This story has been updated to reflect the fact that Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp has decided to not become a candidate for the vacant SD 19 seat.
On the day before Thanksgiving, Democratic Sen. Evie Hudak resigned her Senate District 19 seat in northern Jefferson County in the face of a large recall effort over her support of gun control. But despite the somewhat surprising announcement, she and her supporters believe they have a lot to be thankful for.
Talk of resignation had been ongoing since the recall effort gained momentum in October. The Colorado Statesman reported then that Hudak was considering resigning rather than combat an aggressive recall operation.
And now, before the turkey has even been carved, Jefferson County Democrats are already looking ahead to find a replacement for their state senator who exactly a year ago was certified as the winner in her reelection bid with less than a 600-vote margin over Republican challenger Lang Sias. As of press time Wednesday afternoon, three potential Democrats had confirmed their interest in the seat to The Statesman.
As recall proponents — led by Recall Hudak Too — reached the 92-percent mark this week for gathering the necessary 18,900 valid signatures, Hudak’s campaign looked inward.
This past summer, two fellow Senate Democrats, President John Morse of Colorado Springs and Angela Giron of Pueblo, were recalled over their support of gun control. Gun rights activists had sent a strong message that they were mobilized and organized — their warning shots rang loud and clear.
Acknowledging that recall was a reality — which would have most likely resulted in a Republican being elected as a successor, thereby flipping control of the Senate — Hudak said she simply could not take the risk. She said protecting existing gun laws from Republicans and gun rights groups was the greater good.
“By resigning, I am protecting these important new laws for the good of Colorado and ensuring that we can continue looking forward,” Hudak said in her resignation letter, making no other public comments on Wednesday.
Hudak also pointed to the estimated cost of the recall election, which the Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder’s Office had placed as high as $200,000.
“By resigning, I am making sure that Jefferson County taxpayers aren’t forced to pay more than $200,000 for a special election…” explained Hudak, pointing to recent cuts in Jeffco, including for seniors, mental health and services for the needy. “I cannot allow these cuts to grow deeper.
“Though it is difficult to step aside, I have faith that my colleagues will honor the legacy my constituents and I have built,” the outgoing senator continued. “I am thankful to my fellow legislators who have been so supportive in recent weeks, standing by my side and encouraging me to keep fighting. I am especially thankful to the many volunteers who have been out in the district day after day talking about all of the good things we’ve done for Colorado.”
Hudak and her supporters, including the Democracy Defense Fund, had led a large counter-canvass operation. They planted an army of volunteers in Arvada and Westminster, and received support from high-profile Democrats, including Senate President Morgan Carroll of Aurora, who joined with other Senate colleagues to regularly hold signs and demonstrate in an effort to convince voters not to sign the recall petition.
Democrats attacked proponents for using Kennedy Enterprises to collect signatures, a petition gathering firm that has been known to hire employees with past criminal records. In at least one instance, there was a clash between a paid petition gatherer and volunteers that turned physical.
Opponents also accused proponents of lying to voters about how to sign the petition, suggesting that paid petition gatherers were encouraging voters from outside the district to sign the document. In one instance, Democrats revealed a secret recording confirming their allegations.
A coalition of gun control advocates and victims of gun violence also supported Hudak, attempting to put a face behind gun violence by having survivors speak to voters about the importance of gun control legislation. The initiative is called “Stand Strong Colorado.”
Many of those supporters showed up at a rally in Olde Town Arvada on Wednesday outside the public library, including Ruth Glenn, a domestic violence survivor who was shot twice in the head and once in the arm by her ex-husband even though he was under a restraining order at the time.
In addition to supporting a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines and requiring universal background checks, Hudak also sponsored a measure that makes it harder for those accused of domestic violence to possess a firearm.
“Thanks to Sen. Hudak’s determination to protect the women and families of Colorado, these laws are now in effect, and for this I thank you, senator,” said Glenn. “I thank you for leaving a lasting legacy in our state. And most especially, I thank you for not only listening to us, but for standing up for us.”
Lorraine Bowen, a long-time friend and constituent, also spoke of her thankfulness for Hudak.
“Today, Colorado is losing a courageous leader in the legislature…” said Bowen. “Today, we are here to recognize Evie’s courage and to let you know that we will continue fighting to preserve her legacy of improving education, protecting women and families, and standing up for the good of all Coloradans.”
Carroll also expressed her sadness over losing a colleague in Hudak.
