As the 2014 election season has begun to take root in Colorado, gun rights activists are targeting Jefferson County, where four Senate seats are vulnerable and could shift the power structure of the state legislature.
Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, the most powerful gun lobby in the state and a well-oiled political machine, is considering an office for Lakewood — in the heart of Jeffco. Group leaders are still working on finding an exact location.
The organization is also working on developing a Super PAC, or an independent-expenditure committee, which would be allowed to engage in unlimited political spending independently of campaigns.
A Super PAC is not allowed to communicate directly with campaigns, but it can still cause a lot of damage by advocating for or against candidates and issues.
RMGO plans on working directly with the organizers of three recalls in Colorado. The groups are sharing resources in an effort to form a unified army to attack Democrats who support an expanded gun control agenda.
Recall organizers successfully ousted two Senate Democrats this summer, Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo and Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs. A third Senate Democrat, Evie Hudak of Westminster, stepped down from office this fall rather than face a likely recall election.
RMGO participated in the recall effort of Hudak, paying Kennedy Enterprises for petition gathering services. Since then, the groups have remained close, sharing information and resources.
At a Jan. 4 meeting between recall organizers and RMGO, among others, Joe Neville, RMGO’s political director, explained the need for establishing a Super PAC.
“RMGO Super PAC is the main entity,” Neville explained to the group, according to minutes of the meeting obtained by The Colorado Statesman. “Super PACs can spend as much as they want to fight for or against candidates. Great thing to have. We can encourage voters to vote against gun-grabbing fools, where before we couldn’t do that.”
In a follow-up interview with The Statesman, Neville confirmed that his organization is looking at developing a Super PAC.
“There’s some talk about an independent expenditure committee. We’re putting together some stuff for that,” explained Neville. “It’s just another tool. It’s nothing more than we’ve done before with our small donor committee. It’s just another tool we can use.
“We’re going to need every tool possible to help us be effective at educating the grassroots on how their elected officials vote on guns,” he added.
Recall organizers who attended the Jan. 4 meeting with RMGO questioned the guidelines for vetting candidates and “major worker-bees to keep out people who could sabotage us from within,” according to the minutes.
Neville responded, “We do the best we can. We have filters and barriers we use. Recall was great example. Hundreds came in to help on Saturdays, over 700 volunteers were involved, and we did pretty good. If there was a rat who could’ve spoiled something, they would’ve done it there.”
Mike McAlpine, who led the effort to oust Hudak, indicated that recall organizers are looking forward to assisting RMGO, according to the partial transcript.
“We’ll do whatever legal to support candidates,” he said. “Needs won’t be as straightforward as they were in recall because issues will vary… Trying to keep what we have here going and continuing to be effective.”
Concerns were raised about where to locate office space, suggesting that an office should not be easy for outsiders to access.
“We remember how easy our previous office was to monitor or to infiltrate — want to avoid that,” said McAlpine, referring to the former Recall Hudak office in Arvada.
Gun rights groups are concerned that progressive and gun control organizations are focusing more on Colorado. They also point out that those groups spent big money in Colorado fighting the recall efforts.
“Joe and his group are stepping up to give us the structure we need to continue to be effective as small voices joining together to make a huge difference…” McAlpine said of RMGO, according to the minutes. “It’s RMGO standing up first and foremost to protect our rights. Nobody else is doing that…”
Neville explained to the meeting attendees that the Jefferson County office would involve anyone from the recall in order to have a base to campaign for or against candidates.
“Won’t be a single-candidate race we’re focusing on,” he told the group, according to the transcript. “RMGO doesn’t focus on one person. We focus on candidates and issues. Office in Jeffco is vital.”
He also explained that an office would be critical during the legislative session: “We can stop the legislation,” declared Neville.
He later clarified to The Statesman that RMGO is still working on finding a location in order to lease space.
“There might be a possibility that we’ll open up some sort of office for lobbying and grassroots work in the Jefferson County area,” he said. “We haven’t really gotten much headway on it lately because we’ve been so busy with other things… but hopefully we’ll have an office in the near future.”
Neville downplayed the political implications of locating the office in Jeffco, pointing out that RMGO’s current office is in Windsor, and that having a location near Denver would just be more convenient.
“Jefferson County is closer to the Capitol, and a lot of our base is right there, and it’s close to my home and it’s close to a lot of the volunteers that we have working on different things with us,” Neville explained. “It just makes sense as far as working with the grassroots to be located right there.
“We’re not exactly sure on how everything is going to be set up, and what we’ll be doing with the office,” he added.
Democrats aren’t shaking
Democrats have no doubt that gun rights groups are making Jefferson County a priority target because of the vulnerable seats there.
Four Jeffco Senate Democrats will be fighting to hold onto their seats in order to maintain control of the Senate, including Sens. Rachel Zenzinger of Arvada, who replaced Hudak, Cheri Jahn of Wheat Ridge, Andy Kerr of Lakewood and Jeanne Nicholson of Black Hawk.
If Republicans can win just those four seats, then they will likely have firm control of the Senate.
Kerr is no stranger to tough elections. He faced one of the most difficult races in the state in 2012 when he battled former Rep. Ken Summers, R-Lakewood. Kerr defeated Summers by about 3,800 votes.
Kerr offered a tongue-in-cheek response when he was informed that gun rights groups are considering office space in his county.
“I welcome any group or organization to spend money in Jefferson County and Lakewood. We certainly welcome the business, ” quipped Kerr. “I’m glad that they recognize what my constituents have known for decades, that it’s a wonderful place to live and I’m glad they’re finally paying attention to the people of Jefferson County as I have been during my time at the state Capitol and during my hundreds of town halls and coffees that I’ve held listening to my constituents.”
Kerr does not believe that the presence of RMGO and recall organizers will change his campaign strategy much.
“We’ll continue doing the same work, the same outreach and listening to constituents that we always have,” Kerr continued. “New groups or organizations aren’t going to change the way that I run my campaigns. I’ve had vigorous campaigns before against top-notch candidates, and I think the results speak for themselves.”
Zenzinger is also not too concerned. She is in a unique position having replaced Hudak, who faced the wrath of recall supporters. But Zenzinger pointed out that Hudak had a long record to attack, while she is starting fresh.
“It’s a campaign, it comes with the territory,” surmised Zenzinger. “I’m looking forward to what I think will be a good campaign.”
Rick Palacio, chairman of the Colorado Democratic Party, also is not trembling at the thought of a mounted effort by grassroots conservatives. He points out that Democrats have a long successful history of organizing a ground game.
“The thing that Democrats… is we do field work well. We know how to run campaigns that are focused around neighbors to neighbors and friends to friends,” said a confident Palacio. “I don’t think that this is in any way a game changer, or that it’s going to draw our focus away or towards something specific.
“We’re going to run a very hard campaign in all of our competitive districts,” he continued. “We’re going to make sure the people understand the issues before them. We’re going to win the old-fashioned way… with boots on the ground.”