Colorado recall bid targets third state senator who backed gun control

After ousting two state senators last month for backing gun-control legislation, activists aim to recall Sen. Evie Hudak. If the recall bid succeeds, Republicans take control of the Senate.

Brennan Linsley/AP
Colorado Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Bender, (l.), shakes hands with Republican state senator Bernie Herpin, as state senator George Rivera looks on after the two Republicans were sworn in, having defeated Colorado Democratic senators in a recall over new gun restrictions the previous month, in Denver, Oct. 3. A third state senator, Evie Hudak, now faces a recall vote for backing pro gun-control legislation.

After the successful – and unprecedented – recall of two Democratic state senators in Colorado last month, mainly over their votes backing gun control, a new effort is being launched to recall a third state senator.

This time, a successful recall would not only send a chilling message to legislators on gun control but also would shift control of the Colorado Senate to the Republicans.

The effort is raising questions about recall elections – normally used to oust lawmakers over ethical issues or misuse of office – as a tool for constituents angry over controversial votes.

“I think that recalls remain expensive and difficult to organize, but I think they are now in the toolkit for political activists and interest groups, especially for an issue that has a passionate constituency,” says Floyd Ciruli, a Colorado pollster and political analyst. “I don’t think you’ll see this as common, but if you have an issue like guns, it is certainly a possibility.”

At this point, the recall effort is in its nascent stages. A group calling itself Recall Hudak Too is working to get the necessary 18,900 signatures to force a recall of Sen. Evie Hudak, a two-term Democrat from a district north of Denver. If they succeed in getting the signatures – an effort that was started and abandoned earlier this year – they stand a good chance of ousting Senator Hudak. Her district is more conservative than the districts of either former Senate President John Morse or Angela Giron, the two Democrats who lost recall elections last month. In 2012, Hudak beat her opponent by fewer than 600 votes, with a Libertarian candidate splitting the vote.

“She has infringed upon our constitutional right to keep and bear arms. She has voted to make all citizens less safe and to drive hundreds of jobs from Colorado,” reads the recall petition that began circulating on Oct. 4. 

Critics of the effort say that the recalls are setting a dangerous precedent that can have a chilling effect on lawmakers and saddle taxpayers with needless expense. They also say that general elections, not recalls, are the way in which constituents should try to oust a representative they dislike.

“A small group is seeking to undo the will of voters, who reelected me to the Senate last November. Unable to defeat me then, they are now attempting a political power grab using a low voter turnout, no mail ballot recall election strategy,” Hudak said in a statement to the Denver Post.

But supporters of the recall efforts say that the recalls are not only legal, but a proper way for constituents to express their unhappiness.

“We’ve been a state since 1876, and the recalls we just witnessed were the first in state history,” says Jon Caldara, president of the libertarian Independence Institute. “No one can make an argument that these are used flippantly.”

Mr. Caldara and others also say that while the controversial gun control measures adopted by the Colorado legislature this year were certainly a catalyst for the recalls, they’ve been overemphasized as the sole cause.

“It was really many other factors, including process,” Caldara says. There was no debate on the floor of the state Senate around the gun control bills, he adds. “I have never seen a more hard-edged, progressive legislature, that’s been out of touch with mainstream of Colorado, in my life.”

If the recall group succeeds in getting enough signatures, Caldara says he expects that Hudak will come under pressure to resign before an election can take place, in order to give Democrats a chance to field another candidate.

Regardless of the outcome in Hudak’s district, political analysts say that this year’s recalls are likely to have a chastening effect on the state legislature even beyond the change of control that could happen, and that it’s likely to be far more timid.

“I think you’ll see a pullback, at least to some extent,” says Mr. Ciruli, the pollster. “There’s a different calculation – whether it’s worth having recalls and losing the majority if they take on some very passionate and controversial issues.”

The state Republican Party has already distanced itself from the recall effort, with the Colorado Republican Party chairman telling a local news channel that it could backfire.

“This recall election would undermine our efforts in the governor’s race, the US Senate race, and to win a Senate majority if voters perceive that Republicans are trying to win a majority through recalls,” state GOP chairman Ryan Call told Fox31 Denver.

But that reaction from the state party just underscores that “this is not an R or D thing,” says Caldara, noting that Senator Giron’s district was overwhelmingly Democratic. “This is not an issue for the state party as of yet,” says Caldara. “This is an issue between Evie Hudak and her constituents.”

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