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Politics and Government

The alarm over Democratic agenda grows, and now the threat of recall elections looms

The national popular vote compact, tougher oil and gas regulations and other social issues are driving opposition from critics

Gov. Jared Polis gives his first State of the State address to a joint session of the state legislature at the state Capitol on Jan. 10, 2019. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)
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Mike Lefever knows all about the nascent effort to recall Gov. Jared Polis.

The Eastern Colorado farmer and corn-industry promoter said it’s all the talk online, particularly in rural parts of the state where voters are upset about the governor’s support for the national popular vote compact and new restrictions on oil and gas production.

“Everybody in Eastern Colorado is very upset about this because you’re taking our vote away and our income away,” Lefever said, referencing the two measures.

The building frustration toward Democratic leaders comes less than three months after the party took complete control at the Capitol and reflects conservative opposition to their aggressive policy agenda.

The potential repercussions extend to the General Assembly, where at least one Democratic lawmaker may face a recall election with fundraising support from the top Republican in the House.

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“It’s a bottom-up thing, but once that energy gets built from the bottom up, we will certainly try to harness it and try to get back some seats,” said House GOP leader Patrick Neville.

The Castle Rock lawmaker is listed as the director of a new recall effort in an email sent under his name this week that asked for money for a statewide recall of “some of the worst Democrat offenders.”

Neville and other opposition leaders argue that a new election is needed to oust Democrats because their policies are too radical. The national popular vote compact — a move to bypass the Electoral College — and overhaul of oil and gas regulations are the most often mentioned.

But other legislation listed in the complaints includes measures to allow judges to confiscate guns from those deemed a mental health risk; new mandates for schools that teach sexual education; and efforts to roll back spending limits in the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

A separate effort is underway to repeal the national popular vote law.

MORE: Chaos and conflict at the Colorado Capitol as Democrats push a big agenda and the GOP resists

Recall is a potent threat in Colorado

The threat of recalls is just the latest part of a Republican strategy to resist the Democratic agenda in any way possible. But the prospect of recall elections looms particularly large in Colorado politics, after the national attention on the ouster of two Democratic state senators in 2013 for their support of tougher gun regulations.

Whether this nuclear-option strategy will work again is much debated, even among out-numbered Republican lawmakers. Democratic leaders are dismissive of the entire concept, saying “people are going to scream overreach no matter what we do.”

The push to recall Polis is the most audacious because no one has ever done it successfully in Colorado. So far, the discussion is mostly relegated to social media platforms, making it hard to calibrate the seriousness of the campaign or the extent of its reach.

An issue committee and related 527 political organization filed paperwork this month with the state to start the “Official Recall Colorado Governor Jared Polis” movement. A separate Resist Polis PAC that formed in July changed its mission last week to include recalling the Democratic governor.

The petition campaign cannot start until six months into Polis’ term, according to state law, and to make the ballot it would require 631,266 signatures collected in 60 days — a Herculean and expensive task.

Polis declined to comment on the recall talk. A spokeswoman told The Colorado Sun “the governor is focused on governing.”

Lefever thinks Polis should take it seriously. And he told the governor the same when he met him at the Capitol last week during an agriculture event.

In a one-on-one conversation, he expressed his concern to the governor about the move to bypass the Electoral College in presidential elections and the financial impact to farmers if oil and gas production decreases in Colorado.

But he left unsatisfied with little response from the governor and the business card of an aide who shuffled him away.

“I’ll tell you what, if he wants to stay governor he better start talking to these people and getting that support back,” said Lefever, the past president of the Colorado Corn Administrative Committee. “He can’t rely on Boulder and Denver to elect him every time.”

House Republican leader Patrick Neville is lending support to supporters who want to recall Democratic lawmakers. (Kathryn Scott, Special to The Colorado Sun)

“A blunt instrument” to tame lawmakers

The recall threat also shadows Democratic state Rep. Meg Froelich.

The Greenwood Village lawmaker won her seat in a vacancy committee election in January after Democrat Jeff Bridges moved to fill an open state Senate seat. But now a voter in her district is exploring a petition drive to force a new election.

State Rep. Meg Froelich, a Greenwood Village Democrat. (Handout)

The first recall petition submitted for preliminary approval was rejected by the secretary of state’s office because it didn’t meet the requirements, a spokeswoman said.

Standing outside the House chamber the other day, Froelich called the threat of a recall “a blunt instrument (that’s) meant to be used to intimidate or moderate” and said it wouldn’t distract her.

A moment later, a supporter ended a conversation about an upcoming committee hearing with a pledge to campaign for her if a recall election materializes. “We’ll be knocking doors to help keep your job,” the woman told Froelich.

Republicans see success in opposition

To Republican leaders, a recall petition from the community is a sign of success. Neville, the House minority leader, said his team has worked to generate opposition to the Democratic agenda.

“We’re seeing a lot more citizen activation from the conservative movement in the Capitol,” he said in an interview. He added: “People are definitely seeing the overreach, they are seeing the true colors of the Democrats.”

MORE: How do Republicans stay relevant in the Colorado legislature? It depends who you ask.

Through the Values First Colorado political committee run by Neville’s brother, Republicans  created a website — recallcolorado.org — that features Froelich and Bridges as “bad actors” who need to be thrown out of office. And it lists a handful of bills as evidence of the overreach.

But Bridges suggested Republicans are resorting to desperate tactics and wasting taxpayer money if they push for a new election.

“This is, I think, an attack on the fabric of the Republic,” he said. “This is the way that Washington works. This is not the way it works in Colorado.”

Staff writer Jesse Paul contributed to this report.

Updated March 25 at 9 a.m.: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Mike Lefever’s affiliation with the Colorado Corn Administrative Committee. He is the past president.

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