Election 2013

09.02.13

A Battle Over Gun Control in Colorado

Two state senators are vulnerable to recall after backing gun-control legislation. What’s that got to do with Michael Bloomberg? Ben Jacobs explains.

On Sept. 10, Colorado voters will decide whether or not to recall two Democratic state senators in what is universally agreed to be a battle of Colorado voters versus special interests. The catch, of course, is that while Democrats see entitled groups like the NRA trying to quash common-sense gun control measures in the state where the Aurora movie theater shootings occurred, Republicans see big-city elitists like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg spending millions of dollars to impose their values on Coloradans.

The recall is in response to gun-control measures that passed the Colorado Legislature earlier this year, mandating universal background checks and limiting magazines to 15 rounds. After they passed, conservatives organized efforts to recall several state legislators who backed gun control. These were successful only in two districts—against state senate President John Morse in Colorado Springs and against Sen. Angela Giron in Pueblo.

These will be first legislative recalls in the history of the Rocky Mountain State and because of their historic nature, it has created a host of litigation and confusion over what the rules will be. One state judge even jokingly compared the elections to a “labradoodle” because it will combine so many voters on various sides of issues.

While pundits think Morse is relatively safe in his effort to stave off recall, Giron is facing a much tighter race. According to her Republican opponent, George Rivera, his supporters are very energized around gun control. “It’s almost like there is no middle ground,” he told The Daily Beast. “You’re either passionately for or passionately against.” He described his campaign as “pretty grassroots” in contrast to the huge “amount of funding that the opposition has obtained.”

Rivera had planned to run against Giron in 2014 and simply sped up his campaign for the recall. In his opinion, “gun control is not an effective way to deal with terrible things that have happened involving weapons.” Instead, he said, “people with evil intent are going to do evil things regardless,” citing a recent event in Venice Beach, Calif., where a driver ran over a number of pedestrians on the boardwalk. “I am concerned that it just has to do with society and just not respecting each other as much as they used to.”

Just like Rivera, Giron is sure that a majority of her constituents support her. She told The Daily Beast that she was “very confident” that her vote for gun control was “what a majority of Puebloans wanted.” I know the values [of voters], having been raised here in Pueblo,” she said.

“Here in Colorado, we had the two largest tragedies in our country [Aurora and the 1999 school shooting at Columbine High School], it would be a tragedy not to address that,” Giron said. “I think we did that in a very common sense approach.” The first-term state senator was confident that voters would ultimately support her. “If you take the vote and do what’s right then people will have your back,” she said. “Elected officials have to have to courage to do the right thing.”

The recall, however, isn’t solely focused on gun control. Giron has taken other positions that have provoked local ire, including her support for water rights and renewable energy. Owen Loftus, the communications director for the Colorado Republican Party, attacked Giron on the latter issue. He accused her of siding with “Denver Democrats” to “make energy rates higher in rural areas.”

The Democratic state senator may also be facing friendly fire. One Colorado Democratic insider pointed to tensions between Giron and the local Democratic Party, which was described as having “historically been a boys’ club.” This insider suggested that some local Democrats may be going to sleep on the recall effort because “at the next election [in 2014], they can just put in another Democrat.”

While those other issues may resonate with voters, donors have been writing checks based solely on gun control. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a long-time advocate for gun control, recently donated $350,000 to fight the recall efforts. And both the National Rifle Association and Americans for Prosperity have been spending heavily in the race as well.

With all the money pouring into the state, the recalls are being seen as a national referendum on gun control. Giron went so far as to tell the New Republic that “If Mayors Against Illegal Guns [Michael Bloomberg’s pro-gun control organization] loses even one of these seats, they might as well fold it up. And they understand that.” Rivera, though, has a straightforward view of the race. Weary from months of campaigning, he was just looking forward to Election Day, “when the people will have spoken and given their verdict and told us who was right and who was wrong.”