The Colorado Secretary of State's Office on Thursday approved a petition to recall state Rep. Rochelle Galindo, setting the stage for what her opponents say will be a well-funded campaign to remove the Greeley Democrat from office just months after she was sworn in.
"This is going to come down to a referendum on the direction of the state," said Republican political consultant Jefferson Thomas, who is running the effort to oust Galindo.
Galindo's critics have until June 3 to gather 5,696 valid signatures, 25 percent of the total votes cast in the last election for her office.
If they're successful, officials would then set a date for the recall election, and candidates hoping to replace her can gather petition signatures to appear on the same ballot.
In the petition approved Thursday, organizers argue Galindo "fail[s] to understand legislation negatively impacting her community and constituents," citing her position on "oil and gas legislation," a reference to a controversial bill to overhaul how the state regulates the energy industry, a flashpoint in fossil-fuel rich Weld County.
Galindo voted for Senate Bill 181, which passed both chambers of the General Assembly and is expected to be signed by Democratic Gov. Jared Polis.
Opponents of the legislation charge it could grind the oil and gas industry to a halt in Colorado, but proponents say it's a necessary measure to allow local communities to exert more control over drilling operations.
Galindo a former member of the Greeley City Council, was elected in November to represent Weld County's House District 50 by a 6.7-point margin over Republican Michael Thuener.
Thomas told Colorado Politics that the Committee to Recall Rochelle Galindo already has $100,000 in the bank — donated by wealthy Weld County landowner Steve Wells — and expects more than 100 people to start circulating petitions this weekend.
Arizona-based Lincoln Strategies will be involved with the petition effort and validating signatures, he said.
Thomas said other large donors have pledged at least another $225,000 to the effort.
Galindo told Colorado Politics she won't back down.
“The voters of House District 50 are not going to be intimidated by millionaires and special interests cutting six-figure checks to political operatives engaging in the divisive Washington style politics Coloradans consistently reject," she said in a statement.
"People are free to disagree with the decisions I make at the state Capitol, and they’re free to vote for someone else in 2020. I will fight every day for our community and our shared best interests, and even for the people who disagree with me.”
The recall aimed at Galindo is only the first of more than a dozen efforts aimed at Democratic lawmakers that Republicans have said they could launch this year.
Former Weld County Republican Party Chairwoman Stacey Kjeldgaar and Marge Klein, a Weld County GOP captain and long-time Republican campaign operative, are leading the Galindo recall effort.
U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, the Windsor Republican who was elected Saturday to chair the state GOP, told Colorado Politics that Republicans will play a role in at least some of the recall campaigns — and singled out Galindo as a likely target.
"You have to examine the chance for winning and the reason for the recall," he said in an interview. "I don't think it's to second-guess an election, but if someone has acted inconsistently with the voters' intentions, then I think is recall is fair."
Referring to a failed 2018 statewide ballot initiative that would have restricted oil and gas drilling, Buck continued: "It's clear the voters overwhelmingly disapproved of Proposition 112, and Senate Bill 181 is very similar, and really harms the oil and gas industry and the tax base of this state. If members of the legislature are supporting 181, I think they are acting inconsistently with the voters' will in the last election."
Another Republican-led group with ties to House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, R-Castle Rock, and his brother, political consultant Joe Neville — dubbed the Official Committee to Recall Rochelle Galindo — formed last month, but Joe Neville told Colorado Politics the group plans to let Kjeldgaard and Klein's group take the lead on the Galindo recall.
"We look forward to helping them in anyway we can to make it a successful effort," Neville said in a text message Thursday.
Matthew McGovern -- the director of the Democrats' House Majority Project and an organizer with Our Colorado Way of Life, a committee formed in March to defend Democratic legislators facing recall -- said Galindo's supporters are ready to campaign to keep her in office.
"We are dedicated to protecting Rep. Galindo and honoring the will of the voters in the last election who overwhelmingly elected her to represent them," McGovern told Colorado Politics.
"Rep. Galindo is doing amazing work in the state House to represent Weld County, lift wages for regular people, protect the environment, protect domestic violence survivors, and expand healthcare and lower premiums. We already have broad grassroots support stepping up to help her and we are very confident that we will have the resources to beat this cynical effort to overturn the results of an election that is barely six months old. This will include [University of Northern Colorado] students, many of whom are from Greeley and care deeply about their representation."
Galindo's district covers portions of Greeley — including UNC — as well as Evans and Garden City.
"At the end of the day, this is a conservative district," said Thomas, the strategist running the recall. "Rochelle Galindo isn't a conservative or even a moderate Democrat. She is a left extremist who has decided to side with Boulder values over that blue collar, Weld County mentality."
In addition to Galindo's support for the oil and gas legislation, recall backers have pointed to her votes in favor of a comprehensive sex-education bill and so-called "red flag" legislation, which allows authorities to temporarily seize firearms from Coloradans deemed at risk to themselves or others.
McGovern rejected the argument that Galindo isn't representing her district.
"As much as they want to say it's a conservative district, that district voted for all the statewide Democratic candidates," he noted.
House District 50 has been represented by Democrats since 2004. Former state Rep. Dave Young, who held the seat before Galindo, was elected state treasurer last November.
Any elected official in Colorado — except members of Congress and U.S. senators — can be recalled by voters. Efforts to recall legislators can start five days after they take office, though efforts to remove all other elected officials can't begin until they've been in office for six months.
Several other recall campaigns are in the works, including an effort to recall two Arapahoe County Democrats, state Sen. Jeff Bridges, D-Greenwood Village, and state Rep. Meg Froelich, D-Englewood.
Their critics point to Bridges' and Froelich's votes in favor of a law that joins Colorado to a compact of states that are pledging to award the state's Electoral College votes to the winner of the national popular vote for president.
Several groups have also organized to recall Polis, though those campaigns must wait until at least early June to begin their campaigns.
Organizers have also filed paperwork to initiate recalls against Senate President Leroy Garcia and state Rep. Bri Buentello, both Pueblo Democrats.
Colorado voters recalled two Democratic state senators — Senate President John Morse of Fountain and state Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo — in 2013, citing their support for gun-safety legislation opponents argued infringed on their Second Amendment rights.
Following those recalls, Democratic state Sen. Evie Hudak of Arvada resigned in the face of a threatened recall, thwarting the effort and allowing a Democratic vacancy committee to name her replacement.