Gun Culture

Morse recall: The party-line politics of a gun-rights battle

Update to our update, July 18, 4:10 pm: In response to Judge Robert Hyatt's ruling, below, Governor John Hickenlooper has signed an executive order designating September, 10, 2013, as the date for the recall elections of state senators John Morse and Angela Giron. "We appreciate that the court acknowledged we did the right thing in waiting until after its ruling to set the date," Hickenlooper stated in a release announcing the order.

Read our earlier posts on the recall wrangle below.

Update, July 18, 2:33 pm: Denver Chief District Judge Robert Hyatt has ruled that the recall elections of state senators John Morse and Angela Giron can proceed. Despite challenges from the incumbents to the actual language of the recall petitions, Hyatt has found that the petitions (based on a template provided by the Secretary of State's office) are sufficient. While the decision could be appealed, Hyatt declared that the elections must be scheduled by mid-September.

Our original post follows below.

Original post, July 18, 10:04 am: Denver District Judge Robert Hyatt is expected to rule later today on whether an election date can be set in the recall campaign against state senators John Morse and Angela Giron. But whatever Hyatt decides, the complicated, lawyerly agendas on display in his crowded courtroom yesterday are proof that the political maneuvering and obsfuscation in this deeply partisan struggle over guns and legislative seats is just beginning to get really messy.

You not only need a scorecard, you need a squeegee to figure out what's going on here.

At its most basic level, the recall effort is about Morse and Giron facing the wrath of their constituents -- okay, a few thousand of their constituents in Colorado Springs and Pueblo, respectively, who happen to be staunch defenders of the Second Amendment -- for their support of the high-capacity magazine ban and other bits of Democrat-driven gun legislation this year. But this thing has more layers than a white-velvet-with-cannoli-cream wedding special on Cake Boss.

Much of the legal muscle on display yesterday came from the office of Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who would like to be governor in the not-too-distant future. Gessler's office has certified the recall petitions as legit, has no problem defending that decision against all comers, and has pushed for an election date to be set, lest the people's right to redress be compromised. Attorney Mark Grueskin, the go-to guy for groups fighting citizen initiatives, was on hand, too, to argue (on behalf of Morse and Giron supporters) that the petitions are fatally flawed because they don't contain specific language about "demand for an election of a successor" to the incumbent.

Also on hand was legal talent from the office of Governor John Hickenlooper, who's been oh-so-reluctant to set a date for a recall election of two fellow Democrats (including Senate president Morse) when there's so much muddle in the court about whether there will be an election at all. And an intervening attorney for El Paso County Clerk and Recorder (and former Republican county chairman) Wayne Williams, who wants to schedule Morse's recall in late August and is concerned that delaying the election will violate the constitutional right of the people to boot out unwholesome elements -- in contrast to Pueblo County Clerk and Recorder Gilbert Ortiz Jr., a Democrat, who testified that the Giron recall would cost his office at least $186,000 and would be a lot cheaper to fold into the general election in November, if it really must happen at all.

Absent in all this party-line posturing over the recall process was any serious discussion of the merits, if any, of the grievances that led to the Morse recall effort in the first place. (To some extent, Giron can be considered a collateral target; she was one of several legislators that gun-rights forces talked about recalling, but in her case a grass-roots group actually did the legwork and got the signatures.) The "Got Remorse" website lists several beefs against the Senate president, but his principal sin seems to be introducing Senate Bill 196, the "Assault Weapon Responsibility Act," which proposed to hold the manufacturer, seller and/or prior owner of said weapons liable for crimes committed with the weapon, on the theory that "the right to manufacture, sell, or own assault weapons must carry with it some of the responsibility for damage, injury, and death that results from the discharge of that weapon."

Morse killed SB 196 shortly after he introduced it. That prompted state senator Greg Brophy, another gubernatorial aspirant, to denounce the whole thing as a cynical ploy, intended to demonstrate that Democrats were willing to compromise and trying to be "moderate" in their approach to gun legislation.

Morse was also one of the sponsors of the high-capacity magazine ban -- a measure that, as Gun Guys author Dan Baum has pointed out, will do little to prevent mass shootings. Yet even that weak swing at the Second Amendment was rendered more toothless by the recent compromise reached in a lawsuit filed by 55 sheriffs and others challenging the ban, watering down the impact of the bill.

So what, exactly, did Morse do that has the opposition so steamed? He killed his own "radical" proposal and passed some feel-good legislation that accomplishes almost nothing. That should make for an interesting recall campaign. If a Colorado legislator can be dumped for doing almost nothing, then nobody's seat is safe. Read more from Alan Prendergast: "Should Colorado's Make My Day law be expanded?"

KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Alan Prendergast has been writing for Westword for over thirty years. He teaches journalism at Colorado College; his stories about the justice system, historic crimes, high-security prisons and death by misadventure have won numerous awards and appeared in a wide range of magazines and anthologies.
Contact: Alan Prendergast

Latest Stories