COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — Relatives of three people killed in the mass shootings in Aurora and Newtown campaigned Wednesday for one of two Colorado state senators facing recall elections for their votes on gun control, while sheriffs who oppose the new gun laws rallied those hoping to kick both Democrats out of office.
Tom Sullivan and Lonnie and Sandy Phillips, whose adult children were killed in Aurora, and Jane Dougherty, whose sister was killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School, spoke to campaign volunteers in Sen. John Morse’s district in Colorado Springs. Morse and Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo face recall votes on Tuesday.
The Phillipses, of San Antonio, have canvassed in Morris’ district for a week and said the biggest obstacle is getting busy and apathetic voters to commit to voting. They said they talk about losing their daughter, Jessica Ghawi, and about defending a lawmaker from what they see as an attack by special interests.
“For Colorado to step up as a state and do the right thing for public safety, that’s huge,” Sandy Phillips said. “We were involved in that from the beginning and we’re going to see it through.”
Colorado was the only state outside the East Coast to tighten its gun laws after last year’s mass shootings, and the recalls are seen as a gauge of support for gun control in this battleground state. Gun-rights activists set up the state’s first legislative recall elections after Morse and Giron’s votes on gun control measures, including expanded background checks and a new limit on ammunition magazines.
Across town, six county sheriffs who have sued to block the gun laws held a rally.
“This effort has truly been the essence of grassroots and is driven by a passion for freedom and protection of citizens’ rights,” El Paso County Sheriff Terry Maketa said in statement.
Voting in Giron’s district started last week. Voting starts Thursday in the Morse recall.
The recall campaigns have also veered into territory that has little to do with the Second Amendment.
Voters in Pueblo are getting mailers blasting Giron on energy policy. Voters in Colorado Springs are seeing TV ads depicting Morse’s challenger as a threat to abortion rights.
Reports filed with the state last week showed plenty of spending by political interest groups that have little to do with gun rights: Planned Parenthood, Americans For Prosperity, an educational foundation based in California.
“Because a recall was brought by voters in these districts, it opens the door for discussions on the issues we’re interested in,” said Dustin Zvonek, head of Colorado’s Americans For Prosperity, a conservative advocacy group backed by billionaire industrialists Charles and David Koch. AFP sent mailers and aired radio ads criticizing a new law raising renewable energy requirements for rural electricity co-ops. Morse and Giron both voted for the standard, which AFP opposes.
Conservation Colorado gave $75,000 last month to a committee fighting the recalls, Taxpayers for Responsible Democracy. The abortion rights groups NARAL and Planned Parenthood called and mailed ads accusing the Republican challengers of being “radical.”
A right-leaning advocacy group is blasting Morse for 2011 allegations that he claimed excess per diem payments. That ethical complaint was later dismissed, a detail not mentioned in the attack mailer from Compass Colorado.
Political operatives agree all topics are fair when seats in the state Legislature are in play.
“This may have started around gun legislation, but the reality is, when you’re talking about a state legislator, you’re talking about a wide variety of stuff,” said Ellen Dumm, a liberal strategist. “It’s become a broader struggle than just guns.”
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