Colorado voters unseated the Senate president and another lawmaker for helping pass the toughest gun-control limits in a decade, marking the first such recalls in state history and a pair of victories for the National Rifle Association.
Senate leader John Morse lost by just 343 votes, or two percent, while the margin against Senator Angela Giron was 56 percent to 44 percent, according to the Associated Press. Both are Democrats.
Their defeat may strengthen the NRA’s hand in states that tightened firearms restrictions after mass shootings in a Denver suburb and in Connecticut last year. The Fairfax, Virginia-based organization is the nation’s largest gun-rights lobbying group. After the killings, its officials argued that more Americans needed to be armed to defend themselves.
“The people spoke, and the people were heard that politicians need to listen to their constituents,” Laura Carno of Black Forest, who founded groups that contributed to the recall effort, said before the polls closed. “This has repercussions outside Colorado because Mayors Against Illegal Guns is trying to play in many elections across the country.”
Colorado joined New York, Connecticut and Maryland in approving strict gun laws in response to the December elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, as a push for federal measures stalled in Congress.
The Colorado campaign pitted the NRA against the group whose co-chairman is New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He gave $350,000 to a Denver organization that supported Morse, of Colorado Springs, and Giron, of Pueblo. The mayor is founder and majority owner of Bloomberg News parent Bloomberg LP.
Recall campaigns amassed about $3.5 million, according to a Sept. 9 Denver Post report that examined 10 issue committees involved in both races. Opponents outraised election backers, collecting nearly $3 million, about five times more than the $540,000 raised by Second Amendment advocates, the newspaper found.
Voters “sent a clear message to their elected officials that their primary job is to defend our rights and freedoms and that they are accountable to their constituents -- not the dollars or social engineering agendas of anti-gun billionaires,” the NRA said in a statement.
The NRA, through the Committee to Restore Coloradans’ Rights, spent about $360,000 from March through Aug. 29, according to campaign disclosure statements that don’t cover the intense final days of the campaign.
The mayors group sent more than two dozen organizers to Colorado in the past two weeks to help get out the vote, said Mark Glaze, the organization’s executive director.
“The NRA walked away with an important lesson, and that is that these kinds of recalls to kick legislators out of office are not going to be cheap and easy anymore,” Glaze said in an interview. “They have to spend every dime they have and pull out the stops and we’re going to be matching them every step of the way.”
Morse and Giron, who both voted for the gun laws, are the first Colorado lawmakers ever recalled. Republicans elected separately from the recall vote, Bernie Herpin and George Rivera, will replace them when the next legislative session begins in January.
Recall efforts began in April, a month after Governor John Hickenlooper, a first-term Democrat, signed measures passed by the Democratic-controlled legislature requiring background checks for firearms sales and limiting the capacity of ammunition magazines.
“We are certainly disappointed by the outcome of the recall elections,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “It’s now time we refocus again on what unites Coloradans -- creating jobs, educating our children, creating a healthier state -- and on finding ways to keep Colorado moving forward.”
The laws, which took effect July 1, were inspired by the Newtown shooting that killed 26 and the Aurora theater massacre in July 2012 that killed 12 people and wounded 58. Colorado was also the site of the 1999 Columbine High School shooting in a Denver suburb in which two students killed 13 people and themselves.
Recall advocates got a jump on the senators, Giron said in an interview before the outcome was known. She said her supporters visited thousands of homes over the weekend to let voters know that her seat might be in jeopardy.
“That it even got this far is pretty surprising to people,” she said. “I’m one of them -- I didn’t think it would get to this point.”
Morse, a former police chief and accountant, was first elected to the Senate in 2006. He was returned to office in 2010 by just 340 votes.
Giron, a former administrator for Boys & Girls Club, was in her first term. She was elected in 2010.