Recalls in Colorado show gun bills awakened a sleeping giant

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The good news for former State Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and former State Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo is their place in history is now secure. They're the first legislators in Colorado ever to be recalled.

The conventional wisdom going into the recall election Sep. 10, based on early voting, was that Mr. Morse would lose narrowly in what most described as his "swing" district, but that Ms. Giron would survive, because her district is heavily Democratic. Registered Democrats outnumber Republicans, 47 to 23 percent. President Barack Obama won Ms. Giron's district last year by 19 percentage points.

But Ms. Giron got creamed, 56 percent to 44 percent.

Mr. Morse's narrow defeat (51 percent to 49 percent) is a bigger deal than Democrats want you to believe, because his is no more a swing district than California is a swing state. Mr. Obama won it last year, 59 percent to 38 percent -- 2 percentage points more than the president won in Ms. Giron's "safe Democrat" district (58 percent to 39 percent).

Other Democrats did about as well as the president in these districts, according to an analysis by the DailyKos.

Despite outspending their opponents at least 6 to 1, Mr. Morse and Ms. Giron lost in districts Democrats should win handily.

That's only because of "voter suppression," said Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, D-Fla, chair of the Democratic National Committee.

Her charge stems from a judge's ruling in August in a lawsuit brought by the Libertarian Party. The legislature passed an election "reform" bill this year, which provides for voting by mail. The recalls would have been the first elections conducted under the new law. But the provision which requires candidates to turn in nominating petitions no later than 10 days after the date for an election is set conflicts with the state constitution, which permits candidates to file petitions up to 15 days prior to the election, the Libertarians said.

The constitution overrides the new law, Judge Robert McGahey ruled. That meant voters would have to vote at polling places, because election officials said 15 days isn't enough time to print up ballots and mail them out.

That's how Coloradans are accustomed to voting. Evidently, they like it that way. They voted down mail ballots, 58 percent to 42 percent, in a referendum in 2002.

Turnout in Mr. Morse's district was a shade more than 21 percent, which is typical for a special election. Only 25 percent of registered voters turned out in the special election for governor in West Virginia in 2011. Just 20 percent voted in the special election for Congress in New York's 9th district that year.

Turnout in Ms. Giron's district was 35 percent, which is unusually high.

Mr. Morse lost because Democrats in his district didn't turn out, and Republicans did.

More Democrats than Republicans voted in Ms. Giron's district. Her problem was so many of them voted to throw her out. It was chiefly the votes of blue collar Hispanics that did her in. More recall petitions were signed by Democrats and Independents combined than by Republicans.

The recalls were fueled as much by the way the gun control laws were rammed through as by their content. At Mr. Morse's instruction, the committee Ms. Giron chaired wouldn't let most of the citizens who wanted to testify be heard. When unpopular measures are coupled with arrogance, you have a recipe for political disaster.

"I feel like all these gun bills have done -- to quote the last words in the movie 'Tora! Tora! Tora!' -- is to awaken a sleeping giant," State Sen. Lois Tochtrop warned her fellow Democrats during the truncated debate.

Which is why Gov. John Hickenlooper -- elected in 2010 with just 51 percent of the vote -- and the 19 Democrats in the legislature who have to run next year in districts less Democrat-friendly than Mr. Morse's or Ms. Giron's -- must use beach towels to wipe the sweat from their brows.

The Democratic Party is morphing from the party of the workingman to the party of crony capitalists and the dilettante rich. No issue is more emblematic of this shift than gun control, which is favored chiefly by wealthy suburbanites. Democrats didn't think anyone had noticed. In Colorado, evidently some have.

It isn't just Colorado Democrats who should be sweating, said Charles Cooke of National Review. "When Bill Clinton signed the 1994 'assault weapons' ban, he didn't just lose the House, he also lost the argument for 20 years."

Jack Kelly writes for The Pitttsburgh Press and The Blade of Toledo, Ohio.

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This story originally appeared in The Pittsburgh Press. To log in or subscribe, go to: http://press.post-gazette.com/


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