The revolutionary spirit held by proponents of two successful Colorado recalls appears to be gaining in strength without political borders. The message is simple: “no one is safe.”
Proponents of the two recalls earlier this month that ousted Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo — both Democrats — have now set their sights on “establishment Republicans,” with the current target being state GOP Chairman Ryan Call.
Despite Call providing evidence that the GOP assisted both financially and with outreach efforts, proponents say he and the party could have done more.
Victor Head, proponent of the recall in Senate District 3 that targeted Giron, and Tim Knight, proponent of the recall in Senate District 11 that banished Morse, point out that they have no political allegiance other than to the voters of Colorado.
While conservatives supported the recalls along with gun rights interests, proponents say Republicans as a party fell short. Now they’re calling for inter-party reform.
Their grievances began on July 2 when proponents invited Call to a meeting, during which an “olive branch” was extended and Call was asked for the party’s commitment.
“It was at this meeting that the chairman lectured us that this was supposed to be ‘an off-election year’ and the recalls weren’t ‘on the election calendar,’” explained Jennifer Kerns, spokeswoman for proponents, who attended the meeting in question. “He then proceeded to tell us that he did not appreciate that the grassroots was coming to ask for what he called a ‘bailout’ — which is a very politically charged word in the political environment.”
Proponents allege that Call and the GOP never truly believed in the recall effort, but instead resisted it. They suggest that Republican leaders felt it could set a frightening precedent that would threaten lawmakers of all political stripes.
But Call insists that the Republican Party not only played a role, but also was “pleased” to support the recall efforts.
No state lawmaker had ever been recalled from office in the history of Colorado. When the polls closed on Sept. 10, the Colorado political world was turned on its head. Morse was defeated by 343 votes, and Giron was ousted by a stunning 4,154 votes in a Democratic-leaning district.
Proponents say that on election night, Call approached Republican George Rivera, who ran as the only candidate to succeed Giron, and told him to be prepared to give a “gracious” concession speech. Despite Call’s pessimism, Rivera ended up giving a victory speech that night.
Unlike Call, proponents had maintained optimism throughout the night, emboldened by a belief that their effort had been nonpartisan, relying on grassroots outreach.
The centerpiece was gun control, as Morse and Giron had supported a package of new laws that banned high-capacity ammunition magazines and requires universal background checks. The new laws raised ire with blue-collar Democrats and Republicans alike.
When it became apparent that the recalls would be successful, proponents wanted little to do with “establishment politicians” who tried to piggyback on their momentum.
One volunteer down in Pueblo patrolled the door at the proponents’ watch party to catch Call in case he walked in. The message was clear: he was not welcome. Call made an appearance late in the night, but he did not speak.
Proponents on Monday said they are shocked that no funds were ever given by the Republican Party directly to their efforts. Once again, Call disputed the charges, stating that the state GOP allocated resources to pay for the petition legal challenge and other efforts to help move the recall forward.
The party says it has assisted with about $20,000 in legal defense fees, but proponents say they are unsure exactly how much money the party actually contributed, and are still left with legal debts to pay.
The GOP also contributed to the successor campaigns of Rivera and Colorado Springs Republican Bernie Herpin. It provided direct mail, phone and canvassing efforts. But proponents say Republicans begrudgingly offered that assistance only once it became apparent that the recall efforts were more than just a fantasy.
“A number of parties solicited fund-raising off the backs of the recalls using the names of the recalls, yet never giving one penny to the official recall efforts,” lamented Head, lead proponent with Pueblo Freedom and Rights.
He specifically calls out the Colorado Republican Party and the Senate Majority Fund, as well as interests like Rocky Mountain Gun Owners.
“Every step of the way we felt forces working against us,” Head continued. “In fact, often we fought our own party more than we fought John Morse or Angela Giron.”
Proponents are demanding reforms within the Republican Party, including electing a leader who is “in touch with the people,” and listening to its grassroots base.
“In a vacuum of leadership, the people rise up and take matters into their own hands,” said Head, who went on to say that the party must condemn any leaders who create an “enemies list” of the GOP.
