Republicans responded to the “blue wave” that swept Democrats into Colorado state offices in 2018 with a deluge of recall efforts this spring and summer, and after many of those attempts failed, one Republican legislator wants to strengthen the brakes on the process.
“As a conservative, I believe in small government and I believe in the right to citizen recalls,” state Sen. Jack Tate, of Centennial, said in a recent news release. “But it is also our duty to protect Coloradans' right to ethical elections and functional government, and the current process invites disruption.”
Tate's proposed Colorado VOTER Act — for “Valuing Open, Truthful and Ethical Recalls” — would bar recall efforts during the four months in which the state Legislature is active each year, require disclosing the cost of a recall and make clear that a recall petition's printed argument must be limited to “statements of verifiable fact.”
The proposal came on the heels of the announcement that a recall effort against Democratic Gov. Jared Polis had failed to gather enough petition signatures to put a recall on the ballot.
Shortly after, campaigns to recall Democratic state Sens. Brittany Pettersen, of Lakewood, and Pete Lee, of Colorado Springs, announced that they also would not be turning in signatures.
Those losses came after the Colorado Republican Party's vice chair ended her effort to recall state Rep. Tom Sullivan, a Centennial Democrat, in June.
One recall effort remains, against state Senate President Leroy Garcia, a Pueblo Democrat, with an Oct. 18 deadline to submit signatures.
“It's prudent for us to look at our recall process and ask ourselves, 'Is this still serving Coloradans the way it is supposed to, or do we need an update to reflect a 21st century political reality?' '' Tate said in the release. “My focus is ensuring that our recall process isn't creating so much dysfunction that it is hurting our democratic institutions.”
U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, the state Republican Party chair, declined to comment on Tate's proposal or this year's recall efforts in general.
Earlier this year, Buck made the memorable remark to supporters when backing recalls against Democrats: “We need to teach them how to spell R-E-C-A-L-L.”
Robert Preuhs, a political science professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver, said Tate's proposal would likely have a marginal effect on how many recall efforts crop up in Colorado.
“What it doesn't do is change the state Constitution, which does allow for recalls for any reason,” Preuhs said.
But an important change the proposal would bring is taking four months during the legislative session out of play, “where citizens are probably the most attuned to votes that go in a direction they're opposed to,” Preuhs said. That gives legislators more breathing room during work season, and it forces recall efforts to try and gain steam when voters aren't as engaged, Preuhs added.
Requiring that the pro-recall statements on petitions — which explain to voters the reason for the recall attempt — be limited to verifiable fact may change the pitch of recalls, Preuhs said. The proposal would also bar defamatory language.
But “exactly what the definition of verifiable fact is might differ from one party to another given the rhetoric of the times,” Preuhs said, adding that the proposal wouldn't change what's allowed in a recall campaign's message outside of the petition itself.
Disclosing the estimated taxpayer cost to administer the petition campaign — and, if a petition is successful, a recall election — may make those concerned with fiscal responsibility think twice, Preuhs said.
Aside from Tate's stated goals regarding ethics and smooth government, it could be seen as a move to “reduce the possibility of the Republican Party being viewed as the party of recalls,” Preuhs said.
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