John Morse recall, Colorado State Senate (2013)

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An effort to recall John Morse, a member of the Democratic Party, from his elected position representing District 11 in the Colorado State Senate was launched on May 12, 2013. The recall took place on September 10, 2013. Morse was successfully recalled.

Morse faced a recall for his leadership in passing three gun control bills. The legislature drew particular ire for passing these bills as "emergency legislation," circumventing any possible voter referendum.[1]

Morse faced Bernie Herpin in the recall election.[2]

Morse, who faced a recall along with fellow Senator Angela Giron, was the first elected official at the state level to be the target of a successful recall petition.[3]


Following the successful recalls of Morse and Giron, Democrats in the Colorado State Senate held the majority by only one vote. Because of this narrow majority, Republicans have the chance to influence who the next Senate President is. Although the majority caucus (Democrats) selects a nominee, that person must be confirmed by the entire chamber. Traditionally, the minority caucus votes with the majority one, though some conservative Democrats are considering allying with Republicans to choose a different Senate President.[4]

Recall results

Morse was successfully recalled. Bernie Herpin (R) was chosen to replace him in the Colorado State Senate.[5]

Shall John Morse be recalled from the office of State Senate, District 11?
Approveda Recall9,09450.96%
Candidates nominated to succeed John Morse should he be recalled:
ApprovedaBernie Herpin (R) 8,895 83.2%
DefeateddWrite-in 1,796 16.8%


A package of three gun control bills, passed in February 2013, is seen as the cause of this recall election.

  • House Bill 13-224 restricts the magazine size allowed or manufactured in the state.
  • House Bill 13-228 requires the Colorado Bureau of Investigation to recoup costs related to background checks and creating a legislative appropriation for such costs.
  • House Bill 13-229 enforces background checks for the transfer of a firearm between two private individuals.

As President of the Senate, Morse chose to pass the bills as "emergency legislation," eliminating any possible voter referendum to repeal the laws.[1]

Text of measure

The official ballot text reads as follows:[6]

Recall Question

Shall John Morse be recalled from the office of State Senate, District 11?

Yes [ ]

No [ ]


Successor Candidates (Vote for One)

Candidates nominated to succeed John Morse should he be recalled:

Republican Party Bernie Herpin [ ]

Independent Write-in [ ]


Supporting arguments

Second Amendment issue

The Basic Freedom Defense Fund (BFDF) is leading the recall campaign against Morse. Anthony Garcia, Founder of BFDF, said of Morse: "He's a very powerful politician and he's the one who pushed all this to go through; he's the man to go after. He also promised to focus on jobs and the economy and he hasn't done that. The bills he passed has caused hundreds of jobs to leave the state; they've lost the state millions in tax revenue."[8] Fifty-four Colorado sheriffs filed a lawsuit against the trio of gun control legislation passed by Morse.[9]

Ethics question

A Colorado Springs-based organization named "I Am Created Equal" ran a television ad questioning Morse's ethical background. The ad refers to an ethical complaint filed in 2011 over Morse's per diem spending, although the complaint was dismissed by a bipartisan legislative committee. Laura Carno, owner of I Am Created Equal, responded to criticism of the ad, stating that "Sen. Morse can tell us all he wants that other politicians think that’s acceptable behavior, but now that’s up to the voters to decide."[10]

Public safety record

The Colorado Springs Police Protective Association (CSPPA) criticized Morse for his background on public safety bills, and in particular one that would have allowed harsher penalties on violent sexual predators who attack children. "During his time in the Senate, John Morse didn’t ask for our input once on public safety issues and consequently passed legislation that made our jobs tougher,” said Barry Freeman, a member of CSPPA's Board of Directors. “Even more shocking is that John Morse voted against protecting children from violent sexual predators,” said another CSPPA board member, Tim Ives.[10]


Former Gov. Bill Ritter backed Morse's work in the legislature and spoke to his experience in law enforcement. “As a former police officer and police chief," Ritter said, "he knows what’s necessary to help get repeat dangerous felons off the street.” Congressman Ed Perlmutter endorsed Morse, citing his dedication to his constituents: “John always stands up for his community and for the state of Colorado. He will continue to fight for common sense solutions that will continue to grow Colorado’s economy.”[10] On August 29, Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) released a statement in support for the senators: "We were only able to pass the law because Democratic legislators had the courage to stand up to outside special interests — but now those groups are trying to make an example of two of them by forcing them into a recall election."[11] New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg donated $350,000 to the defense efforts of Morse and Giron.[12]

Morse's response

Morse offered the following statement on May 12, 2013:[8]

"I have a strong, strong, strong support of the district, and probably the strongest I ever had. I get stopped on the streets for the first time in my political career for taking a true stand, showing true leadership and true courage."

