Nick Andrasik, spokesman for the Basic Freedom Defense Fund, readily acknowledges that he's new to this political game. The organization he represents launched just a month ago, after a group of frustrated gun owners met up online and decided to recall the Democratic politicians who recently spearheaded passage of gun-control measures in Colorado's Legislature.
"None of us really have activist roots in our past," Andrasik says. "None of us have any experience in this."
You could guess as much by taking a look at Andrasik's profile at the AR15.com gun forum. Earlier this year, he ranted there against state representatives — labeling one a "vacuous c*nt" and another as a "f*cking retard" — and posted gleeful self-portraits in which he's holding large weapons. (Andrasik has since apologized for his language.)
Nonetheless, BFDF has statewide aims. And though Andrasik himself lives in Westminster, he and his colleagues are focusing largely on John Morse, who represents District 11 in El Paso County. As Senate president, Morse is a big name, meaning a fledgling group could probably use some help in trying to take him down.
Apparently, it's not happening.
Dudley Brown, founder and executive director of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, the state's largest Second Amendment organization, sounds dismissive of Andrasik and Co.: "From what I can tell, you can measure the political experience of BFDF with an egg timer."
And Cherish Schaffer, the newly hired executive director for the El Paso County Republican Party, says the party cannot be involved in the recall effort, due to concerns with laws against coordination.
Then again, she adds, one of BFDF's organizers has told her the party isn't wanted anyway.
How it works
Andrasik and his fellow activists have until June 3 to collect 7,178 valid signatures from the district that includes central Colorado Springs and Manitou Springs. Locally, they appear to be working as an organization called the El Paso Freedom Defense Committee, whose organizers could not be reached despite multiple attempts.
Cindy Lyons, a local activist, is confident the group can pull it off. She has attended two organizational meetings and says that she was "kind of shocked" by the turnout: One meeting was attended by 120, the other by 160.
"That's way unusual for any kind of meeting that I have ever been at — to have that many on the fly," she says. "It's amazing. People are very angry."
That much is clear, judging from the enthusiastic support Sheriff Terry Maketa raised as he spoke out against the gun measures last month. (Maketa's stand has even inspired Jeff Hays, new chairman of the county GOP, to post song lyrics from "Stout-Hearted Men" at gopelpaso.com.)
So Lyons says they will begin collecting signatures this week: "We're going to try for 14,000."
If they're successful, says Clerk and Recorder Wayne Williams, the county will hold a special election. While a county-wide election can run more than $500,000, he can't give a good estimate for this one yet, as there are a couple of factors to consider.
For one, since Morse is a state senator, it can't be just a mail-ballot election; polling places will have to be open. Plus, there is a concurrent attempt to hold a recall election in Colorado Springs School District 11. If Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, who sets the date for the Morse recall, agrees, both could be held at the same time.
The Morse ballot would have two questions, Williams continues. The first would be straightforward: Should he be recalled? Then there would be the question of a replacement. Anyone in the district — Republican, Democrat or other — could run if they collected 1,000 valid signatures.
For her part, Schaffer says the county Republican Party is "looking at candidates."
Rolling the dice
Brown, of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, says he "would love to see Sen. Morse face voters right now." But "it's not clear, under state law, whether or not our nonprofit, our main organization, can support a recall-petition-gathering. It really isn't. BFDF is supposedly a 501(c)4, or at least that's how they filed. And, I'm not sure that they can be involved in recalls."
Luis Toro of Colorado Ethics Watch echoes the uncertainty, adding that if BFDF filed as a 501(c)4 to get around state financial disclosure laws, "it isn't going to work."
It also appears Brown is uneasy with rushing into an election for a seat that will soon be empty. Morse is term-limited out of office in 2014. "You don't win recalls if you don't have a candidate," he says. "All it's doing is moving the calendar up."
And there is always the possibility that a challenged Democrat could just resign, notes Williams, which "would allow the vacancy committee to put someone back in who would have voted the same way."
Christy Le Lait, executive director of the local Democratic Party, says the party has launched a fundraising campaign to support Morse. However, she says, she thinks the whole thing is a waste of time.
"This is just to divert people's attention, and stop any other good work that the Legislature is doing. I think Senator Morse has done a great job," she says. "He has not broken the law. This is all because you don't agree with his votes."
Not so, Andrasik says.
"It's not a simple policy disagreement. It's a fundamental political disagreement," he says. "Trying to strip a group of people, who have never committed a crime, of their rights, smacks of tyranny and elitism, something we disagree with on a fundamental level."