The Colorado Challengers
They oppose arrogance as much as they oppose gun control.

George Rivera



Of such general interest is next Tuesday’s recall election in Colorado — and so ubiquitously has the event been characterized as a national “litmus test” or “referendum” — that it is easy to forget that there are real candidates involved in the process. Invariably, it is the more powerful political forces that garner the attention of the media: the NRA, Michael Bloomberg, “the gun lobby,” and the “advocates of stricter gun control” are typically the proxies of choice. But on the ground it is a different story. There, in Districts 3 and 11, the fights are personal, and the larger forces at work are distilled into the candidates representing them. Thus, while Americans fixate on the undercurrent, in Pueblo talk is of “Giron vs. Rivera” and in Colorado Springs the question is whether voters are “for Morse or for Herpin?” It is the answers to these questions, not the national debate, that will ultimately determine the outcome.

Pro-recall forces insist that their movement is a grassroots response to government overreach — a spontaneous reaction initiated by the apolitical and fought by the unspoiled. This claim is lent some credibility by the personal stories of the two challengers. George Rivera, who is taking on state senator Angela Giron in Pueblo, was born and raised in that city, and has served as a law-enforcement officer there for 34 years — enough time, he tells me bluntly, to learn “that evil people will do evil things.” “I don’t believe that gun control works,” he explains. “It’s common sense. You can pass what laws you want, but it won’t make a difference.”

Bernie Herpin, who is running against the president of the state senate, John Morse, was assigned to the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) in Colorado Springs in 1980 and has lived in the area ever since. His wife of over 50 years has been resident in the city since 1952. “As a Navy and Air Force veteran,” Herpin tells me, “I took an oath to defend our Constitution. When I saw our rights being stripped away by Senator Morse in Denver, I had to take action.” Herpin, too, has experience in law enforcement, having been a volunteer for the Colorado Springs Police Department for 27 years. Carpetbaggers the two are not.

Like so many of their fellow critics, both Herpin and Rivera were as vexed by the manner in which the new gun-control laws were passed as by the laws themselves. “Not only did we disagree with Senator Morse’s decisions, we disliked the arrogance he showed towards his constituents,” Herpin says. Rivera agrees. Before this year, he had “never thought” of running for public office: “I had never been in politics, and had no desire to get involved,” he admits. But when the Democratic party took over both houses of the state legislature, and the government started to “push its extreme” agenda and to shut out opposing voices, Rivera started to think about a run.

“The way things have gone this session, the gun bill was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” he explains. “Actually, my wife convinced me that I had to do something. She’s a Democrat, but she’s seen a change in the party, and she doesn’t like it one bit.” I ask Rivera if he has always been a Republican. “No. I was a Democrat until 1995.” Why did he change? “Well,” he replies, “in law enforcement, I saw the effects of what I consider to be Democratic policies. So I left. Then I went independent for a while, and I finally switched in 2000.”