The bare-knuckled effort to recall Colorado Democrat and Senate President John Morse will move forward after the deputy secretary of state ruled on Wednesday that the petitions seeking his ouster met “all of the constitutional and statutory requirements.”
However, it may only move forward to the next step of appeal — Colorado district court.
Opponents to both Morse and Democrat Sen. Angela Giron — who were targeted because of their support for tough new gun control laws — gathered enough valid signatures to force a recall election, but both lawmakers have fought back bitterly in recent days, each filing identical challenges with the secretary of state’s office about the wording on the petitions.
Mark Grueskin, an attorney representing constituents who have challenged the validity of petitions in both cases, argued that all of the signatures that have been certified as valid to trigger the lawmakers’ recalls should be tossed out because the petitions did not specify that an election would be held to replace them, as required of the state constitution.
Richard Westfall, who is representing the groups behind the recalls, said such “magic language” wasn’t necessary and that the petitions complied with relevant state statutes.
Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert, who conducted the hearings, agreed with Westfall. In her ruling she cited the need to “liberally construe” the laws in question because the right to recall elected officials is fundamental, according to Colorado courts.
She also took into consideration the doctrine of “substantial compliance” on behalf of the recallers, determining that they made a good faith effort to comply with applicable laws and “did not consciously attempt to mislead the electorate.”
Staiert’s ruling came after a surprise request by Grueskin for the Colorado secretary of state’s office to recuse itself in Giron’s case.
Republican Secretary of State Scott Gessler had traveled to Giron’s district in Pueblo in March to “give a quick lesson … on how to recall state Sen. Angela Giron, D-Pueblo, over her support for gun-control legislation earlier this week,” according to a newspaper report of the meeting.
“A recall election is brutal so you need to get all your ducks in a row,” Gessler told a monthly meeting of the Pueblo County Republican Party. “You don’t want to wait until the clock’s started to get organized.”
Although Gessler was not personally involved in hearing the recall challenges, Grueskin said it showed a bias in favor of Giron’s opponents.
“It looks bad for the secretary to have gone down to Pueblo and, in essence, have coached the proponents and the Republican Party on how to do this and then have his designee sit in judgment,” Grueskin told Fox 31. “It looks bad.”
Staiert told Grueskin she and Gessler have not discussed either of the recall challenges and late Wednesday she declined the request for recusal, saying that Gessler’s remarks were general in nature and that he was qualified to discuss recalls as the state’s top election official.
Wednesday’s ruling only addressed the challenge to Morse’s recall. The secretary of state’s office has a few more days to decide about Giron, but considering that the arguments were essentially the same, no one is expecting a different outcome.
The only venue left for Morse to avoid a recall election is district court, where an appeal on Wednesday’s ruling is expected to be filed.
The secretary of state will forward the ruling to Gov. John Hickenlooper, who will set a date for Morse’s recall election.
“The people have spoken,” Jennifer Kerns, a spokeswoman for the group seeking to oust Morse, told Fox31. “It is time for Senator Morse to face his fate at the ballot box.”
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