In response to a court ruling on July 18, Morse stated:[13]

“I started working for this community as an EMT, a paramedic or police officer in 1977. I have dedicated my life to public service. I look forward to this election. I have already been elected twice, I am excited by the prospect of being elected a third time.”

What's at stake?

This recall election is seen by many as a national referendum on gun control. Michael Bloomberg, who is a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG), offered $350,000 to a group backing the senators, while Eli Broad gave the same group $250,000. On the other side, the National Rifle Association has contributed more than $100,000 to the groups opposing Giron and Morse, while the conservative-linked Koch brothers have provided undisclosed amounts of support through "voter education." When asked what this recall meant to MAIG, Giron offered the following statement: "For Mayors Against Illegal Guns, if they lose even one of these seats, they might as well fold it up. And they understand that." Naturally, both sides are pointing to the others' outside spending in hopes of garnering support.[14]

Aside from guns, however, a number of other issues have cropped up. Much like a general election, questions have been raised on both sides about key issues such as abortion, the environment, healthcare, and taxes. Herpin and Rivera each have anti-abortion backgrounds, prompting Planned Parenthood to get involved in the recalls. Conservation Colorado, a group dealing in environmental issues, donated $75,000 to an anti-recall group. Americans for Prosperity, a group funded by the Koch brothers, has made the senators' records on the Affordable Care Act, taxes, and renewable energy the focus of a "voter education" campaign. Because it is claiming its actions do not directly involve the recall election, Americans for Prosperity is not required to report its spending.[14]

Aside from the national gun control debate, stakes are high for Democrats in Colorado. If both of these recalls are successful, the Democratic majority in the Colorado State Senate would be reduced to one seat, leaving them vulnerable in the 2014 election.[10]


A statewide poll conducted by Quinnipiac University revealed the following:[15]

When disapproving of a politician, should one wait for re-election or attempt a recall?
Poll Re-election RecallMargin of ErrorSample Size
Quinnipiac University - August 22, 2013
Note: The polls above may not reflect all polls that have been conducted in this race. Those displayed are a random sampling chosen by Ballotpedia staff. If you would like to nominate another poll for inclusion in the table, send an email to
Do you approve of the gun control legislation passed by the legislature?
Poll Yes NoMargin of ErrorSample Size
Quinnipiac University - August 22, 2013
Note: The polls above may not reflect all polls that have been conducted in this race. Those displayed are a random sampling chosen by Ballotpedia staff. If you would like to nominate another poll for inclusion in the table, send an email to

Path to the ballot

See also: Laws governing recall in Colorado

Supporters of the recall needed to collect 7,200 valid signatures by June 3 to force a recall election. Nearly 16,000 signatures were turned in to the Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler, who had until June 18 to verify them. Gesler announced that 10,137 were deemed valid, and Morse's lawyers announced on the same day that they were challenging the validity of the petition due to its wording. On July 3, Deputy Secretary of State Suzanne Staiert ruled the recall petition constitutional and that the recall process would proceed.[8][16][17][18]


Legality of petitions

Morse filed a lawsuit with the Denver District Court to invalidate signatures accepted by the Secretary of State's office. Morse's lawyer argued that the petition language violated the state's constitution because it lacked verbiage demanding the election of a replacement for the recalled official. This case was thrown out by Judge Robert Hyatt, who claimed that the recall process was a "fundamental [right] of a republican form of government." Hyatt further stated that the law must be "liberally construed" to allow constituents to exercises those fundamental rights.[13]

Extended filing deadline

The Libertarian Party of Colorado sued Secretary of State Scott Gessler (R), charging that a recently-passed law which calls for elections to be held by mail conflicts with a constitutional provision allowing for candidates to qualify for 15 days before an election. Only Republican candidates were able to qualify before the ballot printing deadline, and some 600 ballots had already been printed and mailed by the time of the decision. On August 15, District Judge Robert McGahey granted more time for candidates to file to run in the recall election, extending the deadline to August 26. In his ruling, McGahey said that the state constitution takes precedence over state statute, and chided the Colorado General Assembly for not considering the article on recalls in passing the elections law.[19][20][21]

Gessler announced that because of this ruling, there would not be enough time to print mail-in ballots for the election. Pueblo County Clerk Bo Ortiz (D) filed an appeal, saying that because voters will now have to appear in person to cast a ballot, an estimated 900 overseas voters including active military might not be able to take part in the elections.[22]

