COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — State Senate President John Morse became the first Colorado lawmaker to be recalled by his constituents in the state’s 137-year history around 9 p.m. Tuesday night.
Less than an hour later, Sen. Angela Giron, also facing a recall due to her support of gun control legislation this year, became the second.
In Morse’s district, which is split almost evenly between registered Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters, the Senate President missed out on saving his job by a mere 343 votes. See returns here in Senate District 11.
Ultimately, 51 percent of nearly 18,000 voters opted to recall the lawmaker, while 49 percent voted not to.
Morse conceded just after 9 p.m.
“It has been an honor to represent the eleventh senate district and to serve as the Colorado state [senate] president,” he told more than 150 supporters at the Wyndham Garden Hotel downtown.
“Robert F. Kennedy once said, ‘it is the essence of responsibility to put the public good ahead of personal gain.’ Our last [legislative] session was phenomenal, and the next session will be even better.
“The loss of this seat for the next 16 months is purely symbolic.”
Earlier, when the first batch of returns were released around 7:30, Morse was encouraged being down just 585 votes.
But the margin got worse, not better, as the night went on.
Morse, a Democrat who angered many constituents by voting for stricter gun control laws earlier this year, told reporters 90 minutes before the polls closed that he was concerned about the lower-than-expected turnout on the final day of voting.
“I do think voter turnout is less than we were hoping for,” Morse said. “We’ve worked hard to get it as high as we can, but when you take away the mail-in ballots — 70 percent of people vote by mail-in ballots, so that was a brilliant stroke if what you wanted to do was to suppress the vote.”
Mail ballots were scrapped after a lawsuit filed by activist Marilyn Marks on behalf of the Colorado Libertarian Party, which sought and was awarded up until 15 days before the election date to qualify for the recall ballot.
No Libertarian candidates qualified even with the extra time, which forced clerks to wait until just 15 days before the election to set the ballot, making it logistically impossible to get mail ballots to all voters, as a new law, passed this year by Democrats, requires.
Republican Bernie Herpin, a former Colorado Springs councilman and the only person on the ballot to succeed Morse, will serve the final year of the lawmaker’s term if voters recall Morse.
After the unexpected loss in Pueblo, Democrats will now cling to a 18-17 majority in the state senate (making Sen. Cheri Jahn, a moderate Democrat, suddenly the most important lawmaker in the nearly split chamber).
Giron was thought to be more likely to stave off the recall challenge.
Her Senate District 3 is significantly more favorable to Democrats — Giron won her last race by 10 points — and the county clerk presiding over the election there, opened 11 polling centers more than a week ago.
But around 9:35 p.m., the first big batch of returns — maybe more than half of the overall vote — were finally posted after two hours of technical difficulties.
They showed 60 percent of the vote in favor of this recall, and 40 percent against.
After more than 34,000 votes were counted, the final results showed 56 percent had supported the recall, with 44 percent opposed.
Giron told supporters at about 10:30 p.m. she had “not one iota of regret for my vote (on gun laws).”
“We can all be proud of the work we did. It looks like we have a little more work to do,” she says. “I’m not going to cry because what this is going to do is make us stronger. We will win in the end because we are on the right side.”
In Colorado Springs, despite the best efforts of a Democratic canvassing operation at least 100 people strong, far fewer voters made it to the county’s seven polling centers, three of which just opened Monday.
The other four opened last Thursday.
As of 3 p.m. Tuesday, close to 15,000 voters had cast ballots in Morse’s district.
The results will be interpreted as a litmus test of sorts, a symbol of the political risk for purple state politicians willing to move forward on gun control.
“Tonight is a victory for the people of the State of Colorado, who have been subject to the overreach of a Democrat agenda on guns, taxes, and accountability to the people,” said Tim Knight, Founder of the Basic Freedom Defense Fund, which started the recall process.
“Since day one, they said it couldn’t be done. Tonight, this is a victory for the people of Colorado, and we share this victory with them.”
Earlier Tuesday, Anthony Garcia, one of the citizen activists who started the recall process, reflected that his side has scored a victory of sorts, regardless of the final results.
“I feel like we’ve already won,” Garcia said. “We did something no one thought we could do. We did it without much money, without much support. We did it with the will of the people.”
Governor John Hickenlooper released a statement about the recall election results late Tuesday.
“Our democracy gives the people the right to vote for their elected representatives. Tonight, voters in two Senate districts have spoken. We are certainly disappointed by the outcome of the recall elections. “It’s now time we refocus again on what unites Coloradans — creating jobs, educating our children, creating a healthier state — and on finding ways to keep Colorado moving forward,” he said.