DENVER — In Colorado Democratic politics, Ted Trimpa is the man behind the curtain, the strategist credited with helping build the state’s progressive infrastructure that’s enabled a decade-long left-ward shift.
As a board member of Democracy Alliance, Trimpa continues to be a high-level player, a go-between tapping into a national base of liberal donors and helping guide lawmakers at the state level on issues of policy and politics.
He was a behind-the-scenes player in this year’s fight for tougher gun control laws and a top-level adviser to both Senators John Morse and Angela Giron as they tried to stave off recall challenges.
The day after two bruising defeats in recall elections in Colorado Springs and Pueblo, Trimpa did something he rarely does — an interview:
Eli Stokols: How big of a setback was last night?
Ted Trimpa: If I were a Republican, I wouldn’t be picking party planners for 2014 just yet. At the same time, I can’t sit here and say we’re not concerned. This was a recall election, the first one in Colorado’s history. We had every election law ruling except one go against us. So, in some respects, I’m surprised we did as well as we did.
ES: But the Giron race had to be a surprise.
TT: It surprised everyone.
ES: It seems like there had to be a lot of Democrats voting for the recall.
TT: I think we ought to be careful about speculating, because we really don’t know. We need to see data. One thing I will say is, I’m not sure it was a love for the NRA. The NRA has a habit of claiming credit for things when, really, there isn’t anybody behind the curtain. I grew up in Kansas, but I still don’t believe in Oz.
ES: But there clearly was a lot of passion on the pro-recall side.
TT: No question. Keep in mind, when the petitions were started, one individual took a lot of time; he had a unique way of doing it, in terms of accessing the Secretary of State’s website. We’ve got to give him a lot of credit for doing that. That passion really built up and a number of us just didn’t see it.
ES: Since you helped build a real political infrastructure in this state to aid Democrats, your side has won every big election. How much is this a psychological setback for Colorado Democrats who haven’t lost much and have really felt the wind at their backs with demographic changes?
TT: Well, first, Colorado is a state of primarily independents. Anyone who thinks this is a solid blue state just isn’t in connection with reality. We were surprised, but also, campaigns — this isn’t rocket science. We clearly were outsmarted; and we have to figure out what went wrong and go back and correct that. But in the end, this is about having elected officials do what their constituents want. That’s what we’re dedicated to doing and that’s what we’ll keep doing.
ES: The governor this morning insisted that the gun laws, at least the background check expansion, have broad popular support. He said the outrage, and the recalls, come from a “vocal minority” of Coloradans. Do you really think that Democrats, on these gun control bills, represented the wishes of a majority of their constituents?
TT: The polling numbers are what the polling numbers are. It says that 70-odd percent or 80-odd percent of Coloradans support universal background checks. That hasn’t changed. But, at the same time, polls aren’t soothsayers either. We have to go back and figure out what really drove the passion in [Giron's] district and what can we do differently next time. But I wouldn’t read too much into this.
ES: So when you say, “don’t get the party planner on line one” or don’t measure the drapes for the governor’s mansion just yet, you’re saying not to forget about the Democrats’ strength and grip on much of the political power in this state?
TT: Yes. And keep in mind, as long as people like [Rocky Mountain Gun Owners executive director] Dudley Brown are helping people get elected who are to the right of the right wing, we’ll continue to play off of that, because that isn’t what Colorado’s really about. And when you look at the support for most of what this legislature did last session, support for background checks, all in the 60s and 70s, I wouldn’t read any more into these two recall defeats.
ES: But I know, on a personal and professional level, this has to be a hard day for you. You take on a lot of responsibility with donors and elected officials, and you almost always win. Yesterday, you lost.
TT: It has been tough. But you get up, you brush yourself off, you move forward. November 2014 is a long way away. Again, this was the first recall election in Colorado’s history, the election rules kept changing — I think we have to treat it for what it was.