Backers of a long-shot effort to recall Gov. Jared Polis over his response to the coronavirus response and use of executive authority may begin collecting signatures.
The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office on Monday approved the petition drafted by “Recall Polis 2020,” which is tied to at least one of the people behind the failed efforts last year to remove the Democrat from office.
The organization has 60 days — or until Nov. 13 — to collect 631,266 signatures to force a special election to decide whether or not Polis, who is halfway through his first term in office, should be recalled.
Thus far, the Recall Polis 2020 issue committee, formed on June 10, reports raising only about $4,000 in cash. Organizer Lori Ann Cutunelli, of Summit County, reported donating more than $7,300 to pay for drafting the petition wording and to make a downpayment on printing costs. Additionally, a GoFundMe campaign has raised about $7,600 from 275 donors.
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Cutunelli, when reached by phone on Monday by The Colorado Sun, said she would call back, but never did.
When contacted by The Colorado Sun in August, one of the fundraisers for the failed 2019 recall effort said her group — Coloradans Against Polis — isn’t involved in the new campaign. Coloradans Against Polis still had more than $11,000 in its account at the end of August after raising more than $101,000 in 2019.
However, Greg Merschel, one of the people behind Resist Polis PAC — which Coloradans Against Polis was formerly known as — is listed as one of the organizing members of Recall Polis 2020.
“People are madder than hell this time out,” Merschel, a Republican who lives in Grand Junction, said in an interview on Monday when asked how he plans to collect the signatures needed to force a recall election. “I mean, the high schoolers can’t play football but the Denver Broncos can.”
Signature collection is a manpower intensive, often expensive task that’s only been made more difficult by the pandemic. Even the most organized of groups have struggled to collect far fewer signatures than the number needed to try to oust Polis.
A recent poll of 800 registered voters conducted by Global Strategy Group and the liberal group ProgressNow Colorado shows 58% approve of Polis’ handling of the pandemic, compared to 37% who disapprove.
Recall Polis 2020 listed four reasons for the attempted recall, including:
- An allegation that Polis has abused his emergency powers under Colorado’s Disaster Emergency Act
- A claim that Polis has “overstepped his powers and infringed upon the role of the legislative branch”
- Because he tried to allow signature gathering for ballot initiatives by mail and email, a move that was blocked by a judge
- A contention that Polis “explicitly discriminated against houses of worship” by imposing coronavirus limitations on their operations while allowing marijuana shops to remain open
The threshold to initiate a recall in Colorado is extremely low. Groups simply have to have their petition format — and the reasons for the attempted recall — approved by election officials and then they may begin collecting signatures. The reasons groups list for why they are attempting a recall do not need to be factual.
No group in Colorado has ever amassed the kind of signatures that are needed to force a Polis recall election.
In 2019, Coloradans Against Polis claimed without proof that they collected more than 300,000 signatures to oust the governor. They didn’t turn in their signatures.
“Since day one, Gov. Polis has been focused on delivering real results for Coloradans across the state, and he has done just that,” Conor Cahill, a spokesman for Polis, said in a written statement. “… During this unprecedented pandemic, Colorado has been a model for the country thanks to the bold and swift actions taken by Gov. Polis including being one of the first states to reopen. Like the majority of Coloradans, the Governor believes that playing politics during this challenging time for our state and country is simply inappropriate and shameful.”
Under campaign finance rules adopted by the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office last month, candidates who are facing a recall effort are prohibited from spending money from their candidate campaign account. Instead, they must create an issue committee.
Such committees aren’t subject to campaign finance limits and thus are able to haul in unlimited money from individuals, nonprofits and businesses.
Colorado Sun correspondent Sandra Fish contributed to this report.