A picture of state Sen. Brittany Pettersen surrounded by volunteers recently popped up in my social media feed. Packed several rows deep and bridging a city street, the volunteers congregated to help Pettersen battle a nascent recall campaign against her.
The picture and its context exposed the divergent effects recent recall efforts have had in Colorado.
While Democrats have seized on the recalls to demonstrate strength in organizing, messaging and fundraising, Republicans’ shambolic efforts exposed a party in disarray.
Not long ago I posited that recalls have become the new normal in Colorado. This year, Republicans have already begun recalls efforts against at least five Democrats — though it depends on how you count.
In fact, only two recall petitions have been approved for circulation by Colorado Secretary of State: one against former Rep. Rachelle Galindo and one against Rep. Tom Sullivan.
The acrimony and infighting between three separate Polis recall groups have garnered more attention than the campaigns themselves, all of which remain woefully underfunded and unsupported for such a monumental task.
Even the sole “successful” recall of Galindo — who resigned after credible allegations of sexual misconduct with a staffer arose — saw two separate recall groups at odds with each other before one imploded and bowed out.
The multiple failures to launch have laid bare the intraparty politics that sapped the Colorado GOP for more than two decades.
Power struggles between various factions that typically square off in the relative shadows of party caucuses, assemblies and primary elections have spilled over into the limelight of recall elections.
The activists and operatives now squabbling over whose recall effort should take center stage have been clawing at each other’s throats for years.
For example, Rocky Mountain Gun Owners has systematically targeted Republicans — including me — in primaries for almost 25 years. This year, RMGO attempted to hijack the Galindo recall before buckling to the group of locals who had already done the heavy lifting.
Similarly, RMGO championed the Sullivan recall before it collapsed. Ironically, Sullivan, the most powerful gun-control advocate in Colorado, swept into office with the assistance of RMGO who repeatedly attacked Republican incumbent Cole Wist during last year’s general election.
These intraparty fights have left the conservative movement and Republican Party too atrophied to mount effective general election campaigns.
The constant battles and name-calling have turned off large swaths of Republicans who have either left the party or withdrawn active support.
In contrast, Democrats spent the past 20 years building outside political infrastructure and advocacy groups to rally progressives around a litany of shared causes.
The long-term consequence of these divergent paths has seen Democrats adding tens of thousands of voters while Republicans endure net losses.
Ironically, as the Colorado Republican Party shrinks, its center shifts to the loudest, most ardent voices who have driven away other members of the coalition. The result is a slow, downward spiral that quickens as it closes in on the bottom.
In Colorado, that quickening became evident last year as Republicans lost all levers of power across the state, often by surprisingly large margins. The Republican reaction has been to channel the same energy into recall elections, presumably to take advantage of smaller electorates and concentrated resources.
Unfortunately for Colorado Republicans, the recent spat of recall elections only emphasized an inability to aggregate enough energy and clout to be effective, even in the most hospitable circumstances. That bodes very ominous for Republican hopes of winning back legislative seats, protecting Sen. Cory Gardner, or delivering the state’s electoral votes to President Trump in 2020.
When Congressman Ken Buck took the reins of the Colorado Republican Party in March, he declared the party needed to teach Democrats “to spell r-e-c-a-l-l.” As it turns out, the primary lesson to be drawn from recent recalls is that Republicans must learn how to spell “r-e-b-u-i-l-d” if they hope to remain relevant in Colorado politics.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq
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