Rep. Mike McLachlan will live to fight another day.
Opponents of the Durango Democrat failed Tuesday to round up enough signatures to force him into a recall election.
Tuesday was the deadline for the campaign to submit at least 10,587 signatures on recall petitions from voters in McLachlan’s district. But the campaign got a little more than 8,500, said Dave Saleh, an organizer of the recall campaign.
Far from being disappointed, Saleh said people in his “disorganized” and “amateur” campaign are energized by the result, and they will either initiate another recall campaign or engage McLachlan on the campaign trail in 2014, when he’s up for re-election.
“I think everybody’s learned a lot in the process. By no means is this over. If McLachlan wants to pound his chest and claim victory, he’s in for a big surprise,” Saleh said.
McLachlan said he was pleased the campaign didn’t succeed, because it would have forced a divisive and expensive special election.
“I think what it does show is there is a minority of persons who were supporting the recall. They are loud, extremely vocal in their views, but not necessarily in significant numbers to make a difference,” McLachlan said.
Recall efforts began after McLachlan voted for a series of gun bills by fellow Democrats. He sponsored an amendment on a bill to a limit ammunition magazine sizes to raise the cap from 10 to 15 rounds. But opponents were incensed that he voted for the bill, no matter what the limit was.
Saleh said the issue was less about guns than that McLachlan lied on the campaign trail about his support for the Second Amendment.
McLachlan, though, thinks the blowup was about competing interpretations of the Second Amendment.
“I think the Second Amendment clearly allows for police-power regulation and safety regulation,” McLachlan said.
A federal judge could decide whether the bills McLachlan voted for violate the Constitution. County sheriffs and several others filed suit against the state in U.S. District Court last week, seeking to overturn the magazine limit and a bill to require background checks for private-party sales.
McLachlan was the first of five Democrats to be targeted for a recall campaign. Only one of them, Senate President John Morse, D-Colorado Springs, seems to be in any danger of having to face a recall election.
The Morse recall campaign already has exceeded the number of signatures it needs, and now petitioners are working on padding the total, Saleh said. There are also campaigns against Pueblo Sen. Angela Giron, Westminster Sen. Evie Hudak and Aurora Rep. Rhonda Fields.
Durango began as the epicenter for recall efforts across the state, but soon Saleh’s group and a statewide umbrella group called the Basic Freedom Defense Fund parted ways over who had the right to lead the campaign against McLachlan. The BFDF is now focused on Front Range recalls, and the anti-Morse campaign has hired professional signature-gatherers.
The McLachlan campaign was nearly exclusively a volunteer effort.
“We paid one college kid to gather 40 signatures,” Saleh said.
About five or six Durangoans worked intensely on the recall campaign, with a total of 30 or 40 intensely involved throughout McLachlan’s district, which stretches up to Gunnison. Altogether, about 100 people worked on the campaign, Saleh said. Organizers will regroup soon and decide whether they can use what they have learned to launch another recall petition, he said.
Brad Blake, chairman of the La Plata County Republican Central Committee, didn’t fault the recall effort’s ground game.
“I think there was a pretty good ground effort. I don’t know of anybody that went door to door, I couldn’t tell you if they did,” he said.
No one contacted the county Republican Party for its list of voters, Blake said.
The 8,500 signatures that the campaign gathered are unverified. Saleh said an audit of 500 signatures gathered by Pagosa Springs activists showed 90 percent of them were valid signatures from registered voters in McLachlan’s district. But he expects the total might have been lower in Durango.
Petition campaigns in Colorado typically see 30 percent to 50 percent of their signatures invalidated.