Complaint in recall of Colorado Dem hinges on wording of the petition

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Greg Campbell Contributor
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The lawyer for Democratic Colorado Senate President John Morse made his first public case Thursday for tossing all 10,000-plus signatures certified as valid for triggering a recall election against the pol.

Mark Grueskin, an attorney representing a constituent who brought the complaint against the recall effort, said the petitions should be deemed invalid because they didn’t contain language specifying that there would be an election to replace Morse if he’s recalled.

He said constituents in Morse’s Colorado Springs district were confused about how to replace a recalled politician. His firm even hired North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling to make his point.

The poll showed that only 46 percent of those surveyed correctly knew that the Morse recall involved an election. Although that’s a plurality of voters surveyed, Grueskin said the 54 percent who chose one of four other options as an answer show that the language required by the state constitution “isn’t just a technicality.”

Richard Westfall, a lawyer with the state Republican Party representing the El Paso Freedom Defense Committee, the group seeking to kick Morse out of office for his support of new gun control laws, was quick to fire back that the survey wasn’t conducted among those who signed the petitions, but the entire district, making it irrelevant.

He also called the phrase that the petitions lacked “magic language” that isn’t required in statutes that say how such things are to be worded.

Both men dug deep into Colorado’s law books in making their argument. Grueskin acknowledged that the secretary of state was in a difficult position in having to rule on the matter. The hearing was presided by Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert.

It was clear during hours of testimony Thursday that no matter what her decision about the petitions, which is due by July 3, it will likely be appealed to district court by the losing party.

Both sides seem to have solid arguments. Grueskin points to the state constitution requiring language about elections to replace a recalled politician being required for petitions.

Westfall, on the other hand, is relying on statutes that specifically dictate what must be on recall forms but which make no mention of requiring language about elections.

He also introduced as exhibits nine petitions for recall that had been approved by the secretary of state’s office over the past 10 years (including two others seeking Morse’s recall that were never turned in with signatures). None of those petitions, one of which resulted in a recall election being held against a district attorney, had the language Grueskin says is required.

Grueskin blew that off as meaningless, saying it was just evidence that the government had been making a mistake all these years and that it’s now time to correct it.

“The choice is to make the same mistake again and again and again” or fix it, he said. “It takes resolve to say a mistake has been made and do the right thing.”

Westfall countered that there was no mistake and that the signature gatherers had complied with state law.

He said if the recall is invalidated, it would violate the constitutional rights of everyone who signed a petition.

Morse is not the only politician facing a recall. People seeking to replace Democratic Sen. Angela Giron also turned in enough valid signatures to trigger a  recall.

Her supporters have filed a similar complaint about the petition language. A hearing on that matter will be held July 3, but the arguments are likely to be the same — Grueskin is representing the constituent in that complaint as well.

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