Recall ballot process

On August 26, Gov. John Hickenlooper filed a request with the Colorado Supreme Court to clarify whether or not voters would be required to vote in favor of a recall in order to also vote for a replacement. Hickenlooper noted that in 2003 a similar procedure was ruled unconstitutional in California after voters were required to vote on the recall before getting to choose a candidate. On August 28, the Colorado court agreed with the California one, so voters are not required to offer an opinion on the recall before selecting a candidate.[23][24]

Campaign contributions

Recall supporters

The following are known contributors for the recall:[14][25][26]

  • National Rifle Association - $108,000
  • Americans for Prosperity - Undisclosed
  • Recall John Morse - $14,000

Recall opponents

The following are known contributors against the recall:[14][25][26]

  • Michael Bloomberg - $350,000
  • Eli Broad - $250,000
  • Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee - $250,000
  • Service Employees International Union - $100,000
  • American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees - $100,000
  • Conservation Colorado - $75,000


  • May 12: Recall paperwork with the Colorado Secretary of State.
  • June 3: Deadline to collect 7,200 signatures to force a recall election. Recall supporters turned in nearly 16,000 signatures.
  • June 18: Colorado Secretary of State certifies 10,137 signatures as valid. Morse's lawyers file dispute.
  • July 3: Petition ruled constitutional.
  • July 9: Bernie Herpin selected by Republicans to face Morse in recall election.[2]
  • July 18: Lawsuit against constitutionality dismissed in court.
  • July 29: Herpin files petition signatures to run.
  • August 15: Court extends candidate filing until August 26. Mail-in ballots ruled out.
  • August 28: Court rules voters do not need to vote on the recall before they can vote on a candidate.
  • September 10: Recall election.

See also

Suggest a link

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1, "A Voter Revolt," June 11, 2013
  2. 2.0 2.1, "Sen. John Morse recall: GOP selects Bernie Herpin as nominee," July 9, 2013
  3., "Colorado Recalls Fire Up Gun Debate," August 6, 2013
  4., "Leadership battle underway in Colorado Senate after recall election," October 2, 2013
  5., "Election Summary Report - 2013 El Paso County Recall Election - Unofficial Results," accessed September 10, 2013
  6., "Official Ballot for El Paso County, Colorado State Senate District 11 Recall Election - Tuesday, September 10, 2013," accessed August 29, 2013
  7. 7.0 7.1 Note: This text is quoted verbatim from the original source. Any inconsistencies are attributed to the original source.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2, "Recall efforts underway for lawmakers supporting gun control legislation," May 12, 2013
  9., "Video: Fifty-four Colorado Sheriffs File Suit Against Anti-Gun Bills," May 18, 2013
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3, "Political gunfire erupts in both recall campaigns," August 26, 2013
  11., "Hickenlooper: Colorado recalls are attempts to ‘intimidate and punish’," August 29, 2013
  12., "New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, NRA join the Colorado recall fray," August 28, 2013
  13. 13.0 13.1, "Recall elections are on!," July 18, 2013
  14. 14.0 14.1 14.2 14.3, "This Local Election Could Determine the Future of Gun Control - Why Michael Bloomberg has gone all-in on a Colorado race," August 28, 2013
  15., "Colorado Voters Oppose Recall Effort By Wide Margin, Quinnipiac University Poll Finds; Marijuana Bill Won't Bring Rocky Mountain High," August 22, 2013
  16., "Recall of Colorado anti-gun pol gets 16,000 signatures," June 3, 2013
  17., "Recall of Colorado gun controller gets enough signatures," June 18, 2013
  18., "Colorado Secretary of State’s Office Approves Petitions, Recall of Senators Moves Forward," July 7, 2013
  19. Associated Press, "Colorado recall candidates get more time to challenge gun-control supporters," August 12, 2013.
  20. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named pc
  21. The Pueblo Chieftain, "Trump card," August 15, 2013.
  22. The Pueblo Chieftain, "Ortiz asks high court to restore mail-ballot recall election," August 14-15, 2013.
  23., "Colorado Supreme Court expected to rule Tuesday on recall question," August 27, 2013
  24., "Colorado Supreme Court clarifies rules for Sept. 10 recall elections," August 28, 2013
  25. 25.0 25.1, "Colorado recall becoming referendum on guns," August 28, 2013
  26. 26.0 26.1, "Recall campaign money trickles in, some can't be traced," August 28, 2013