DENVER (AP) – A recall petition against a Colorado lawmaker who supported gun control was deemed sufficient Tuesday, setting up the first potential recall of a state lawmaker in Colorado history.
Lawyers for Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, are challenging the recall effort. They argued that the petition was improperly worded and therefore invalid.
The campaign to unseat Morse has become a national flashpoint in the gun control debate. Gun-rights activists from across the country have vowed to defeat Democrats who steered through laws that made Colorado the first state outside the East Coast to curb gun rights in the wake of mass shootings at an elementary school in Connecticut and a movie theater in Aurora.
The secretary of state declared Tuesday that organizers had enough valid signatures to force a recall election, likely in September. Legal challenges could drag the process into October.
The secretary of state said Morse opponents gathered more than 10,000 valid signatures. They only needed 7,178 valid signatures, equaling 25 percent of all the votes cast in the previous state Senate election.
The gun rights supporters were especially unhappy with new laws to expand required background checks for gun purchases and to limit the size of ammunition magazines. The laws take effect next month.
Morse, a second-term incumbent who would be leaving office because of term limits after next session, has vowed to fight the recall. He didn’t immediately return a call Tuesday after the recall petition was deemed sufficient.
Earlier this summer, Morse told reporters that the gun control measures were imperative after a bloody 2012.
“Keeping Coloradans safe from gun violence is very worth your political career,” Morse said.
Democratic lawyers are challenging the petition effort. They pointed out that Colorado law requires recall petitions to contain language “demanding an election of the successor,” a detail not included in the language of the petition. The petition language had been approved by the secretary of state.
Morse’s attorneys say a 2002 appellate ruling in a recall petition sides with their argument. In that case, recall petition signatures for two Central City aldermen and the mayor were filed, but they didn’t include language demanding an election.
“Colorado courts have affirmed that a sufficiency decision for a recall petition is contingent on whether the petition included a specific demand for the election of a successor to the recalled official,” the challenge reads.
The oversight, the attorneys argue, invalidates the decision by the Secretary of State’s Office that there are enough signatures for a recall.
“Each and every one of the filed signatures, said to have been validated by the Secretary, is hereby challenged,” the legal challenge read.
Morse’s attorneys are asking that the validation of the signatures be reversed. A hearing will be scheduled for arguments at the Secretary of State’s Office within two weeks. If there’s an appeal there, it goes to Denver District Court.
A spokeswoman for the recall effort, Jennifer Kerns, called the Morse challenge part of the “normal crop of frivolous legal challenges.”
“We are not surprised by their attempts to thwart this recall effort, and we will do everything we can to ensure that the voices of the people are heard,” she wrote in an email.
If Morse resigns, the seat remains in Democratic hands because the party would appoint a senator to the vacancy. Democrats hold a five-seat advantage in the state Senate.
Democratic Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo is awaiting word from the secretary of state about a similar petition filed against her. A decision in that recall effort was expected by the end of next week.
Recall efforts against two other Democratic lawmakers who supported the gun control measures fizzled. Democrats control both chambers of the state Legislature, as well as the governor’s office.
By IVAN MORENO and KRISTEN WYATT,Associated Press
(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)