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Activists who cheered a series of gun control bills passed in various states, including Colorado, this year are now running scared and pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars and resources to help defend two Democrats facing a recall election that has the potential to stop the movement dead in its tracks.
In Colorado, Democrats who had captured both houses of the legislature in 2012 used their power to ram through several gun control measures that were so radical they were opposed by the state’s sheriffs, who eventually filed a lawsuit.
In the debate on the bills, gun-rights supporters vastly outnumbered their opponents. However, ignoring the objections of constituents, the Democrats passed the bills along strict party lines following arm twisting by Vice President Joe Biden, who said Obama wanted to use Colorado as a template for passing legislation around the country.
The bills reached so far they made it illegal to conduct any type of transfer of a weapon without a background check. Initially, the law’s definition of transfer applied if a gun owner simply left his gun in his house while going on vacation and someone else came over to watch the house or even if the firearm was given to a gunsmith for repairs.
Displaying their outrage, citizens in Pueblo and Colorado Springs launched a first-ever recall election against Senate president John Morse and Sen. Angela Giron, which will take place Tuesday.
State Rep. Lori Saine, considered by the Denver Post to be one of the most conservative members of the House, said the recall is needed to send a message to Democrats that Obama’s model legislation will lead to unemployment for lawmakers who support it.
“Obama said what happened in Colorado was a model for the rest of the country,” Saine said. “By recalling Morse and Giron the people are saying loud and clear, ‘Go ahead, pass your model legislation, but realize the model includes getting recalled and losing your job.'”
Democrats and gun control supporters seem to understand the national significance of the recall vote.
Last week, Colorado’s Gov. John Hickenlooper sent out a panicked email asking for help to defeat the recall. He then claimed that the majority of citizens supported the Democrats on the issue and that the only ones pushing the recall were outside groups such as the National Rifle Association.
“We were only able to pass the law because Democratic legislators had the courage to stand up to outside special interests β but now those groups are trying to make an example of two of them by forcing them into a recall election,” the email said. “These recall elections cost a small fortune and do nothing to improve democracy or representative government. They are intended to intimidate and punish a select number of Democratic legislators for daring to vote their conscience β for daring to do the right thing to make their communities safer.”
While Hickenlooper’s email complains of”outside special interests,” the outsiders attempting to influence the election are those who support gun control.
New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has personally donated $350,000 to Taxpayers for Responsible Government, an “issue committee” helping the legislators retain their seats that was formed by Julie Wells, a Democratic fundraiser from Kentucky. Los Angeles billionaire Eli Broad contributed $250,000 to Wells’ organization, which then gave $420,000 to the two defense committees.
The Washington, D.C.-based Sixteen Thirty Fund has given $35,000 to help Giron fight the recall while Citizens for Integrity and Mainstream Colorado, both Denver-based organizations donated $20,000 and $15,000 respectively. Additionally, the American Federation of State, Federal and Municipal Employees union, based in Washington, D.C., has contributed $3,500.
Despite Bloomberg and others supporting Morse and Giron for their gun control votes, the ads they have purchased are silent on the issue. An ad for Giron mentions her working at the Boys and Girls Club and has her saying she works in the Senate “for the kids.” The ad then implies that this is the reason for the recall.
A similar ad for Morse doesn't mention his gun votes, highlighting instead his service as a police officer and his desire to create jobs and protect children from sexual predators.
By contrast, promoters of the recall are local residents who have raised only a fraction of the amount raised by gun control groups.
Victor Head, a local plumber who is spearheading the recall, said since the beginning voters have been intimidated by outside groups.
"Everyone who signed a recall petition has received multiple phone calls, mailers and face to face visits in an attempt to get them to remove their name," Head said. "This was followed up by two different mailers which contained a postcard that people could send back asking for the removal of their signatures from the petition and then after that they sent people to go door-to-door to visit the people who signed the petition.
"Our small town is now facing Chicago thug tactics by attempting to prevent us from exercising our rights to hold our elected officials accountable for their votes," he said.
Giron and Morse attempted to use the court system in an attempt to prevent the recall, arguing that voters were too stupid to know what they were signing.
"A petition form must inform unsophisticated as well as sophisticated voters who are considering whether or not to sign the petition," Democrat lawyer Mark Grusekin said in a court filing.
Head said he felt that the reason for the legal challenges had nothing to do with the merits of the case but were intended to deplete his group of money and have the recall canceled by default.
"If we wouldn't have been able to raise the funds to keep fighting this in court the other side would have won the battle by default."
Head explained part of the problem was that prior to the court rulings, the Republican Party and national groups were reluctant to get involved. However, following the legal rulings that the recall could go forward, the National Rifle Association stepped up and contributed $360,600 to help unseat Morse and Giron. Most of the expenditures went toward radio, Internet and cable ads.
Colorado GOP chairman Ryan Call told radio host Laura Ingraham on Wednesday that the recall was a vital part of the electoral process.
"The important aspect is recognizing the consent of the governed is really a necessary component to our Republican form of government, and that is precisely what has motivated these recall elections in Colorado."
Call went on to note that while the recall would not change the balance of power in the legislature, it was important to send a message to all elected officials of the dangers of not listening to their constituents.
"Currently Republicans have 15 seats in the senate, with 20 Democrats. These two recalls won't shift the balance of power in the Colorado senate," he said. "But what it will do is send an incredibly important message that when Democrat lawmakers promise to govern one way and then completely overreach in a way that is out of step with the needs and priorities of Colorado citizens, then there is going to be some response.
"All of the other avenues that citizens have had to try weigh in on the dramatic shift to the left we have seen under the Colorado legislature had been exhausted. This is the last ditch effort to try to reign in out of control lawmakers."
Ingraham said the recall is ground zero in the gun control debate and if successful will send a powerful message to other politicians considering voting for gun control.
"If Democrats see that their own perches of power are jeopardized because they supported this kind of nonsense guess what? That will send a message to the other Democrats across this country, and thatβs why this is important that the people of Colorado did this."