Vail’s Kerry Donovan among Colorado Democrats facing recall talk from GOP groups
Gun-rights advocacy and lobbying group faces a high bar to get recall on the ballot
Republicans and their consultants and likeminded lobbying groups are gearing up to go on the recall warpath following a frenetic legislative session in which majority Democrats passed an ambitious progressive agenda.
Rocky Mountain Gun Owners Executive Director Dudley Brown confirmed to the Vail Daily on Friday that his gun-rights advocacy and lobbying group is eyeing nine Democratic state representatives and three senators, including Vail’s Kerry Donovan. Democrats hold a slim 19-16 majority in the Senate.
“She most definitely is on the target package,” said Brown, who was instrumental in recalling two Democrats over gun laws in 2013 — the first successful recalls of Colorado legislators. “We don’t know if we’ll do [Donovan’s Senate District 5] or not, but she is up for consideration. Congratulations, Senator.”
Brown held a press conference with Republican minority leadership in Denver on Thursday, announcing a lawsuit seeking to overturn the Extreme Risk Protection Order red flag law that allows family members and police to petition a judge to confiscate guns from someone deemed a threat to themselves or others.
Brown said his group reserves the right to sue on constitutional grounds if the procedural lawsuit is unsuccessful, and he has promised to go after Democrats with aggressive recall campaigns over their votes on the red flag bill and a host of other issues.
“A few Republican operatives financed by Front Range special interest groups have threatened recalls for every elected official their candidates overwhelmingly lost to back in November,” Donovan told the Vail Daily via a spokesman.
“I won my election by more than 14,000 votes because I said I would work on issues like expanding broadband access and reducing health care costs, and that is exactly what I am doing,” Donovan added. “I plan to keep the pledges I made and overwhelmingly won on.”
Donovan declined to comment at more length on being targeted specifically for her yes vote on the controversial red flag bill, which was supported by Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger and opposed by Eagle County Sheriff James van Beek.
Donovan wrote about her yes vote on the red flag bill on her Facebook page in March: “That will make many of you very angry. That will make many of you very happy. That’s the work of politics. This is a commonsense and constitutional bill that will save lives and is supported by 87% of Coloradans.”
High bar for a recall vote
Various polls taken throughout the legislative process showed Coloradans, in general, supporting a red flag law by up to 87 percent, with one Republican-leaning Magellan Strategies poll showing 60 percent of Republicans backed the bill.
There is currently no official recall petition of Donovan on record with the Colorado secretary of state’s office, and there’s a high bar to even get on the ballot in Donovan’s sprawling, seven-county Senate District 5, which she won last November by a margin of 41,838 to 27,375 (60.4 to 39.6 percent).
To get a recall on the ballot, valid signatures are required within 60 days from 25 percent of the total of 69,213 votes cast in Donovan’s distric last November, or 17,304 total signatures. Brown acknowledges that would be tough.
“It’s huge, and it’s mountainous,” Brown said of Senate Distric 5, which includes Democratic strongholds like Pitkin and Eagle counties, but also much more conservative, although less populous counties like Delta, Gunnison, Chaffee, Hinsdale and Lake. “I mean, it’s definitely not the easy district to walk.”
“But who’s motivated to turn out in a recall and actually cast a vote? People are mad right now. Well, and it ain’t just guns like it was in 2013, right?” Brown added, alluding to GOP anger over the National Right to Vote, a controversial sex education bill and energy and environment bills.
Gun safety lobby’s response
Donovan was leery of gun laws passed in 2013 in the wake of the Aurora theater shooting and Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre. During her first campaign, in 2014, she supported universal background checks — along with the vast majority of Americans — but disagreed with a 15-round magazine limit, and later voted in favor of an unsuccessful attempt to repeal it.
Because of that, Donovan is not endorsed by the gun safety lobby Colorado Ceasefire, but the group would support her if an official recall campaign gets underway.
“Yes, we will support candidates who are unfairly attacked for voting with the overwhelming majority of the citizens of the state,” said Colorado Ceasefire’s Eileen McCarron. “Even in rural areas of the state, there’s strong support for the extreme risk law.”
Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, a Democrat, told the Vail Daily he will vigorously defend the law from all legal challenges and expects it to persevere on constitutional grounds if challenged, as it already has in two of the 15 states where similar legislation has passed.
“If there’s a recall against Kerry Donovan, I will be here as often as I can to support her and work hard on her behalf,” Weiser said. “She’s doing great work in the legislature. Her vote on this reflected a lot of thought, a lot of care and ultimately a conclusion of principal that she explained in a very clear and I think compelling fashion.”
‘An issue of her behavior’
Weiser added it will be more difficult for Republicans to successfully recall Democrats in 2019 compared to 2013 because six years ago the recalls were polling place elections, and now the state has gone to all mail-in ballots.
Ben Engen of the conservative consulting company Constellation Political Consulting has been conducting recall training sessions, including one last month Chaffee County. He points to a Facebook video circulating from a March town hall that Donovan conducted in Salida.
“That video and that exchange I think is really what gets to the core of what’s going on there,” Engen told the Vail Daily. “Part of what makes her an attractive recall target even considering the left-leaning nature of the district is that this isn’t so much an issue of her policy stances, it’s become an issue of her behavior.”
Donovan defended her behavior during that heated exchange with RMGO members on her Facebook page and added she would not be threatened and bullied by the group.