DENVER — The legislature’s passage of tougher gun control laws in March and the subsequent backlash that led to two Democratic lawmakers being recalled in September are arguably Colorado’s biggest political story of the year — and Democrats, Republicans and activists on both sides of the gun debate continue to interpret the year’s events to serve their own agenda.
But a recently conducted focus group, paid for by a coalition of pro-gun control groups, gives greater clarity to what happened in Pueblo, where former Sen. Angela Giron lost a solidly Democratic district by a 20-point margin.
The report, which FOX31 Denver has obtained, confirms what many political observers have surmised already: that it wasn’t the gun laws alone that cost Giron her seat, but a deep-seated dislike for and mistrust of the lawmaker herself among many Democrats in her hometown.
The focus group was presented as part of a summit this week, reported by the Washington Post’s Philip Rucker, where gun control activists plotted their “revenge”, which could include additional gun control efforts and even recalls targeting Republican lawmakers who oppose them.
People in the two focus groups — men and women, all Democrats (the party holds roughly a 15-point advantage in Senate District 3) — explained that they believed that Giron “went Denver” and lost touch with her constituents, taking orders instead from party bosses around the Capitol.
Moreover, some women surveyed said they took additional umbrage at Giron’s explanation that she voted for certain bills, despite serious opposition from parts of her district, because she’s “a strong Latina.”
“I’m a strong Latina too,” one woman said. “That’s not an excuse for not listening to people.”
A staffer for U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, she was appointed by a Democratic vacancy committee in August 2010 after former state Sen. Abel Tapia resigned to take a job as director of the Colorado Lottery.
She was elected to a full seat that November.
After three years in office, she’d alienated many voters in Senate District 3; she entered the recall campaign with a 47 percent disapproval rating in the district.
Men in the focus group expressed greater antipathy about the gun control laws, viewing Giron’s support of the measures as a failure to understand “the cultural value around guns” in a small town.
Women, however, widely supported the legislation package, which included expanding background checks to private gun sales and transfers and banning magazines of more than 15 rounds.
Both men and women said they felt Giron tried to run away from her support of those bills after the ads run by her “Vote No on the Recall” campaign failed to even mention the issue that brought the special election about.
“She was trying to hide her votes,” one person said.
“She couldn’t be trusted as an independent voice to represent Pueblo,” said another.
The focus group voters said they hardly know anything about Republican George Rivera, who was the only successor candidate on the recall ballot and will face a reelection challenge from Democratic state Rep. Leroy Garcia, who opposed the gun control bills, next year.
The recall wasn’t about Rivera, voters said. It was about Giron.
“There’s not always someone you want to vote for,” one respondent said. “But there’s always someone you want to vote against.”
Giron did not return a phone call Wednesday from FOX31 Denver seeking comment about the focus group results — it’s unknown whether she’s aware of the focus group’s existence or its results — and her rumored interest in running for Secretary of State.
Sources indicate that Giron is pressuring her Democratic colleagues, especially Latinos — everyone from former Denver Mayor Federico Pena to her former Senate Democrat colleagues — to support a possible campaign.
Giron has actually requested that some of her former colleagues drive to Pueblo this weekend so she can attempt to garner their support in person.
Most Democrats, however, have already committed their support to CU Regent Joe Neguse, who declared his candidacy for Secretary of State back in June having already rallied many of his party’s most powerful patriarchs behind his first statewide campaign.
“She thinks she’s owed something because she ‘took one for the team’,” one Democrat said on the condition that they not be identified.
“That’s obviously not the case,” the continued, referencing the focus group report. “She doesn’t get it.”
In an interview with CNN after losing her seat, Giron attributed her 20-point defeat to “voter suppression.”