After a muggy late-summer day in the Pueblo Valley pounding the streets and knocking on doors, Angela Giron was slow to arrive at the crowded party in her honor at the stately Pueblo Union Depot. The influential state senator who was political royalty in the state’s chile city arrived wearing red.
It was the night she was removed from office in a recall election.
At 10:45 p.m. she emerged to tell her supporters, Democrats who had rarely been beaten in Pueblo, “This will make us stronger.”
To the north in Colorado Springs, storm clouds were rolling in, as state Senate President John Morse was recalled, as well. It was Sept. 10, 2013. I drove home to Denver from Pueblo in a pounding rain. The storm rolled on for hours and washed away more than 1,800 homes in 14 counties, an epic flood amid a sea change of politics.
At her dining room table a few years later, Giron told me she knew there was discontent over the gun laws, but she didn’t expect the tide to rise so high.
Three years later, Pueblo County voted for Donald Trump, the first Republican to win there since 1972, when voters in 49 states rejected the ultra-liberal values of George McGovern and re-elected Richard Nixon.
Partisan slants and discontent bear watching perhaps more closely in a state heavily populated with unaffiliated voters, perceptibly more moderate than liberal or conservative.
Momentum might turn on a powderkeg issue, but nothing has caught fire this year, which is not to say dissidents didn't get a benefit from the organizing and attention, no matter the pork baloney served up by the left.
The petitioners to remove top Democrats from office six years ago had clear advantages that a half-dozen failed revolutions did not enjoy this year.
Back then, they were organized and they hard a clear mission. They were riled up over the new gun laws, including a ban on high-capacity magazines, like those employed a year earlier by the Aurora theater shooter and in mass assaults nationwide since then.
They celebrated like it was New Year’s Eve after wins by two Republican legislative newcomers, former Colorado Springs councilman Bernie Herpin and former Pueblo Deputy Police Chief George Rivera. The pair won on the force of the recall movement, because neither survived when they ran for a full term in 2014. Rivera lost the seat to Democrat Leroy Garcia.
My Colorado Politics co-founding cohort Peter Marcus aptly described the recall movement in 2013 for the Colorado Statesman, when he called it “revolutionary.”
“The message is simple,” Pete wrote back then. “No one is safe.”
Garcia is now the state Senate president and the target of a recall. His opponents have until Oct. 18 to turn in 13,506 signatures to get it on the ballot. Efforts to recall state Sens. Pete Lee of Colorado Springs and Brittany Pettersen of Lakewood sizzled and fizzled, just like the one against first-term state Sen. Tom Sullivan of Centennial.
Even Cole Wist, the moderate Republican who lost to Sullivan last year, said it was a bad idea to recall the Democrat so soon. Wist last year was ostracized by the more conservative members of his party, including the House leadership where he served as assistant minority leader, over his failed stand on a red-flag gun law, after a disturbed man in his district ambushed and killed a young deputy and left four other officers and two civilians wounded in 2017.
Besides time and money, the fatal obstacles for recallers were message and image. This year, even Republicans are conflicted about red-flag gun laws and background checks.
They were easily cast as partisan sore losers, after the utter drubbing at the ballot Republicans took last November, coupled with the potential for more pain with an unpopular President Trump on next year’s ballot.
Perceptions speak louder than grievances.
And they have grievances to air, including some who weren’t paying attention when Polis was a candidate last year, said Karen Kataline, the conservative writer and talk show host who was a spokeswoman for the Polis recall effort, which fell way short of the 631,266 signatures needed to get the Polis ouster on the ballot.
But Colorado's most strident conservatives are now woke on the oil-and-gas regulators, giving up Colorado’s votes in the Electoral College to the winner of the national popular vote and possibly undercutting the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights by putting Proposition CC before voters this November, Kataline said.
“A lot of these things were so beyond the pale that they were shocked,” she said of those who signed petitions. “They didn’t have to be persuaded to sign the petitions. They were clamoring to sign the petitions.”
Polis and the Democrats have pushed hard to the left with their agenda, and if elections have consequences, then we’re living in consequential times.
At the national level, Donald Trump owns this economy, and when it inevitably slows down, we’ll see how he fares. In Colorado, a cooling economy will belong to the Democrats, who put potential restrictions on oil and gas and pressed a climate-first, worker-friendly agenda that the business community has consistently called bad for the economy.
When the job losses come, both will have to try to divert away the public's attention. The recall attempts, no matter how ill-fated this year, provided a tide that bears watching.
Ask Angela Giron how fast the water rises.