Giron also staring down barrel of recall election because of gun stance

The Colorado Statesman

A second state lawmaker is staring down the barrel of a recall election after proponents turned in about 2,300 more signatures than needed to oust Democratic Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo over her support for gun control.

Whether the trigger is pulled on the recall election depends on if the secretary of state’s office validates the 13,570 signatures submitted by proponents on Monday. They need 11,285 valid signatures, which represents 25 percent of the votes cast for Giron’s seat in 2010. The secretary’s office has 15 days to validate. There is then a 15-day appeal period and stakeholders can also petition the courts.

Sen. Angela Giron

Recall petitions often have a high number of invalid signatures, so proponents themselves acknowledge they are cutting it close. But proponents say volunteers painstakingly collected signatures and crosschecked information with voter registration databases, providing them a greater sense of hope.

“We hit 20 percent… over the minimum and we feel pretty comfortable with that,” explained Victor Head, who is leading the charge against Giron. “I don’t foresee more than 10 percent getting kicked out… We checked every signature against the voter registry.”

Giron has become the second Democratic state lawmaker targeted over gun control after proponents in Colorado Springs last week handed in signatures to recall Senate President John Morse. Other Democrats were targeted, including Sen. Evie Hudak of Westminster and Reps. Mike McLachlan of Durango and Rhonda Fields of Aurora. But those efforts fell flat.

Head said Senate District 3 in Pueblo is different than other Democratic strongholds because the gun issue crosses partisan lines. He points out that both Democrats and Republicans signed the petition.

Unlike the recall effort in Colorado Springs, proponents did not have significant financial backing. The issue committee established to force the recall, Pueblo Freedom and Rights, reported contributions of just $10,688 in its two filings in April and May. A third report is due on June 24.

Recall proponents in Colorado Springs raised about $71,500 in contributions, as of the latest filings. I Am Created Equal, a conservative Colorado Springs-based group, has buoyed them by donating $56,798 to pay for petition gathering.

But in Pueblo, proponents did not pay for signature gathering, instead relying on grassroots support. Head, a plumber who lives in Pueblo, said volunteers were empowered after the Democratic-controlled legislature this year passed a package of gun control measures, including prohibiting high-capacity ammunition magazines of more than 15 rounds and requiring universal background checks and fees.

“It was the only thing where they actually felt like they were making a difference,” Head explained of the recall effort. “We all made phone calls to [lawmakers]… we sent our e-mails… we showed up at the Capitol, some of us tried to testify at Committee hearings, we had rallies, we waved flags.

“None of it mattered,” Head continued. “They didn’t listen to us and they passed everything. But this one little recall is the one thing where they have to listen to this. This is an actual legitimate procedure.”

In comparison, Giron has been assisted by big outside money from left-leaning groups, including $35,000 from the Washington, D.C.-based Sixteen Thirty Fund; $20,000 from Denver-based Citizens for Integrity; and $15,000 from Mainstream Colorado. The donations are similar to support sent to Morse’s effort.

In all, Pueblo United for Angela has received $71,693, according to the latest filings. But she does not believe the outside support is problematic. Giron says the reason outside support is pouring in is because gun control is an important national issue.

“I got e-mails from people all across this country,” Giron said. “People care about it, and I also believe that in Colorado people understand the position we’ve been in with the two biggest tragedies that have happened, and they wanted us to do something…

“We know that 90 percent of people, including NRA members, believe we should have background checks, and then you have these people who don’t want any piece of any legislation, which is sad that we can’t compromise,” Giron continued.

She said she has gone out of her way to work with gun rights supporters, even going shooting at a range for the first time with a group of women after being invited following a town hall meeting.

“I was really good, and it was kind of fun,” boasted Giron.

Highlighting the national implication of the race was a news release issued by the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee on Monday, in which Executive Director Michael Sargeant affirmed the committee’s support for Giron. He pointed to her non-profit work, as well as her commitment to helping under-served children.

Sargeant also defended Giron for having sponsored legislation that will reform elections in Colorado by expanding access and permitting same-day voter registration. He also lauded her for supporting civil unions legislation that affords same-sex couples legal rights.

“Extremists are attacking Sen. Giron because she successfully sponsored legislation that will increase voter participation in Colorado, and she supported legislation that would grant equal benefits to the state’s gay and lesbian couples as well as the new legislation that will reduce gun violence in her district and throughout Colorado.

“The DLCC is committed to ensuring that committed public servants like Sen. Giron and Sen. Morse are not removed from office by fanatics seeking to intimidate legislators in Colorado and throughout the country who’ve stood up to reduce violence, remove barriers to voting, and ensure that all citizens are treated equally under the law,” Sargeant continued.

A nasty election ahead?

Giron questions just how much money Pueblo Freedom and Rights actually has. The group’s disclosures contain non-itemized filings. Giron’s campaign has filed an ethics complaint against Pueblo Freedom and Rights for having monetary filings that exceed the $20 limit for remaining anonymous. For example, the group reported receiving donations of $1,017 and $1,807 without disclosing its source.

“They have money, they’re just not transparent enough,” declared Giron.

She believes the recall effort has been disingenuous, suggesting that proponents have been spreading false information, including that the gun control legislation would take away people’s guns. Proponents, however, say they have not been disseminating falsehoods, but that some people may simply be misinformed.

More concerning to Giron is what she sees as racial and misogynistic undertone to the effort. The senator alleged that recall volunteers have been remarking on her Latino background, as well as her abilities as a female lawmaker. She said some have even suggested that they need guns to protect themselves against a potential immigrant uprising.

