Following historic legislative recall elections in Colorado last month, the Democratic Party’s legislative majority in the Centennial State has been worn down to paper-thin margin.
With two Democrats, including Senate President John Morse, recalled for their sponsorship of new gun-control laws, the Democrats are left with a one-seat majority in the state Senate. The Democratic caucus must choose a new leader to take charge of the rattled ranks.
Two Republicans, elected as part of last month’s recalls in Colorado Springs and Pueblo, were sworn in Thursday inside a Senate chamber packed with pro-gun activists and other recall proponents. Bernie Herpin, a former city councilman, won Morse’s seat while former police chief George Rivera will replace Pueblo’s Angela Giron.
While swearing-in ceremonies are usually sedate, low-key affairs, Thursday’s ceremony was an encore victory party to last month’s recalls. Both efforts were backed largely by grassroots activists, who have alleged they even faced pushback from the state Republican party.
The ousted lawmakers have been vocal in their response to the elections, which attracted significant national attention. Morse called Herpin a “pawn in an election where almost 80 percent of voters did not even participate and only 11 percent of the district elected him,” according to The Denver Post.
Morse lost his recall vote with a margin of 51-49 percent, but the result in Giron’s district were surprising to even veteran political handicappers. In Pueblo, long a union Democrat stronghold, 56 percent of voters voted “yes” to oust her.
Recall proponents were outspent 7-to-1 in the campaign, though national groups pitched in on both sides. With Morse’s departure, Democrats will soon vote for a new president, though there is some uncertainty as to who will win the top job.
State Sen. Morgan Carroll, an Aurora trial attorney, is widely seen as a rising star who would naturally be next in line for the job. The Denver Post has reported Sen. Mary Hodge is also eyeing the job, and she may get a boost from an unexpected place: minority leader Bill Cadman.
Whoever holds the gavel, however, Democrats will have to cope with a much narrower margin than before, with the defection of even one member putting Republicans in a power play.
Despite picking up two senate seats and a good deal of momentum from last month’s vote, Republicans are still very much a minority party in Colorado politics: The state House and governor’s mansion are held by Democrats, and the appointed state Supreme Court leans left by most accounts.
The Colorado legislature returns to work in January.
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