DENVER — Conservatives couldn’t stop Democrats from passing landmark gun control measures earlier this year, but the fight isn’t over.
It’s just moved south to Colorado Springs, where Democratic Senate President John Morse is facing a recall effort for supporting a host of gun control bills.
“It seems like sort of a ridiculous response,” Morse told FOX31 Denver on Thursday. “We know there is a small, vocal opposition to gun safety. But there’s another election in 2014. That’s when it should have come up.”
But the group “Basic Freedoms Defense Fund” isn’t waiting until next November, instead looking to make an example out of Morse — and send a message that’ll be heard by lawmakers from coast to coast — right away.
“Bad decisions from political leaders have consequences,” said Laura Carno, whose political organization, I Am Created Equal, is helping funnel money to Kennedy Enterprises, a local outfit that’s paying signature gatherers to get Morse’s name on a recall election ballot in El Paso County later this year.
Carno points to a new poll from Public Opinion Strategies showing that 58 percent of his constituents believe the Democrats went too far this year with their gun control bills; and that of the 58 percent of constituents who are aware of the recall effort, 34 percent of them support it (that number jumps to 58 percent when respondents are informed that Morse sponsored a failed bill to make gun-makers and -sellers criminally liable for crimes committed with their weapons).
“People are mad, people are interested in this recall,” Carno told FOX31 Denver. “And what I’ve been hearing from people collecting signatures: it’s not just Republicans, it’s independents and Democrats too.”
Morse’s staff notes that Carno’s poll is misleading: that the supporters of the recall — 34 percent of the 58 percent who are aware of it — amounts to just 13 percent of the district’s population.
Organizers have until June 3 to gather more than 7,000 signatures necessary to force a recall election.
Despite having to pay for the signatures — recall efforts against three other Democratic lawmakers are likely to stall because of a lack of funding and organization, not to mention higher signature thresholds — Carno insists that the recall is a grassroots effort.
Of course, so does the group, “A Whole Lot of People for John Morse,” which is running out of the El Paso County Democrats office downtown.
On Thursday, volunteers there were working the phones, leaving messages for constituents that “outside special interest groups are abusing the democratic process” by pushing a recall election that could cost local taxpayers around $250,000.
“This is a decline-to-sign effort, but also an education piece,” said Christy LeLait, the El Paso County Democrats chairwoman who’s now leading the Morse defense group.
“It’s not a grassroots effort and people need to be aware of what this is going to cost this community and who’s actually behind it.”
Much of the group’s funding is also coming from an outside group, America Votes, which is funded largely with contributions from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, whose group Mayors Against Illegal Guns lobbied hard to pass the gun control bills in Colorado.
“New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg spent millions in our state,” Carno said. “And Coloradans aren’t like that. We don’t say, ‘Okay, we’d like New York to dictate what goes on here; we dictate what goes on here’.”
But that’s basically what’s happening in Colorado Springs, where the recall battle has become just the latest proxy battle between larger, outside forces in the ongoing war over gun control.
Morse, a former police chief who is term-limited and unable to run again in 2014, understands that the recall effort is only partly about him.
“It is a litmus test,” said Morse, who believes the outcome of this recall fight, much like next year’s elections, will be interpreted as a referendum on the issue of gun control — something that’s now safe for lawmakers to tackle or, should he and Democrats pay a political price, something that’s not.
“There doesn’t seem to be any question that money’s coming from outside the state to say, look, if you do this, we can take out the Senate president — we can take out anyone across the entire country if you decide to implement common-sense gun legislation.”
“That’s what they’re trying to do. And of course we’re pushing back with everything that we have to say, we need to stop burying children.”