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Gov. Jared Polis leads a rally May 6, 2019, for Colorado Democrats celebrating the party's work during the 2019 lawmaking term. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis celebrated his first six months in office Monday. His critics marked the day with an effort to recall him from office.

The Dismiss Polis group received approval to circulate a petition and collect signatures from registered voters to force a special recall election. To do so, the governor’s critics must collect 631,266 valid signatures in 60 days, or more than 10,521 a day.

The task is so monumental that it’s never happened in Colorado, and campaign strategists say it’s an impossible goal, particularly with the group’s low-dollar budget. 

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Even the Dismiss Polis organizers acknowledge that the effort is improbable. “Make no mistake, it’s a Herculean task. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing,” spokeswoman Karen Kataline told The Colorado Sun.

Earlier in the day, Polis touted a lengthy list of accomplishments since taking office Jan. 8, in particular expanding full-day kindergarten, efforts designed to lower the cost of health care for certain populations and action to reduce carbon emissions.

A Polis spokesman declined to directly address questions about the recall election effort, instead issuing a statement saying the governor is “focused on governing for all of Colorado and ensuring that every Coloradan — no matter their ZIP code or political affiliation — has the opportunity to succeed.”

MORE: Jared Polis Promise Tracker: A look at the progress on his 2018 campaign pledges

Why do they want to recall Polis?

The recall effort is being promoted by critics of the Democrats who won control of the General Assembly and governor’s office in the 2018 election.

In the petition approved by the secretary of state’s office, petitioners Arthur Steele Graham and Barbara Ruth Hernandez, who are affiliated with the Dismiss Polis effort, listed four reasons to recall Polis.

All four are legislation signed into law by Polis:

  • A measure to add Colorado to the national popular vote compact, which would award the state’s nine electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the most votes nationwide.
  • An overhaul of the state’s oil and gas laws to require tougher drilling regulations and allow local government control.
  • New requirements to the sexual education curriculum for schools that teach it, including lessons on consent.
  • A red flag measure that gives judges the ability to order the seizure of firearms from people deemed a significant risk to themselves and others. 

The organizers contend Polis went further than he campaigned in supporting these new policies, even though he expressed support for some of them.

“People are so incredibly riled up and upset about what happened in this last Colorado legislative session,” Kataline said. “Basically a lot of people are just realizing this is not what they are voting for and this will truly change the state of Colorado in a drastic and dramatic and even radical way.”

Gov. Jared Polis speaks during a post-session forum hosted by The Colorado Sun and CBS 4 at the University of Denver on May 13, 2019. (Eric Lubbers, The Colorado Sun)

Who is behind the recall campaign?

A number of political entities want to recall Polis, and infighting among them is causing consternation and impacting fundraising, as The Sun reported in June.

Dismiss Polis is the lead group and is working with the Resist Polis PAC. The organizers say they are not affiliated with the Colorado Republican Party, and the two petitioners are not well-known political operatives. (The state GOP did not return a message Monday about whether it would support the recall effort.)

The Dismiss Polis committee filed its first campaign report last week with $20,325 raised and no spending. Many of the large donors work in agriculture on the Eastern Plains, including Michael Brownell, of Fleming, who gave $4,500; Ervin Mitchek of Kit Carson, who gave $2,500; and Tim Sellers, of Windsor, and Damon Mitchek of Sterling, who each gave $2,000.

Other organizers include Alan and Julia Gentz of Logan County. She is listed as the group’s registered agent. Both are prominent critics of the state’s conservation easement program.

Dismiss Polis is not working with another political entity that wants to oust Polis, a self-titled group named the Official Recall Colorado Governor Jared Polis committee. It raised more than $100,000, with more than $62,500 in cash as of June 20. And the organizers told The Sun they don’t have the money or volunteers needed to be successful in forcing a recall campaign.

MORE: Gov. Jared Polis recall effort mired by infighting and legal questions about donors, review finds

How does the recall process work in Colorado?

The Colorado Constitution allows registered voters to recall an elected official or newly approved law. (In fact, a separate effort is trying to recall the national popular vote law.)

A crucial first step is submitting a petition to the state for format approval before collecting signatures. Dismiss Polis sent this material to the state July 3, and it was reviewed and approved Monday — the first day possible because the governor must serve for six months before a recall can be initiated.

Now the group must collect all its valid signatures by Sept. 6. It’s a high bar. The 631,000-plus needed is five times the number needed to put a question on the ballot, and the secretary of state’s office believes that the most signatures collected for the ballot was 212,332 in 2018. 

Even as Dismiss Polis representatives acknowledge the difficulty, organizers say some people are “just chomping at the bit” to sign petitions. “People who have lived in this state for generations and they see their livelihoods being taken away and seeing a very heavy hand under the Gold Dome,” Kataline said, referring to the state Capitol.

The group says it is not paying a firm to collect signatures — which is typical practice for better-funded political campaigns in Colorado — but instead using a network of volunteers. 

On Monday, the Dismiss Polis website listed more than 80 businesses across the state where people can sign petitions. But more than half the counties didn’t have any locations, including Denver, the state’s most populous.

Kataline said more support is expected in the coming days. “All we are doing is giving people an opportunity to make their voice heard,” she said.

Sun correspondent Sandra Fish contributed to this report.

John Frank is a former Colorado Sun staff writer. He left the publication in January 2021.