We did a poll last weekend in Colorado Senate District 3 and found that voters intended to recall Angela Giron by a 12 point margin, 54/42. In a district that Barack Obama won by almost 20 points I figured there was no way that could be right and made a rare decision not to release the poll. It turns out we should have had more faith in our numbers becaue she was indeed recalled by 12 points.
After Newtown, Aurora and Tucson, gun-control advocates saw their best chance in a generation to tighten the nation’s gun laws. That’s how the argument went, at least…
In a state that’s trending Democratic and has seen terrible gun violence firsthand, money flowed in on both sides over the seats of two obscure state lawmakers. The results directly undermine hopes that new gun restrictions can be political winners, and are likely to further sap what momentum was left for tighter federal gun laws at the congressional level.
“Obviously, this is not going to be helpful,” said Matt Bennett, a vice president at the centrist Democratic group Third Way, which has been working closely with the White House and key senators on federal gun-control efforts. “The NRA picked their spots carefully, and they went after them hard. There’s always setbacks in the gun debate — always.”…
“Full speed ahead,” Mark Glaze, executive director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, told ABC News on Wednesday. “The lesson of yesterday is one we already knew: You can cherry-pick elections, spend a lot of money, and defeat and elect candidates. We will do exactly the same.”
Angela Giron, one of two Colorado state senators who is up for a recall election on Sept. 10 as a result of voting for new gun restrictions earlier this year, did not hesitate when I asked her over the weekend what the recall meant for New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, and the rest of the national gun-control movement.
“For Mayors Against Illegal Guns, if they lose even one of these seats, they might as well fold it up. And they understand that,” she said.
The results are not only a warning to politicians who underestimate the political risks of supporting restrictions on Second Amendment rights but also a rebuke to campaign finance reformers who worry that rich special interests can easily buy elections. The recall campaigns, while genuinely local in their origins, attracted support from the National Rifle Association, which kicked in $362,000. But supporters of Morse and Giron, led by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, raised eight times as much. That illustrates two important points about the role of money in politics: When money talks, you cannot predict what it will say, and people do not necessarily listen. Here you have a billionaire celebrity supporting a cause that appeals to many progressives (which he has every right to do under the First Amendment!) but failing to obtain the outcome he wanted, even though his side spent much more than the other guys. Like the embarrassing defeats of wealthy candidates who lavishly fund their own campaigns, the Colorado recall votes show that the size of your megaphone cannot save you if people do not like your message.
It would be accurate to say that the recall campaign was driven by opposition to the anti-gun bills which Morse and Giron pushed through the legislature. But this is only the first part of the story. As it turns out, Morse and Giron sealed their fates on March 4, the day that the anti-gun bills were heard in Senate committees. At Morse’s instruction, only 90 minutes of testimony per side were allowed on each of the gun bills. As a result, hundreds of Colorado citizens were prevented from testifying even briefly. Many of them had driven hours to come to the Capitol, traveling from all over the state.
That same day, 30 Sheriffs came to testify. They too were shut out, with only a single Sheriff allowed to testify on any given bill. So while one Sheriff testified, others stood up with him in support…
When Morse shut that down, and Chairperson Giron went along, they crossed the double-red line of Colorado government. Had the seven gun control bills (one of which I testified in favor) been heard on March 4-6, instead of being rammed through committees on March 4, the recall might never have happened. It’s one thing to lose; it’s another to thing to lose when you didn’t even have the opportunity to present your reasoning. While the gun control bills were before the Senate in March, President Morse urged his caucus to stop reading emails, to stop reading letters from constituents, to stop listening to voicemails, to vote for the gun bills and ignore the constituents. Giron, presciently following this strategy, had allowed citizens to raise Second Amendment concerns at a single town hall meeting, and thereafter refused to discuss the issue at public fora.
If an 8:1 Bloomberg money advantage can’t buy an election, then elected officials will be more reluctant to support repressive gun bills.
Democratic incumbents simply don’t lose in states like Delaware and California unless they have done something very, very wrong. They certainly don’t lose by 12 points. In fact, even in the great GOP midterm election of 2010, only a handful of Republicans won in districts where the president approached 60 percent of the vote (using his 2008 numbers, of course), and most of those were in Illinois, where Obama’s vote share had been somewhat enhanced by his “hometown hero” status. It’s just really difficult to write these results off completely, especially given that these were relatively high-profile special elections, driven by issues rather than personality…
The bottom line is that there is something of a damned-if-you-do/damned-if-you-don’t aspect to the Democrats’ argument. If this isn’t about turnout, but rather is a reaction to policy, then relatively modest gun-control efforts look pretty radioactive, and an awful lot of Democrats who supported the federal gun-control bill ought to look over their shoulders…
Gun-control proponents had argued that Newtown changed everything. The Colorado recalls are a fresh reminder of how weak an argument that truly is.
