Senate President John Morse shouldn't be recalled on Sept. 10. Instead, our political process should be reclaimed.
What's happened in Colorado over the past few months is as cynical and crass as it is clear. When Morse, from El Paso County's District 11, took the lead on gun-control legislation at the Capitol this spring, the gun lobby made him a target. When his legislation passed, that same group made him a villain.
The policy questions were settled, but the politics didn't have to be, especially since Morse, despite his standing at the Capitol, is a Democrat from a historically Republican county.
So conservative leaders fanned the flames of outrage. Money poured in from outside interests. And before long, even national media realized it would be possible to take out Morse, which would then "send a message" to other progressive leaders inclined to support gun control.
Independence Institute president Jon Caldara put it this way at an Aug. 8 fundraiser for the Republicans' nearly invisible challenger, Bernie Herpin:
"If the president of the Senate of Colorado ... gets knocked out, there will be a shudder, a wave of fear that runs across every state legislator across the country that says, 'I ain't doin' that, ever,'" Caldara said. "'That is not happening to me. I will not become a national embarrassment. I will not take on those gunnies.'"
But here's the thing: No matter what party, we should respect politicians who have the courage to take on powerful interests. And we should understand that politics is about finding reasonable ways to address changing times — within constitutional bounds.
And the gun legislation that the House and Senate passed, the governor signed, and President Obama called a model for the nation is completely reasonable.
• House Bill 1224 limits ammunition magazines to 15 rounds, which will limit an attacker's ability to quickly assault hundreds of people, à la Sandy Hook or Aurora.
• HB 1229 closes the "gun show loophole" that enabled sales at gun shows, on the Internet and between private individuals to go unregistered.
• HB 1228 charges gun buyers for the cost of the checks.
Early in the legislative session, Morse overreached when he proposed legislation that would have held assault-weapon manufacturers and sellers liable for some crimes that a buyer later committed with the guns sold. But when that news emerged, even fellow Democrats signaled they'd be voting against such a thing. Morse retracted the bill. The system worked as it should.
Here's a map of Colorado State Senate District 11:
Which brings us to the system. As we reported May 29 ("As I recall ..." News), Colorado's 1912 recall law says citizens may launch a recall for virtually any reason. But we also pointed out that this direct-democratic measure was born to help ordinary citizens fight back against big, entrenched political power. And no matter how often they call themselves the former, groups like the Basic Freedom Defense Fund and others behind the Morse recall — with their high-priced spokespeople, paid petition-gatherers and support from 527 groups — have to be considered the latter.
The ins and outs of the history may not interest you all that much, and this recall itself may have disillusioned you weeks or months ago — especially now that who-knows-how-much money has poured in on both sides. Even so, we'd urge you to take a minute to picture a landscape wherein the largest political interests hover overhead, feeling empowered to swoop in with petitions anytime a fairly elected public official makes a vote, or even takes a stand, they don't like. (And then stick you with the bill for a special election.)
John Morse retaining his office, and serving out the single year left in his term, may not keep us from that future. But it will allow Colorado Springs to be represented by a Senate president, rather than a junior, minority-party senator, at a time when this fire-ravaged region needs all the help it can get at the Capitol building.
More importantly, it will send another kind of message: that those groups who'd seek to intimidate principled leaders aren't welcome in our electoral process.