DENVER: Democratic voters in Colorado helped remove two state senators of their own party who voted for tighter gun control — an ouster that was both intensely local and a national test of what can happen to lawmakers who support gun restrictions in battleground states.
The well-organized activists who sought to recall Senate President John Morse and Sen. Angela Giron got the backing of gun-rights groups such as the National Rifle Association.
It turned out they didn’t need much assistance, because voters were already so incensed by passage of the gun-control package.
Democrats, who maintain control of the Legislature, said the losses were purely symbolic. But they could be a sign of things to come in 2014, both in Colorado’s governor’s race and in scores of other political contests around the country.
After last year’s mass shootings, Colorado was the only state beyond Democratic strongholds New York, California and Connecticut to pass gun-control legislation. Gun-control measures died in Congress, as well as Minnesota, Oregon, Washington and Delaware.
Outspent by about 5-to-1, recall supporters cited a big anti-recall donation from New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg to make one of their main points — that Democrats controlling the state Legislature were more interested in listening to the White House and outside interests than their own constituents.
That feeling was particularly strong in Pueblo, an industrial city in southern Colorado where Democrats tend to be more conservative on social issues and voters of all persuasions tend to embrace gun rights.
“It’s a way of life in southern Colorado. Many generations grew up hunting and still hunt for food and for recreation,” said former state Rep. Buffie McFadyen, a Pueblo Democrat backed by the NRA when she was in the Legislature.
Political analyst Floyd Ciruli said Democratic voters seem to have been upset about what they saw as government overreach not just on guns but on other parts of the Democratic agenda.
Polling showed individual gun laws, such as limiting ammunition magazines to 15 rounds, had some support, but the size and speed of the gun package and other Democratic bills may contributed to the senators’ fate, he said.
About 40 percent of voters turned out in Pueblo, an impressive figure given that there were no mail ballots.
“There’s definitely a protest going on out there,” Ciruli said.
Bloomberg downplayed the vote as a low-turnout, off-year election and said the NRA would not go unchallenged in future recalls.
“We’re committed to backing elected officials across the country who are willing to face these attacks because they agree with Americans about the need for better background checks,” he said in a statement.
Morse, a former police chief in a Colorado Springs suburb, will be replaced by Republican Bernie Herpin, a former member of the Colorado Springs City Council. George Rivera, a former deputy police chief, will take over Giron’s seat.