“We are going to hold every politician accountable regardless of what side of the aisle they are on,” added Head. “When politicians make promises and don’t follow through with them, when they actively work against the citizens, I don’t care what party you are, we are going to hold you accountable and you are going to own that. If you work against us… you are going to own that. There is a price to pay for taking that route.
“Now that we’ve succeeded it’s easy to get behind a winner… But to come out and say, ‘Look what a great job ‘we’ did, now give us money,’ when the ‘we’ was just citizens with no other leadership taking place… to include yourself in that ‘we,’ you’re going to own it,” concluded Head. “You’re going to be held accountable… I want them to be scared.”
“They don’t get to fly back east and tell the higher-ups in the party that they did this,” added Knight, with El Paso Freedom Defense. “That’s not the way this works. The people did this; they don’t get to take credit for something they didn’t directly contribute to.”
Chairman Call says GOP supported recalls
“The record really speaks for itself, and our contributions as a Republican Party don’t take away one bit from the importance and contributions of grassroots organizations and partners that really helped lead the charge,” explained Call.
He said he never referred to proponents’ request for assistance as a “bailout,” seeming shocked that they would spin it that way.
“That may be how they wish to characterize the conversation, but that was not an accurate description of the conversation,” said Call.
He would not discuss the details of his exchange with proponents, saying that he chooses to honor the confidences of those conversations.
“I’ll let our actions speak for themselves, which involved significant allocation of resources to pay for the petition legal challenge effort, as well as the work in connection of support of Republican candidates,” stated Call.
“The job of the Republican Party is to support Republican candidates, and not to initiate recall elections, not to support issue committees,” he continued. “But when there’s a Republican candidate on the ballot, we step forward to help support them.”
Proponents also allege that Call committed $25,000 from Senate Minority Leader Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs. Spokesperson Kerns pointed to Cadman’s work with the Senate Majority Fund, which aims to regain a Republican majority in the state Senate.
“When the pressure came to get the GOP to make good on their donation, Ryan Call threw Bill Cadman under the bus, suggesting that he ought to pony up first,” said Kerns.
Call responded, “I certainly can’t commit Bill Cadman or anybody else.”
Cadman told The Colorado Statesman that proponents must be confused as to the facts, suggesting that their allegations of financial commitments from the Senate Majority Fund are false.
“It would seem from their erroneous assertions that there is some confusion over commitments from various groups for specific purposes; I will work to address their issues with them in person,” said Cadman.
“On behalf of the Senate Republican caucus, we did solicit contributions for our multiple campaign entities, as we do virtually year-round,” the Senate minority leader continued. “This year created an exceptional demand on our resources, as there were Republican candidates who were running in a non-election year due to the successful recall efforts. With that being the case, we supported our Republican candidates as any review of the campaign finance reports will demonstrate.”
Cadman still congratulated proponents on their successful efforts: “We have all expressed kudos to those freedom fighters for their grassroots efforts in the recalls… truly historic and they deserve all the credit,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dudley Brown, executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, acknowledged that his organization was at first skeptical of the recall drive.
“RMGO initially didn’t think it was possible. I think most people didn’t think it was possible to actually get them in the recall. Clearly we were wrong,” said Brown, a well-known political troublemaker and strategist who has run many divisive yet successful campaigns, especially in primaries against Republicans who do not uphold conservative-enough values.
“The only people who thought it was possible to do it was people that had never been involved in politics before, and much to their credit, they made it possible now,” Brown continued.
He was careful to point out that once the recalls were in full swing, his organization contributed more than $75,000 in media buys, which certainly assisted with the proponents’ efforts.
Despite the success, however, Brown does not believe that recall is a practical strategy moving forward. He’s not even sure if Herpin and Rivera will be around long enough to vote on any gun control repeals that could come forward in the legislative sessions ahead.
“It’s certainly questionable,” Brown said of the recall strategy. “In the long run, you have to win regular elections.”