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The Colorado Senate, photographed on Monday, April 22, 2019. (Jesse Paul The Colorado Sun)

Petitions to recall two Democratic state senators have been approved by election officials, kicking months of threats by Colorado Republicans to oust Democratic lawmakers from office into high gear.

The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office said opponents of state Sens. Pete Lee, of Colorado Springs, and Brittany Pettersen, of Lakewood, can begin gathering signatures to try and force a recall election to remove the pair from office. 

State Sens. Pete Lee, D-Colorado Springs, and Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood. (Handouts)

If both recalls are successful, Democrats would lose their two-vote majority in the Colorado Senate. 

Opponents have until Sept. 10 to gather 11,304 signatures from Lee’s district and until Sept. 16 to gather 18,376 signatures from Pettersen’s to force elections to try to recall the lawmakers. 

Both won their seats by wide margins in the November 2018 general elections. Pettersen took her seat with 58% of the vote while Lee secured 62%.

“I’m proud of my record. This is an unfortunate abuse of power,” Pettersen told The Colorado Sun on Friday afternoon. “This is what (regular) elections are for when you disagree with somebody. I look forward to talking about why I ran for office and the work that I’ve done in the time that I’ve been elected and what I did last session.”

Pettersen added that she thinks the recall’s backers are “completely out of touch with voters in the community” and that “they keep messing with the wrong people.” She and her supporters have been preparing for weeks for a potential recall effort and have already been rallying support in the district.

Lee echoed Pettersen’s sentiment, saying “I’m really disappointed that people would undermine and disrespect the voters and the democratic process by attempting to recall someone for the votes that they took.”

“I didn’t go off on any radical tangents and do anything that’s surprising,” Lee said, adding that he thinks he has done a lot of good things in the legislature and that picking out a few of his votes to justify a recall disrespects the voters’ will.

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Lee’s district was the site of the last successful recall effort against a sitting Colorado lawmaker. In 2013, voters there ousted then-Senate President John Morse, a Democrat, over his support of gun-control legislation.

That same year, state Sen. Angela Giron, a Pueblo Democrat, was also recalled and a third Democratic senator resigned to avoid facing a recall test.

Proponents of the recalls initiated against Lee and Pettersen cite the pair’s votes in support of legislation passed this year that increased regulation on the oil and gas industry and will allow judges to order the seizure of guns from people found to be a significant risk to themselves or others.

They are also upset that the lawmakers supported a new law that joins Colorado onto the national popular vote compact, which, if adopted by enough states, would mean Colorado’s presidential electors would be forced to cast their votes for whichever presidential candidate won the most support nationally instead of the person who won in the state.

Republicans — all the way up to Colorado GOP Chairman Ken Buck, a congressman — have been threatening for months to seek recalls against Democrats, but until recently they had not acted. The topic has become divisive within the party.

Colorado Democratic Party Chairwoman Morgan Carroll called the efforts “sore-loser politics.”

Earlier this week, a recall petition against Gov. Jared Polis was approved. The effort needs to gather 631,266 valid signatures by Sept. 6, a task that organizers admit is a long shot. 

MORE: To recall Jared Polis, critics must get 10,521 voter signatures a day. Here’s what else you need to know.

A governor has never been recalled in Colorado.

An effort to recall state Rep. Tom Sullivan, a Centennial Democrat, was launched earlier this summer but ultimately abandoned.

Updated on July 18, 2019, at 10:45 a.m.: This story has been updated to reflect the new date for when signatures to force a recall election against state Sen. Brittany Pettersen are due. They are now due on Sept. 16 after recall organizers abandoned their initial effort and refiled with the state a week later to alter the reasoning behind the effort to oust the Lakewood Democrat.

The Colorado Sun —

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Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage.

A Colorado College graduate, Jesse worked at The Denver Post from June 2014 until July 2018, when he joined The Sun. He was also an intern at The Gazette in Colorado Springs and The News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware, his hometown.

Jesse has won awards for long form feature writing, public service reporting, sustained coverage and deadline news reporting.

Email: Twitter: @jesseapaul