“Today, the people of Senate District 19, and the entire state, lost a courageous and principled leader,” Carroll said in a statement. “I am incredibly saddened to lose such a dedicated public servant in our Senate caucus. Sen. Hudak is a tireless advocate for at-risk individuals, women, seniors, and for the education of Colorado’s children. She has accomplished great things for her district and the people of Colorado, and she will be greatly missed.
“The Colorado Senate lost a passionate leader, but I have no doubt that Evie Hudak will continue to fight for the people and principles she believes in,” Carroll concluded.
Rick Palacio, chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party, said the recall elections have created a never-ending election cycle that has done damage to the people of the state.
“Coloradans expect pragmatism and cooperation, yet recalls have created a divisive and toxic environment in our state,” said Palacio. “Sen. Hudak’s selfless decision to resign will help ensure that Colorado’s legislature doesn’t go the path of Washington, where in the name of politics, tea party Republicans have stopped working for the American people.
“As we move forward, it will be the job of Democrats across our state to make sure that Sen. Hudak’s legacy of working to help create jobs, protect public safety, and expand educational opportunities continues,” Palacio added. “And we can rest assured knowing that progress, not gridlock, will continue to be made in our Democratic legislature on behalf of working families across Colorado.”
The national Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee also expressed their appreciation of Hudak.
“Today’s decision cannot have been easy, but her constituents elected Evie to follow her conscience and do what’s right, no matter how tough the choice. In return, Evie provided a model for what leadership and public service should be. I have no doubt that she will continue to serve the people of Colorado for many years to come,” said DLCC executive director Michael Sargeant in a statement.
“The 2013 legislative session was historic for Colorado, but there remains much work to do to create jobs, empower working Coloradans and ensure equality for all citizens. I am confident the Jefferson County Democrats will appoint a new senator every bit as dedicated as Evie to carry on her legacy in the Senate majority caucus, and the DLCC will work closely with Colorado Democrats to defend their majorities next fall.”
Much of Hudak’s support also came from unions, as she has been a friend to organized labor over the years. The Washington, D.C.-based NEA Fund for Children and Education spent at least $25,000; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees contributed at least $20,000; Colorado’s AFL-CIO spent at least $15,000; and the International Association of Firefighters contributed $10,000.
“Colorado’s political system has been hijacked by radical extremists who threaten recall elections for mere disagreements over legislation,” said Mike Cerbo, executive director of Colorado AFL-CIO. “Sen. Hudak was attacked by these extremists for making laws, not breaking them.
“Her resignation demonstrates to these radicals that their tactics failed to wrestle the reins of power from mainstream Coloradans,” Cerbo continued. “They tried to steal the state senate majority in a low turnout election without mail ballots and they failed. There is a growing public backlash against these political bullies and the Colorado labor movement will continue to fight these attacks against our democratic process and effective legislators that support working families.”
Colorado Education Association President Kerrie Dallman added, “The educators and children of Colorado lost an outstanding advocate and a dear friend with the resignation of Sen. Evie Hudak today…
“While the events leading up to her resignation were not related to public education, our members and families across Colorado know her years of support for schools and students are her crowning achievements and her lasting legacy,” Dallman continued. “She’s always stood as a brave champion for increased investment in education, and she was a key proponent of landmark legislation for our schools… Colorado is a better place because of Evie’s selfless service.”
Recall proponents fight on
But as well organized as recall opponents were, proponents were just as structured. For one, they had the support of Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, a gun rights lobbying and political machine that rarely loses. RMGO paid for the signature gathering and coordinated the effort from the proponents’ headquarters in Arvada, and on Wednesday the organization said it is proud to claim a stake in the victory of the “gun-grabbing” Hudak.
“RMGO will continue to provide the firepower in defeating threats to Coloradans’ Second Amendment rights,” stated Dudley Brown, executive director of Colorado’s largest state-based gun lobby.
“Hudak’s resignation is just a stepping stone to defeating gun-grabbers in the Legislature and restoring Second Amendment rights. This historic event should put every gun-grabber in the Capitol on notice for the 2014 elections,” Brown added. “Coloradans have fought back against an infringement to their Second Amendment rights and have taken back their voice from a senator who disregarded the wishes of her constituents and their personal liberty.”
Drawing off of lessons learned during the recall in Pueblo, proponents crosschecked voter information in databases before including signatures in their effort. They spread out across the district, knocking on doors and setting up “sign and drives” at busy intersections such as 80th and Wadsworth.
They chose Hudak because she was already vulnerable. She had, afterall, only won her seat back in 2012 by 584 votes against Republican Sias.
Joe Neville, a lobbyist and spokesman for RMGO, said they would continue collecting signatures, despite Hudak’s resignation.
