DENVER (AP) — Colorado voters ousted two state lawmakers Tuesday in first-ever recall elections that came in reaction to the Democrats' support for tougher gun laws in the aftermath of last year's mass shootings in Aurora and Newtown, Conn.
Senate President John Morse of Colorado Springs and Sen. Angela Giron of Pueblo lost their jobs as lawmakers in an election seen as a national measure of popular support for gun legislation. They were replaced by two gun-rights Republicans.
Angered by new limits on ammunition magazines and expanded background checks, gun rights activists filed enough voter signatures for the recall elections — the first for state legislators since Colorado adopted the procedure in 1912. The recalls prevailed despite some $3 million in contributions for the incumbents.
The recalls were the latest chapter in the national debate over guns — and, for some, a warning to lawmakers in swing states who might contemplate gun restrictions in the future. The outcome narrowed the Democratic majority in Colorado's Senate to one seat.
Tuesday's vote also exposed divisions between Colorado's growing urban and suburban areas and its rural towns. Dozens of elected county sheriffs have sued to block the gun laws and some activists are promoting a largely symbolic measure to secede from the state.
Morse recall organizer Timothy Knight said voters were upset that Colorado's Democrat-majority Legislature seemed more inclined to take its cues from the White House than its constituents. The gun laws passed this year with no Republican support.
"If the people had been listened to, these recalls wouldn't be happening," Knight said.
Morse was recalled by 51 percent of voters in the Republican stronghold of Colorado Springs, according to unofficial returns. He was replaced by Bernie Herpin, a former city councilman. Morse, a former police chief in a Colorado Springs suburb, was first elected to the Senate in 2006.
Some 56 percent of voters favored Giron's recall in a strong Democratic district in Pueblo. George Rivera, a former police officer, replaced her.
"We as the Democratic party will continue to fight," Morse said in conceding the race. "We will win in the end because we are on the right side," Giron said in her concession speech.
Both legislators voted for 15-round limits on ammunition magazines and for expanded background checks on private gun sales after the 2012 mass shootings in Aurora and Newtown, Conn. The legislation was signed into law by Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper.
The National Rifle Association and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg lined up on opposite sides of the recalls.
Reported contributions to Morse and Giron totaled about $3 million, dwarfing the amount raised by gun activists who petitioned for the recall, though some independent groups didn't have to report spending. Both the NRA and Bloomberg contributed more than $300,000 to the pro- and anti-recall campaigns.
"The people of Colorado Springs sent a clear message to the Senate leader that his primary job was to defend their rights and freedoms and that he is ultimately accountable to them - his constituents, and not to the dollars or social engineering agendas of anti-gun billionaires," the NRA said in a prepared statement.
Most voters had to cast their ballots in person.
"This is a good, old-fashioned knock and drag operation — knocking on doors and dragging them to the polls," said Colorado Democratic Party chairman Rick Palacio, who worked Giron's district on Tuesday.
Hickenlooper initially rejected calls for stronger gun control laws after 12 people were killed and 70 injured in an Aurora movie theater in July 2012. The governor changed his mind right before the December 2012 Newtown massacre, in which a gunman killed 20 children and six women at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Hickenlooper, who is up for re-election in 2014, kept a low profile in the recalls. A recent statewide poll by Quinnipiac University suggested that 52 percent of voters disapproved of his gun policy while only 35 percent approved.