Arizona Public Radio | Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

As Politics Become More Divided, State Recall Efforts Gain Popularity


Some Americans want their elected representatives removed, and they don't want to wait until the next scheduled election. In 19 states, people can vote to recall an elected official. And that move is very popular now, the most popular it's been in generations. Colorado has had six recall attempts in just the last few months.

Here's Bente Birkeland from Colorado Public Radio.

BENTE BIRKELAND, BYLINE: The latest recall campaign is against Colorado's Democratic senate president, Leroy Garcia. It all goes back to last November when Democrats swept into power, gaining control of the state legislature and every major statewide office. Republicans have blasted Democrats for moving too far to the left on gun control, environmental regulations...

SUSAN CARR: And we felt it was really time to do something. Leroy Garcia had turned his back on his constituents.

BIRKELAND: Susan Carr is one of the volunteers organizing the effort against Garcia. In order to even get the recall question on the ballot, they'll need to collect roughly 13,000 valid signatures. Garcia took a more moderate stance on some issues like gun control. But for Carr, that wasn't enough.

CARR: Three more years is a long time. And we just didn't feel we could afford to wait three more years.

BIRKELAND: That's when Garcia will be term limited. He's a Marine and the first Latino Senate president and represents Pueblo, a blue-collar town in southern Colorado. It's where he was born and is now raising his own family. On this hot summer day, Garcia is going door to door.

LEROY GARCIA: How are you doing, sir? Are you Dennis by chance?


GARCIA: How are you doing, sir? My name's Leroy Garcia. I'm your state senator. I wanted to drop this off for you and your family. I don't know if you're aware, sir, that they are in the process of a recall and signature gathering...

DENNIS: Yeah. Well, I don't sign those. I don't believe in that.


DENNIS: We elected you. I think you should stay there.

GARCIA: Thank you, sir.

BIRKELAND: Garcia won in November with over 70% of the vote against a libertarian challenger. Colorado's governor is also facing a recall effort and so are governors in a handful of states, including Oregon, Alaska and New Jersey. Joshua Spivak is a senior fellow at Wagner College and writes the Recall Elections Blog. He notes a recent uptick in recall efforts.

JOSHUA SPIVAK: There is, to some degree, the desire that, hey, this could work. And there's good reason to feel it work. It's worked plenty of times.

BIRKELAND: It worked in Colorado six years ago. Two Democratic state senators were ousted for voting for stricter gun laws. Spivak says the biggest hurdle is getting the signatures. Most efforts never reach the ballot. But if they do, he says, voters have removed elected officials 60% of the time.

SPIVAK: That's a good reason to try it in most people's minds who are launching it. That said, there's a serious challenge with it that you could get people riled up. But maybe you're getting the wrong people riled up. Maybe this will blow up in your face.

BIRKELAND: Even though no one has been voted out of office this year in Colorado, opposition to the recall efforts has energized the left. Morgan Carroll chairs the state's Democratic Party. She says she takes recall efforts seriously but says that Democrats in office are just doing what they told voters they would do.

MORGAN CARROLL: If it can just become a favorite gimmick, you know, when you're a sore loser and you've lost a campaign, it's wasting taxpayer dollars. It's wasting people's time.

BIRKELAND: And it's also dividing the right. Some Republicans feel it distracts from bigger national priorities, like keeping Colorado's competitive Senate seat red in 2020. That's one race that could determine which party controls the U.S. Senate. For NPR News, I'm Bente Birkeland in Denver.

(SOUNDBITE OF BALMORHEA'S "ARTIFACT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bente Birkeland has covered Colorado politics and government since spring of 2006. She loves the variety and challenge of the state capitol beat and talking to people from all walks of life. Bente's work has aired on NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered, American PublicMedia'sMarketplace, and she was a contributor for WNYC's The Next Big Thing. She has won numerous local and national awards, including best beat reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors. Bente grew up in Minnesota and England, and loves skiing, hiking, and is an aspiring cello player. She lives in Lakewood with her husband.