So what did we learn from the historic 2013 recall elections, which succeeded in removing Colorado Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo? It depends on whom you ask.
Republicans, gunnies and The Gazette’s editorial writers might tell you that the people spoke with one voice, tossing out a couple of gun-control extremists and replacing them with sober-minded constitutionalists in the state Senate.
Democrats, liberals, tough young women and the Colorado Springs Independent might tell you that, in the words of Democratic National Committee chairwoman (and Florida Congresswoman) Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, “The recall elections were defined by the vast array of obstacles that special interests threw in the way of voters for the purpose of reversing the will of the Legislature and the people. This was voter suppression, pure and simple.”
Colorado Springs voters weren’t paying attention. Turnout was abysmal for both sides, but disgraceful for the Dems.
In fact, this was an exercise in pure politics. Both sides had plenty of money, plenty of time to plot their strategy and attractive candidates. Like last year’s playoff shocker between the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens, the better game plan prevailed — at least in Colorado Springs.
Giron’s beat-down in Pueblo was surprising, given that more Democrats voted there and no Republican in memory has represented Pueblo in the Colorado Senate.
Turnout in Pueblo was twice that of Colorado Springs. Pueblo polling stations were open two days before those in Colorado Springs, and both sides worked hard to turn out their voters. Nevertheless, the difference was striking: 35,050 voters cast ballots in Pueblo’s District 3, while a mere 17,845 voted in Colorado Springs’ SD 11. Giron turned out her people, but a lot of them voted for her opponent, retired Pueblo Deputy Police Chief George Rivera.
It’s a crushing defeat for Democrats, especially if Rivera can hang on to the seat in the 2014 election.
The pro-Morse campaign and associated independent issue committees spent close to $1 million. It was clear in retrospect that there was no overarching strategy to the spend, no coherent plan of action.
It was supposed by hopeful Democrats that a vast subterranean campaign was underway, that every potential Morse voter had been identified, and that every one of them would vote, and vote early. Maybe a flock of blue vans would caravan to Colorado Springs and transport voters to the polls — or maybe a thousand trained Obama operatives would walk the streets for weeks rounding up voters.
Colorado Springs voters weren’t paying attention, and then court rulings killed the plans for mail ballots. Turnout was abysmal for both sides, but disgraceful for the Dems. Had they simply gotten 400 more of their people to the polls, they would have won.
So what happened? Collectively, the Morse camp spent more than $100 per vote. For that kind of money, they could have transported every Democrat in Senate District 11 to the polls in a fleet of stretch limos — never mind the vans.
Winning both recall elections is a huge victory for the once-reeling state Republican Party. Instead of a comfortable 20-15 margin in the Senate, the Dems are barely hanging on at 18-17. Far from being Senate pariahs, Bernie Herpin and Rivera will be courted by both parties, and welcomed graciously into the Legislature. Don’t expect to see a lot of anti-business, pro-regulation bills reach the floor, and don’t assume that Dems will continue in their liberal ways — 2014 is an election year, and it looks as if the voters have blood in their eyes.
That’s good news for Gov. John Hickenlooper, who won’t have to deal with troublesome legislation that appeals only to the Democratic base. It’s good news for Republicans, because a fair number of their bills will get passed.
Is this the turning of the tide, a grassroots Colorado rebellion against imperious, out-of-touch Democrats? Or is this an anomaly, a slight stumble as Colorado moves from bright red to deep blue?
That depends on the two parties. If Republicans seize the center, they’ll rise from the dead — and if Democrats move back toward the center quickly enough, they can regain lost ground.
In the end, a bunch of homespun gunnies took the Democrats to school. Sure, the NRA and Americans for Prosperity jumped into the fray, but this started as a popular uprising. We’ll see how this plays out in the 2014 elections, but it looks as if the much-caricatured grumpy old white guys with guns still have political cojones.
Just think: Two Republican geezers came hobbling down the street and trounced Democratic incumbents in Democrat-leaning Senate districts.
That’s not a warning shot over the bow. That’s a direct hit at the waterline.