Voters ousted two Colorado Democratic lawmakers Tuesday in the state’s first ever legislative recall launched over their support for stricter gun laws after last year’s mass shootings.
Senate President John Morse and Sen. Angela Giron both lost their jobs in an election seen as a national measure of popular support for gun legislation.
Morse faced a tough election in the Republican stronghold of Colorado Springs, where he won re-election by just a few hundred votes in 2010. He lost by 343 votes, with 51 percent of voters backing the recall.
“We as the Democratic party will continue to fight,” Morse told supporters in Colorado Springs as he conceded the race.
Republican Bernie Herpin, a former Colorado Springs city councilman, will replace him.
Giron lost by a bigger margin in a largely blue-collar district that favors Democrats, with 56 percent of voters voting to recall her. She tried to encourage her supporters, telling them the defeat will ultimately make them stronger.
“We will win in the end because we are on the right side,” she said.
Angered by new limits on ammunition magazines and expanded background checks, gun-rights activists filed enough voter signatures for the recall elections — the first for state legislators since Colorado adopted the procedure in 1912.
The recalls were seen as the latest chapter in the national debate over gun rights — and, for some, a warning to lawmakers in swing states who might contemplate gun restrictions in the future. But gun rights activists’ efforts to force recall elections for two other Colorado Democrats failed this year.
Tuesday’s vote also exposed divisions between Colorado’s growing urban and suburban areas and its rural towns. Dozens of elected county sheriffs have sued to block the gun laws and some activists are promoting a largely symbolic measure to secede from the state.
Morse recall organizer Timothy Knight said voters were upset that Colorado’s Democrat-majority Legislature seemed more inclined to take its cues from the White House than its constituents. The gun laws passed this year with no Republican support.
“If the people had been listened to, these recalls wouldn’t be happening,” Knight said.
Both legislators voted for 15-round limits on ammunition magazines and for expanded background checks on private gun sales after the 2012 mass shootings in Aurora and Newtown, Conn. The legislation was signed into law by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.
The National Rifle Association and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg lined up on opposite sides of the recalls.
Reported contributions to Morse and Giron totaled about $3 million, dwarfing the amount raised by gun activists who petitioned for the recall, though some independent groups didn’t have to report spending. Both the NRA and Bloomberg contributed more than $300,000 to the pro- and anti-recall campaigns.
Preliminary figures showed roughly 17,000 people — just 15 percent of registered voters — cast ballots in Morse’s election, and that more Republicans turned out to vote than Democrats. Turnout in Pueblo County was about 30 percent, with more than 32,000 people voting.
Unlike most recent elections, there are no automatic mail ballots, so voters had to cast their ballots in person.
“This is a good, old-fashioned knock and drag operation — knocking on doors and dragging them to the polls,” said Colorado Democratic Party chairman Rick Palacio, who worked Giron’s district on Tuesday.
Morse, a former police chief in a Colorado Springs suburb, was first elected to the Senate in 2006.
Hickenlooper initially rejected calls for stronger gun control laws after 12 people were killed and 70 injured in an Aurora movie theater in July 2012. The governor changed his mind right before the December 2012 Newtown massacre, in which a gunman killed 20 children and six women at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Hickenlooper, who is up for re-election in 2014, kept a low profile in the recalls. A recent statewide poll by Quinnipiac University suggested that 52 percent of voters disapproved of his gun policy while only 35 percent approved.