The truth was, even with the newfound strength of the gun control movement post-Newtown, the recall election had all the makings of a real fight. It was made to order for the gun-rights side, which, even with the rise of a real grass-roots movement of gun control advocates, still enjoys its famed “intensity gap” that makes it much easier to turn its supporters for an event like this: an off-cycle, one-off election at a time when most people are thinking more about making it to back to school night than heading to the polls. Further playing to their advantage, recall supporters succeeded in barring the use of mail-in ballots, the way that a majority of Coloradans now vote in normal elections.
Finally, the gun-rights side was fighting on favorable terrain—it had picked the five most vulnerable legislators who voted for the reforms and had managed to get enough signatures for a recall bid for only two of them. Morse and Giron were, by that process of natural selection, the ideal legislators to be turned into examples—Morse had won his conservative-leaning Colorado Springs district by less than a percentage point in 2010, and was not even planning to run for reelection next year, given that he was up against term limits. “The gun lobby chose their targets well,” Mark Glaze, the director of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, told me last night. “These are tough districts with a lot of guns.” More generally, he said, “It’s the kind of political tactic the gun lobby specializes in, low-turnout elections where the only people interested at the beginning of the process are people who want to throw people out.”
Sen. Lois Tochtrop, an Adams County Democrat and longtime Second Amendment activist, opposed five of the seven gun bills initially introduced in the session, including a lightning-rod proposal by Morse.
That proposal would have assigned liability for assault-style weapon damages to manufacturers and sellers, but Morse killed it at the 11th-hour because he didn’t have the votes to pass it through the Democratic-controlled Senate.
“I feel like all these gun bills have done — to quote the last words in the movie ‘Tora! Tora! Tora!’ — is to awaken a sleeping giant,” Tochtrop said during the debate.
Mr. Morse’s hand was on the tiller during much of that debate. A former police chief, he said he found himself in a position of not just rounding up votes, but actually explaining the mechanics of guns to fellow Democrats. He brought a magazine to show his colleagues how it worked. In an emotional speech in March, as the debate reached its peak, Mr. Morse stood on the Senate floor and spoke of gun violence and “cleansing a sickness from our souls.”
Angry constituents around Pueblo and Colorado Springs started to ask one another what they could do. In living room conversations and on Internet message boards for gun enthusiasts, the idea for a recall campaign against gun-control supporters began to jell…
As he left a polling place in Pueblo, Gordon Seybold, 56, nodded to the “Recall Giron” bumper sticker on the back of his white pickup. He felt Ms. Giron did not represent the rural, moderate voters in her district, and said the flood of contributions to her from Mayor Bloomberg of New York and philanthropists and liberal groups in Washington and California underscored his suspicions.
“It’s our election,” he said. “It’s not D.C. It’s not New York. It’s us.”
The votes weren’t about some abstract idea. As part of its gun-control push this spring, the Obama administration made the extremely unusual move of lobbying Colorado’s governor and its state legislators. If they could show that strict gun control could be passed in a western state such as Colorado, the administration thought, they could get it passed anyplace. The Colorado bills, like the ones in every place from Connecticut to New York to Maryland to California, had one central goal: to reduce gun ownership by making it costly to own guns…
Democrats feel that the struggle to reduce gun ownership is important for a simple reason: The issue that most divides conservatives and liberals is not taxes, not abortion, but gun control. Liberals trust government to make decisions, while conservatives tend to trust individuals. Letting people possess weapons is the ultimate form of trust in individuals. Democrats also know that gun ownership and familiarity with firearms go a long way toward determining how people feel about gun control. Democrats may believe that gun control enhances safety, but they also believe that it will weaken Republicans and conservatism in the long run.
The nine men who set the ball rolling weren’t supposed to be capable of organizing a town hall, let alone taking down the state-senate president. And yet they did it. Victor Head, a plumber who had never been politically active, took down a senator in a district that went Democratic in 2012 by ten points; a group of six concerned men from the AR15.com chat room removed the state’s top-ranking legislator. “We are a quiet people,” recall founder Tim Knight told his victorious friends when the results became known at the Stargazers Theater. “You may be tempted to ignore us. Clearly, that would be a mistake.”
Critics of what is colloquially described as the “gun lobby” have imagined a bogeyman that doesn’t exist, imputed false motives to earnest forces, and worried about the influence of outside money that was more than outmatched by opponents. Many were the headlines that set up yesterday’s vote as a “test of the strength of the NRA.” But the truth remains that the power that the defenders of the Second Amendment enjoy lies in the appeal of the Second Amendment itself — and, too, in that peculiar American genius for liberty and democracy. “Join or Die” says the famous flag. Here, enough people did to make a difference. The cheers that erupted around the theatre when Morse and Giron conceded were, as much as anything, cheers of relief. “People keep saying to me that it doesn’t matter if we lose,” one woman told me. “But I’ve lost my husband for the last two months. It matters!”
“Amateur hour?” Perhaps. But, as is proper in a republic, the amateurs were victorious.