DENVER — The last time Colorado Democrats held the governor’s office and both legislative houses, the party’s aggressive progressive agenda on gun control touched off a voter revolt that culminated in the recalls of two state senators.
Six years later, history may be poised to repeat itself, writ large. Campaigns are underway to recall vulnerable Democratic state legislators — and even Democratic Gov. Jared Polis — as is a petition-gathering drive to repeal the National Popular Vote bill signed into law last month by the newly elected governor.
What’s different this time is that the unrest includes but isn’t limited to gun control. In addition to the National Popular Vote, the uprising has been fueled by the Democratic crackdown on the oil-and-gas industry; a red-flag firearms measure, and an LGBT sex-education bill that would eliminate charter-school opt-outs.
“You could wrap it all around the banner of Democratic overreach,” said GOP political strategist Joe Neville, brother of Senate Minority Leader Patrick Neville, who’s working on the legislative recalls.
The Legislature is still in session, but already petitions have been approved to gather signatures for the recall of Democratic state Rep. Rochelle Galindo, who voted to enact tough restrictions on energy with SB 181, despite representing Weld County, the state’s top producer of oil and gas.
Mr. Neville said more recall campaigns aimed at House Democrats are brewing. Already circulating are petitions to repeal the National Popular Vote compact, which saw Colorado agree to cast its Electoral College votes for the winner of the popular vote in presidential elections no matter which candidates the voters support.
The measure would not take effect until states with a combined 270 electoral votes sign on to the compact — so far 14 states and the District of Columbia have signed on for a total of 189 electoral votes — but the compact has touched off a grassroots uprising in Colorado.
“It has been amazing,” said Mesa County Commissioner Rose Pugliese, who leads the anti-NPV referendum drive. “The amount of people who have come out, who want to circulate petitions, signing petitions, wanting to donate to our cause, has been just overwhelming. They’re pretty fired up. They want to be engaged on this issue.”
Already, it feels like a redux of 2013, when voters rebelled after then-Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a rash of gun-control bills pushed by New York City billionaire Michael Bloomberg, despite thousands who turned up at the state capitol to protest and testify against the legislation.
Voters recalled two Democrats — Senate President John Morse in Colorado Springs and state Sen. Angela Giron in Pueblo — and replaced them with Republicans. A year later, the Republicans were defeated by Democratic challengers, but the GOP held the state Senate until November’s blue wave swept Democratic majorities into both houses.
What Democrats should have noticed, say Republicans, is that voters simultaneously defeated a slew of liberal ballot measures, including an anti-fracking measure, Proposition 112.
“The message I think the Democratic Party should have received is that voters were placing trust in the Democrat Party to move at a moderate pace,” Rep. Ken Buck, the newly minted chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, told 9News in Denver.
“Instead, the Democrats have attacked the energy industry and have done other things with the popular vote, with gun legislation, that have offended a lot the people, unaffiliated voters and Republicans, who voted for them,” Mr. Buck said. “I think you see this frustration rising.”
Democrats may have underestimated the strength of voter recalls in 2013, but not this time. Already an anti-recall committee has emerged asking voters to “stand up to hatred and say no to this recall election.”
Ms. Galindo has argued that SB 181 will not result in job losses and is blasting “misguided extremists” for targeting her based on “who I am,” namely, an openly gay Hispanic woman.
Recall organizers say that has nothing to do with their opposition.
The measure needs 5,696 valid signatures from district voters by June 3 to force a recall election.
“Galindo says SB 181 won’t destroy jobs. Well, there is one job it will destroy. Hers. We deserve better representation,” said the Recall Rochelle crowdfunding page on FreedomFy.
The Recall Polis group has more than 34,000 followers on Facebook, but so far the Boulder Democrat appears unfazed, and for good reason: Recalling a governor is a mammoth undertaking that would require 650,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
And Mr. Polis is no ordinary governor: The former congressman is a multi-millionaire who has long controlled Democratic politics as one of the so-called Gang of Four liberal megadonors. He’s also never lost a race.
“I totally get that 42 percent of the state didn’t vote for me, and I’m doing my best to convince them that I’m going to do a good job for them too,” Mr. Polis told Colorado Public Radio. “But I’m going to do what I said I would do.”
Any Polis recall might have to take place without the support of state Republicans. “I’m not there yet,” said Mr. Buck. “I think when you’re talking about a governor, there’s a higher standard than a state legislator.”
On shakier ground is the National Popular Vote. Ms. Pugliese, who heads the repeal effort with Monument Mayor Don Wilson, said supporters include Republicans, Democrats and unaffiliated voters. No Republican legislator voted in favor of the measure, and several Democrats voted against it.
“It has been amazing,” said Ms. Pugliese. “More people have stopped me to talk about the National Popular Vote bill, and I mean even before we had our petitions, than even the oil-and-gas bill, and this is a very strong oil-and-gas community. Or even the red-flag bill, and we have a strong Second Amendment community.”
The repeal campaign needs to gather 124,632 valid signatures — she’s aiming for 200,000 signatures — by Aug. 1 in order to qualify for the November 2020 ballot, and she’s confident she’ll get them.
“I’m concerned about our votes getting taken away by a legislature and a governor who didn’t ask us,” said Ms. Pugliese. “We’re going to fight to get this on the ballot, and then let the people decide.”
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