Democracy in Colorado Springs
Leaders of the coalition to recall state senator John Morse are optimistic on Election Day eve.

Recall supporters rally in Colorado Springs.


Charles C. W. Cooke

Luke Wagner concurs with this assessment. “It’s a nice linchpin between the West Coast and New England. If they can take Colorado, they can take anywhere. We said it could never happen here — but, boom, it happened!” So, Knight continues, “it was the perfect landing place with the perfect issue with the usual suspects not ready. And after Sandy Hook, the NRA was busy in Washington.”

“You’re familiar with the book The Blueprint?” Knight asks me. It explains how Democrats won Colorado and how, in the publisher’s words, “progressives believe they have found a blueprint for creating permanent Democratic majorities across the nation. “Well,” Knight continues, “other states are on their list. And Nevada and Texas are both on their short list. This is an experiment to see what they can get. It’s going to be quite interesting.”

I ask Knight and Wagner why Governor Hickenlooper, who had been solid on Second Amendment issues, changed his mind. And what about Durango-based state representative Mike McLachlan, the traditionally pro-gun Marine veteran who proposed the law that limits magazine size to 15 rounds?

“Hickenlooper seemed to change his mind the day after he had a meeting with Obama in Washington, D.C.,” Wagner says. “After Aurora, he said, ‘It could have been a bomb, it could have been anything. It was a criminal act.’ Well, that was a very intelligent thing to say. But after Sandy Hook, he came out after his meeting with Obama and said, ‘Now gun control good. Let’s do it.’” McLachlan changed his tune, too: “He got a call from Joe Biden,” Knight says. “All of a sudden, he was getting a lot of pressure to change his vote. The whole 15-capacity thing was because McLachlan asked a question of an ATF agent who was testifying in the house, ‘How many rounds do you have in your gun?’ The agent said, ‘Fifteen.’”

If the recall is successful, Knight believes, “it really sends a couple of messages. For those states that have recalls, especially, it says that you really have to listen to your constituents — you can’t just make stuff up, you can’t just take the one call from Joe Biden or Bloomberg or anyone else and say, ‘Oh, okay, I’ll just do that.’ And as far as the gun debate goes, I think it’s going to warn them, ‘Don’t come here, and don’t do that.’ If we win, I think this issue will be mostly left alone. I think it’s going to put a dent in their ability to get stuff done for 20 years.”

“On its face,” Wagner adds, “if we do win the recall, it’s largely symbolic. We’ve removed two people. It doesn’t remove the law or change history. But hopefully it sets an example for the rest of the people that you can stand up, that it’s okay to stand up, and that if you’re diligent, you can win.” “You say that this is ‘symbolic,’” Knight says to Wagner. “It is, but it’s sending a huge symbol: Don’t do that!”

“There are two messages that are resonating with people in Colorado Springs,” Knight says. “First, that Morse didn’t listen; and, now that Bloomberg had interjected his money, that Coloradans can’t be bought.” I ask if that’s what the group is focusing on. “We don’t have much control,” Knight says. “We have one TV commercial and one radio commercial. We will run the TV spot on Monday, and the radio spot all week. The official proponents of the recall — us — have no money. Contrary to reports, the NRA didn’t give us money. Friendly groups can focus on what they want, but beyond showing us the commercials as a courtesy, we can’t afford to be involved.”

The recall has certainly become a national story, although contrary to the insinuations of the press, the anti-recall side has benefited significantly more from the influx of out-of-state cash and attention than have its champions. The NRA has sunk $361,700 into its own efforts in the state, and Americans for Prosperity is spending here too. This is not an insignificant sum, certainly. But it pales in comparison to progressive efforts. Michael Bloomberg has written a $350,000 check to an anti-recall group, Taxpayers for Responsible Democracy; the entreptreneur Eli Broad has contributed $250,000; and, in total, more than $2 million has been collected to defend the lawmakers fighting the recall. Meanwhile, former Obama staffers are flooding into the state to help with the ground game.

By my tally, the pro-recall coalition is being outspent by a little under 8 to 1, adding to a structural disadvantage that is rendered worse by the establishment’s evident wariness of the recallers’ tactics. “This was an interesting sword that was given to the people of Colorado — the recall sword — and nobody wants to go near those of us who are drawing it,” Knight says. “The gun groups are fractured” and “the Republicans don’t want anything to do with us because they think, ‘Next they’ll recall us.’”

“Are you confident?” I ask Knight. “Every vote is really going to matter here,” he says, tightly. “It’s going to come down to every vote.”

— Charles C. W. Cooke is a staff writer for National Review.

Colorado Recall
Colorado voters go to the polls on September 10 in a special recall election aimed at two state senators who backed strict new gun-control laws in the state. Here’s a look at the pro-recall efforts on the ground. Pictured, demonstrators outside the Pioneer Museum in Colorado Springs.
The gun-control measures backed by Democratic state senate president John Morse (pictured) and state senator Angela Giron — the targets of the recall — included limits on the size of ammunition magazines and implemented universal background checks.
The campaign is taking place in the counties around Colorado Springs and Pueblo in the southern part of the state. Pictured, state senator Angela Giron, who represents Pueblo.
The election has attracted national attention, with around $2 million contributed to both sides of the contest. The National Rifle Association has contributed more than $350,000 to the recall effort. Pictured, a recall sign in Paradise Firearms in Colorado Springs.
On the pro gun-control side, New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg donated $350,000, while real-estate developer Eli Broad (a top supporter of Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns) contributed $250,000. Pictured, pro-recall billboard from Pueblo Freedom and Rights.
Beyond pushing back on the state's new gun laws, the recall effort has also tapped into broader discontent among rural and conservative voters with the increasingly urban and liberal flavor of state politics. Pictured, gun-rights supporters outside the state legislature in January.
Grassroots activists vowed to fight supporters of the new gun control laws after they went into effect, an effort that began with gathering signatures to force the special election.
Paradise Firearms owner Paul Paradis with a recall petition for customers.
Signature gatherers fanned out to greet voters in the spring.
Discussing the recall with voters at Territory Day in May.
Signing petitions in Colorado Springs in May.
Once the recall campaign gathered sufficient signatures to call a special election, activists on both sides swung into gear. Pictured, recall supporters recite the Pledge of Allegience outside the Pioneer Museum in Colorado Springs.
Weld County Sheriff John Cooke speaks to recall supporters at the Pioneer Museum in Colorado Springs.
Mary and Joseph Santoro flank conservative activist and candidate George Rivera at the Colorado State Fair. Rivera is challenging Senator Giron.
Updated: Sep. 05, 2013