a gun-rights firebrand whom even the National Rifle Association has called too extreme. Brown and RMGO assisted in Colorado Republicans' successful efforts to recall Democratic state lawmakers over gun-control legislation in 2013.

Gun-rights activists have been similarly incensed by the passage of House Bill 1177, known as the red-flag bill, earlier this year. The measure, which is now law following Governor Jared Polis's signature in April, allows law enforcement to seize guns from people found by a court to be a "significant risk to self or others." Sullivan, whose son Alex was one of the twelve people killed in the Aurora theater shooting in July 2012, was a primary sponsor of the legislation, which polling has showed enjoys overwhelming bipartisan support.

"The Rocky Mountain Gun Owners and the Colorado GOP again underestimated the support we have from the people in my district," Sullivan said in a statement. "I'm excited to continue talking to voters and making sure their voices are heard in the State House. I'll always work hard to earn their votes and make sure that fringe groups can't undermine our democracy."

Brown has promised recalls against up to a dozen Democratic lawmakers over the red-flag bill, but he and other Republican activists have found such campaigns to be tougher sledding this time around. Determined to prevent a repeat of 2013 and buoyed by a Trump-era surplus of organizing and fundraising energy in the Democratic Party, liberal groups in Colorado and beyond moved quickly to mobilize on behalf of Sullivan and other Democrats potentially under a recall threat.

Our Colorado Way of Life, a committee formed to oppose recalls, had raised $106,295 through the end of May, according to campaign finance records, and Sullivan and many of his Democratic colleagues launched a robust "decline to sign" campaign.

"Trying to recall Tom Sullivan proves that RMGO and the Colorado GOP are completely out-of-touch with Colorado voters," reads a statement issued by Our Colorado Way of Life. "Their recall effort was an absolute non-starter in the district and their extremist messaging did more to hurt their efforts than help it."

Recall campaigners faced a July 12 deadline to submit 10,035 valid signatures from House District 37 voters to the Colorado Secretary of State's Office. RMGO reportedly spent at least $30,000 on paid signature-gatherers in support of the effort, but Brown recently told the Denver Post that he was "not confident" that the campaign could meet the deadline. "It's been tough work," he said.

Sullivan was elected in House District 37, which encompasses parts of southern Aurora and Centennial, in 2018, defeating former Assistant House Minority Leader Cole Wist by an unexpectedly wide margin in what had previously been a solidly Republican seat. Last month, Wist, who had led an unsuccessful bipartisan effort to pass an earlier version of the red-flag bill in 2018,  slammed the recall efforts in an op-ed for the Colorado Sun.

"When we allow fear and manipulation to drive our political process, we appeal to and reward the worst among us," Wist wrote. "I know we can do better."

Update, 6/11: We've added statements from Tom Sullivan and Our Colorado Way of Life.
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Chase Woodruff is a staff writer at Westword interested in climate change, the environment and money in politics.
Contact: Chase Woodruff