As Colorado prepares to go live with new gun-control laws next week, the political landscape that favored Democrats at the start of the year has changed. Suddenly, Republicans — who began the year almost powerless after the 2012 election — feel they have a rallying cry and a cause they can use to fuel victories.
In what became the most emotionally charged partisan battle of the legislative session, Democrats with zero Republican support — and even some opposition from within the party — passed new laws that limit ammunition magazines and require universal background checks on all gun sales and transfers.
And with those laws now set to take effect Monday, the political effects of these measures are likely to reign as mobilizing issues for months to come, with Republicans announcing their candidacies in an effort to unseat Democrats in both the state Capitol and the governor’s office.
“It most certainly energizes the GOP base and helps develop this narrative about the Democrats’ control of state government this year,” Ken Bickers, a professor of political science at the University of Colorado at Boulder, said about the new gun laws.
The legal team backing a supporter of Senate President John Morse on Thursday waged an aggressive attack against the petition process used to recall the state lawmaker.
With straightforward readings of the Colorado Constitution and even an opinion poll, attorneys stressed in a hearing before the secretary of state’s office that the recall effort of the Colorado Springs Democrat failed to meet the basics needed to remove him from office.
Mark Grueskin, who represents the Morse supporter who filed the contest, argued Thursday the constitution clearly outlines that petitions must note the election of a successor to the recalled official — something the petitions in the Morse recall did not do. Grueskin placed the burden on the proponents of the petition and not the secretary of state’s office, which by law is not allowed to offer legal advice.
EL PASO COUNTY — It’s rare to find a Democrat representing Senate District 11, especially in a part of the state where most of the surrounding Senate districts are Republican strongholds.
Even more rare — if not unprecedented — is a Democrat who not only won the seat, but then turned around and won re-election four years later.
But that’s exactly what John Morse did, in 2006 and 2010.
And now, Morse, who has since worked his way to becoming Senate president and is term-limited in 2014, appears on the cusp of a third election later this year.
Yet, it’s an election no incumbent politician wants to endure.
“Whether he wants it or not, I guarantee there’s going to be a recall election,” said Robert Harris, a member of the Basic Freedom Defense Fund, which is spearheading a recall of Morse. The organization must gather 7,178 signatures from residents of the district before a June 3 deadline.
“People are going door-to-door. We have business owners with petitions at the ready if a person wants to sign it. We’re just ready,” he said.
The recall effort sprang from conservative anger at Morse and his party for passing gun-control measures.
The idea behind Sen. Pat Steadman’s proposal to overhaul Colorado’s drug sentencing laws on its surface is simple: Prioritize treatment over incarceration and, in turn, lower the recidivism rates of habitual drug users.
But even as the Denver Democrat’s effort has garnered the support of his Republican colleagues, it’s caused a rift with Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey, who staunchly opposes the legislation and argues it gives high-level drug dealers a break when it comes to prison sentences and offers more incentive to continue breaking the law.
A pair of leading Democratic lawmakers are pushing back on a bill staunchly supported by Gov. John Hickenlooper to repurpose part of an old, rural prison campus as a residential facility for the state’s homeless.
Sen. Pat Steadman of Denver and Rep. Claire Levy of Boulder question both the cost and whether the initiative isn’t more about finding a purpose for the Fort Lyon prison shuttered at Hickenlooper’s request than it is about helping resolve homelessness.
“There’s some real concerns about the conditions and maintenance of the facility,” said Steadman, the chairman of the Joint Budget Committee. “It’s an old facility that’s going to have ongoing costs for years to come.”
Asbestos has been found in the buildings and on the grounds.
Steadman is opposed to the bill, which easily passed the House on Monday. It now goes to the Senate, where it could face a tougher battle.
Facing a budget shortfall two years ago of more than $1 billion, Hickenlooper closed the prison to save the state cash — a move that killed about 200 jobs in Bent County, where poverty rates were hovering near 35 percent.
Whether it’s an assault or a relatively minor offense such as destroying a library book, Coloradans convicted of a misdemeanor would have to open wide and say “aaagh,” should lawmakers pass a requirement that the state collect from them an oral DNA sample.
In what’s billed as an ambitious effort to solve cold cases, exonerate those wrongfully convicted and quell future crimes, a Democratic state lawmaker wants to require that individuals convicted of Class 1, Class 2 or Class 3 misdemeanors must submit a DNA sample to be stored in a statewide database system.
But this effort to expand DNA collection to misdemeanor convictions has raised concerns about privacy issues and the rationale behind such a requirement.
“DNA is the 21st century fingerprint,” said Rep. Dan Pabon, a Denver Democrat, who is the sponsor of the legislation that’s set to be heard before a House committee Thursday. ” We have become so sophisticated in our technology and science, we can without a shadow of a doubt link someone physically to a crime.”
Already in Colorado, individuals arrested on a felony charge and some misdemeanors involving unlawful sexual conduct are required to provide the state with a DNA sample. And those convicted of a misdemeanor under the proposed legislation would have to pay a $128 fee to cover the costs of the sample.
When retired astronaut Capt. Mark Kelly entered a crammed committee room at the state Capitol on Monday to testify in support of universal gun background checks, heads turned as throngs of cameras flashed at his presence.
The arrival of Kelly, whose wife, former U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords, was wounded in a 2011 mass shooting outside a Tucson grocery store, not only symbolized his star power as a national figure for stricter gun laws but solidified Colorado’s importance on the national stage in the debate over guns.
Kelly joined Second Amendment scholar David Kopel of the University of Denver; a rape victim from Nevada; and others for what has become a national circuit of individuals engaged in the country’s gun debate.
Coloradans, who have endured mass shootings at Columbine High School and at an Aurora movie theater last year, have long held a mix of ideas about guns that favor the rights of firearms owners, but those opinions have become more nuanced, according to the findings of a new Denver Post poll.
While a majority of respondents expressed support for gun-owner rights, they expressed greater support for specific limitations that would strengthen gun laws.
Proposals that would ban assault-style rifles, limit the number of cartridges allowed in ammunition magazines and require universal background checks on gun sales garnered more than 60 percent support from those polled.
The findings of the poll come after President Barack Obama last week announced a plan to toughen gun-control laws nationally after highly reported mass shootings. A handful of his proposals are already in the works at the state level.
The latest Post poll, conducted the day after Obama’s announcement, found that overall support for the rights of gun owners shrank from an earlier Post poll in September — conducted shortly after the Aurora theater shootings.