“One woman said, ‘We need that 16th round because of home invasion,’” recalled Giron. “And another said, ‘Because when the immigrants come…’ And I’m like, ‘Excuse me!’

“They’re fearful that the immigrants are going to come and invade your home,” she continued. “And I think the recall people really play on that a lot.

“I was surprised at how racially charged this issue is and I do think that me being a Latina, a Mexican American, that they don’t even think I should have this position,” added Giron. “It’s sexist and ethnically based, they think I should know my place and you shouldn’t be in that.”

She said her volunteers have heard people yelling at them that Giron should be deported.

“My standing there as a Latina and proud of my heritage, that incites them and makes them very paranoid and nervous,” said Giron.

Head said he has not seen or heard any reports of disparaging comments, adding that the effort has been largely cordial.

“It hasn’t been nasty like that at all …” he said.

Giron has also been critical of the recall effort as a whole, suggesting that it is an expensive start on a slippery slope to threaten recall simply because a group of people disagree with a policy position. Instead, recalls should be used for ethics and criminal violations, say Giron and her supporters. They point out that the election would cost about $150,000.

But Head said policy is exactly why there are recalls. He said law enforcement investigates crimes, and committees examine ethics complaints. But the people must act when lawmakers are believed to vote against the will of constituents.

“That is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard,” Head said when told that Giron’s supporters question the need for the recall effort.

“The overall picture is that she didn’t represent the district,” he continued. “It doesn’t matter if it’s guns, or water rights, or agriculture, or labor, or immigration, or whatever … She didn’t represent the district.”

Head pointed out that Giron held a news conference to respond to the petition drive in Denver on Monday at the Colorado Democratic Party’s headquarters. He believes she did so because she doesn’t truly represent Pueblo.

“That’s where she takes her orders from, and that’s who she voted with was with her Denver higher-ups, and so it makes sense to me, if that’s where she’s getting her orders from,” remarked Head. “I guess she might as well have it there, she’s definitely not listening to her district.”

Giron said she had a meeting in Denver on Monday for the Colorado Elections Commission, of which she is co-chair.

“So, they don’t want me to work?” asked Giron.

“They have made a distraction, but I’m not going to let it get in the way of the work that I need to do for Pueblo, and so I have to go up to Denver on a regular basis on my own dime for a lot of the meetings I have,” she continued.

“I know I voted my district,” Giron added. “I grew up in Pueblo; I know Pueblo; I feel very comfortable that what I supported was what Pueblo’s values are.”

Sticking out the race

Giron says she plans on sticking out the race, but that it is premature to speculate because signatures still need to be verified. She would be given five days from when the secretary of state’s office certifies the election to decide whether to resign office.

In Colorado Springs, the idea of having Morse resign has been floated as a way to keep the seat in Democratic hands. If either Giron or Morse resign, then a vacancy committee would be established and Democrats would preserve the seat. Giron said she isn’t ready to even consider such an idea.

“I have tremendous support from the Democratic Party, so that will just have to be talked about as we go further, when we see the signatures and what kind of strategy,” she said. “I feel extremely supported.”

Giron joked that the recall effort has actually increased her name recognition because of seven billboards placed around the district: “I’ll tell you, people actually know how to pronounce my name now,” she chuckled.

The Pueblo County Democratic Party said that for the moment, it is continuing to fight for Giron, and that it has not considered alternate candidates.

The election itself would be two-part. First it would include a “yes” or “no” question on whether to recall Giron. Then it would contain a list of candidates to replace her. Candidates must collect 1,000 signatures to make the recall ballot.

“At this point we’re still right behind Angela and we will continue to be so until I hear something different,” said Ron Greenwell, chairman of Pueblo County Democrats.

Greenwell would not speculate on the outcome of the election until after he sees the signatures turned in to the secretary of state’s office: “We’ll have to take a look at the signatures, and if there’s a high percentage of Democrats, then that would basically alert us to something that maybe we’re not in tune with what the Democrats want in this area,” said Greenwell.

Meanwhile, Republicans say they would like to rally behind a single candidate. George Rivera, a retired Pueblo Police Department deputy chief and a blues musician, has already filed to challenge Giron in 2014. He said he would gladly add his name to the recall election if it is certified.

Rivera notes that the district leans Democratic, but he believes the tide is shifting: “I think this election is rather unique… The Democrats have kind of overstepped their bounds,” he remarked.

“From what I’ve heard and from what I’ve seen, not just on the gun recall but on other issues, they’ve pretty much gone their own way and decided that they know best for the state regardless of what other folks… the Republican side, the opposing side, [say], and people know that this is what they’re doing up there, and I think they’re getting very concerned,” added Rivera.

Becky Mizel, chairwoman of the Pueblo County Republican Party, said the GOP is getting very excited about Rivera. She said opposition to Giron is mounting, especially after she supported raising the rural renewable energy standard, which is expected to increase utility rates.

“She has not been a friend to rural Colorado,” said Mizel. “The vote she helped pass with the green energy bill will directly impact farmers. All of her constituents said, ‘Please do not get on board with that because that is really going to hurt the farming community and hurt food prices.’”

Mizel thinks Republicans in Pueblo have their best shot in years: “We were highly supportive of the effort because we don’t like seeing what’s happening in Pueblo County,” she said. “Leadership has not worked well for us at all.”

Peetr@coloradostatesman.com