Colorado's recall vote violates orderly democracy

Thursday , September 12, 2013 - 2:56 PM

Dan K. Thomasson, Scripps Howard New Service

One could make a good case that American democracy suffered a significant setback when one of its basic tenets -- the right of duly elected lawmakers to cast an honest vote of conscience or champion a policy -- was successfully challenged in Colorado, sending a debilitating signal to state legislators nationwide who might consider taking on the lords of the gun culture and their disciples.

Two Democratic members of the Colorado Senate, one of whom was its president, have been recalled for their part in the adoption of stricter gun control measures. Their crime was not corruption or malfeasance or any other prosecutable offense but simply supporting a policy that offended those who believe guns are sacred and that any effort to control them is blasphemy.

It mattered not that the motivation for the commission of what firearms proponents consider heresy was the Aurora, Colo., movie-theater massacre that killed 12 and wounded 70 others on July 20, 2012. The National Rifle Association helped light the fire to burn the heretics --John Morse of Colorado Springs, the Senate president, and Angela Giron of Pueblo -- contributing some $362,000 in the special recall election.

And while Mayors Against Illegal Guns and other anti-gun factions apparently spent a whole lot more, it was not enough against the religious fervor of some gun owners. Morse was a key figure in the adoption of the stricter new laws.

The precedent set here strains the electoral process based on the premise that a duly elected official is safe until the next election -- unless he or she demonstrates dishonesty or is tarnished by some incident -- and not subject to the whims of those who disagree. But Colorado is one of 19 states that permit voters to remove an official before term’s end simply because they don’t like the official’s position or policy; there’s no need for evidence of malfeasance. These states make recall far too easy.

This case sends a simple message to state legislators across the land: Keep your hands off our firearms or face the consequences of potential political annihilation. It’s a warning the Congress already pitifully accepts, as the failure of the president’s gun control agenda earlier in the year emphatically demonstrates. Challenging this right of unfettered access is un-American, or so some gun owners obviously believe.

It wouldn’t surprise me if the NRA’s next move is to make sure that every firearm has the image of George Washington engraved on it, with a notation thanking him for the Second Amendment. The organization might even propose listing the names of the Constitution’s signers along the barrels of long rifles. Some probably would prefer the likeness of God, but that wouldn’t fly since no one really knows what he looks like although he is supposed to have created us in his own image -- frequently, as in this case, a disturbing thought.

This affair drew national attention because of all the money slung around. There was $3.5 million in campaign contributions overall, nearly $3 million of which was raised by those defending the incumbents, according to the Colorado secretary of state’s office. The recall movement was started by a plumber who borrowed money from his grandmother to gin up the campaign against Giron.



What is terribly dismaying to me -- after more than 50 years of covering public affairs, including legislatures in three states -- is the abject capriciousness of an action that seems aimed merely at overturning an election. Recall elections are on the increase, and they aren’t limited to the local scene. In Congress, there are those who would impeach Barack Obama solely for pushing health care reform and other policies they oppose.

Oddly enough, the recall vote won’t change things much immediately. The Democrats still control the Legislature and governor’s office, and the stricter law will remain. It is the violence this does to orderly democracy that matters here.

Email Dan K. Thomasson, former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service, at thomassondan@aol.com.

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