He added that Morse, Giron and Hudak are just the beginning. While there are no immediate plans for other recall efforts, Neville said they have vulnerable Democratic targets in mind, including Sens. Andy Kerr of Lakewood and Jeanne Nicholson of Black Hawk, and even Gov. John Hickenlooper.
“People are out in numbers, and we’re going to make sure that we keep everybody motivated, we want everybody to know that we’re not stopping now, this is going to continue on,” Neville declared on Wednesday outside the Arvada library in Olde Town.
Recall proponents are frustrated that they won’t get a chance to recall Hudak. At the rally in Olde Town, several proponents wearing neon “Recall Hudak” shirts crashed the party, yelling, “Let the people vote.”
“She once again has proven that she doesn’t want to listen to the people,” added Neville. “People want a recall, they’re pushing for the signatures, and she has basically shut us down. But we’re not shut down. We’re going to continue fighting …”
Mike McAlpine, who led the recall effort for Recall Hudak Too, offered a statement at the Olde Town rally, but did not take questions from reporters.
“What you’re seeing today is a huge victory for big money East Coast politicians,” said McAlpine, referring to the fact that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg had supported gun control in Colorado and donated $300,000 to stop the previous recall attempts.
“People such as Michael Bloomberg have just taken the Senate away from the citizens of Colorado, citizens such as these who have been working for the past seven weeks, night and day, to have their voice heard,” McAlpine continued, standing in front of a group of proponents.
“This woman had the arrogance to step down… She has chosen to tuck tail and run away,” he added.
Colorado Republican Party Chairman Ryan Call expressed disappointment that SD 19 voters won’t get to vote on the recall.
“Evie Hudak’s resignation should be a lesson to every politician: Do not ignore your constituents,” said Call. “Unfortunately, despite having two members recalled, Colorado Democrats haven’t learned this lesson.
“By side-stepping the recall process and not allowing the voters to choose a senator who will represent them, Evie Hudak’s resignation shows that Democrats are much more concerned about holding onto political power than in being held accountable,” he continued.
“Thankfully, in 2014 Colorado voters will have the opportunity to have their voices heard by defeating radical and out-of-touch Democrat politicians in the statehouse, as well as Gov. John Hickenlooper,” Call added.
Conservatives believe that after the successful recalls in Colorado Springs and Pueblo, and following Hudak’s resignation, the state is moving more to the right.
“This is yet another indicator that the tides are changing in Colorado politics,” said Kelly Maher, executive director of Compass Colorado. “Coloradans are sick of the extreme Democrats trying to control their lives. These ‘progressives’ have overreached so far on so many issues that Colorado families are now ready for a new vision.”
Search for a successor
Jefferson County Democrats will have to convene a vacancy committee, which will preserve the seat for Democrats and delay a contentious race until the general election. Jeffco Democrats say they will schedule a meeting after the Thanksgiving holiday.
The names that pop up are former Rep. Sara Gagliardi, who was defeated in 2010 by Republican Libby Szabo of Arvada; Rep. Tracy Kraft-Tharp of Arvada; and Arvada City Councilwoman Rachel Zenzinger, Hudak’s former campaign manager and a close friend.
All three women initially confirmed to The Statesman that they were at least considering pursuing the opportunity, although Kraft-Tharp said on Friday that she would not be a candidate.
“After speaking with my husband Vern, and many of my constituents and supporters, I have decided not to seek the vacancy committee appointment to SD 19. I love representing the families in HD 29 in the house, and look forward to continuing to represent them next session,” she said via Twitter. She added that she is endorsing Gagliardi for the senate seat.
Gagliardi acknowledged that she was considering the race on Wednesday.
“I’m just now adjusting to the idea that Evie had to step down because all of us in Senate District 19 in Arvada and in Westminster were working hard to keep her in office,” said Gagliardi. “We feel that she is the best one to represent us… I’m talking to my family about my decision.”
By Friday, Gagliardo appeared to be a definite candidate for the vacant seat.
Zenzinger, who had already been considering running for the seat when Hudak would have been term limited in 2016, said she now must consider an earlier approach.
It would be an advantage for a sitting Democrat to defend the seat after gaining name recognition, compared to attempting to take it back from a Republican, who would likely win the seat if Hudak had been recalled and a successor were elected.
“It’s no secret that I was interested in 2016, and so because of these turn of events, I’m going to have to rethink that,” said Zenzinger. “I’m going to have to consider my options.
“She’s making the right decision based on her own point of view,” Zenzinger continued. “I think she’s making a sacrifice so that the hard work that she’s done will continue.”
Reports circulating on Friday indicated that Zenzinger would indeed become a candidate in the race.