Mike Littwin: Now that Sullivan recall bid has failed, does state GOP know enough to be embarrassed?
Fair & Unbalanced
For those who wonder why Republicans keep losing in Colorado, we give you the latest GOP fail, in which Kristi Burton Brown, vice-chair of the state Republican Party, officially ended her doomed-from-the-start recall effort against Rep. Tom Sullivan.
The idea, as I may have written before, was not simply wrong-headed, but also a textbook case of political ineptitude.
We can sum up the ineptitude in one sentence: Republicans sought to recall a murder victim’s father for sponsoring a bill he had campaigned on — in his son Alex’s name — that he hoped would save the lives of other people’s sons or daughters.
The ineptitude is embarrassing but hardly surprising. Even if they had somehow gotten the 10,035 signatures required to put the recall on the ballot, they had no chance of actually winning the recall.
The bill in question, of course, was the red-flag bill, which allows a judge to temporarily remove guns from someone who is deemed dangerous to himself or others. The bill became law and Sullivan became a recall target, one in a campaign of recalls that Republicans had promised as a strategy to counter the fact that they keep losing in regular elections — including the 2018 disaster that included the GOP loss of every statewide constitutional office.
And if this attempted recall of Sullivan — whose son Alex was killed in the Aurora theater massacre — seemed ridiculous to you, it seemed that way, too, to many around the nation when they heard of it. And to the gun-safety groups who leaned in with money support. And to the national Democratic politicians who offered help, including Sens. Chris Murphy, Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders.
And the funny thing is, this failed campaign will probably pretty much ensure Sullivan’s re-election in 2020. All he has to do is run on the notion that Republicans tried to steal this seat from the voters. When I mentioned this to Sullivan on Tuesday, he laughed and said, “Now, they’ll be stuck with me forever.”
Apparently not everyone seemed to understand how this would play out. We should start with Burton Brown, who claimed that she was leading this effort as a private citizen and not as a party official. I wasn’t there to see it, but I’m assuming she said this with a straight face. And here’s a line from the unintentionally funny Facebook post she wrote when she ended the failed campaign: “We have been able to confirm everything we already knew: Tom Sullivan’s days as a State Representative are almost over.”
Then, of course, there is the Neville wing of the state GOP, led by House Minority Leader Patrick Neville, who promised a series of recalls and must not have understood that it’s a bad idea to choose a recall with national ramifications that you have little chance of winning.
And there’s Ken Buck, the congressman who inexplicably decided to also run for state party chair and inexplicably won. In his bid for the job, he vowed to teach Democrats how to spell recall. Let’s just say it’s not spelled S-U-L-L-I-V-A-N.
But mostly this was a production of Dudley Brown and his Rocky Mountain Gun Owners/Nuts. Strangely — and I don’t know how else to put it — the RMGO boys had helped defeat Sullivan’s opponent in 2018, GOP state Rep. Cole Wist, for Wist’s support of a similar red-flag bill. And a year later, Brown decided to go after the man he had just helped elect.
It doesn’t just look crazy. It is crazy. And Wist, to his credit, said so while rejecting the recall effort. “It is unfortunate but crystal clear,” Wist said. “RMGO owns the Colorado Republican Party.”
Dudley Brown had conceded the other day to The Denver Post that they were having trouble getting enough signatures. Of course they were.
I mean, what was their pitch — folks, it’s time to recall the guy who ran for office because he thought not enough was being done to protect people from gun violence, and so, in the name of his murdered son, he actually tried to do something about it?
OK, bad enough. Dumb enough. But Dudley Brown is not only disliked by Democrats, but also by many Republicans, who are convinced (as they should be) that he’s a disaster for the Republican Party. And apparently he will continue to be.
Not a single party leader, Wist said, was brave enough to call out Brown for the ugliness of the 2018 campaign against him. And no elected official in the Republican party, according to Sullivan, reached out to him publicly or privately to apologize for a party out of control.
“No one came forward,” Sullivan said. “And now that window has closed. I know there are people who are bullied by leaders, but they could have privately come forward.
“I keep hearing that not all Republicans are fans of Dudley Brown, but not one of them had the courage to say so. Now would have been the right time.”
When Sullivan heard the news, he had been going door to door to make his case to voters for keeping his job. Now he wants to do something to make it more difficult to launch what you might call gratuitious recall efforts. He understands there are constitutional considerations and has discussed the matter with Attorney General Phil Weiser.
“There are good reasons for recalls — high crimes and misdemeanor, malfeasance, corruption. But there’s a fine line on this.”
There is a fine line when the system is being abused. But for Colorado Republicans — who remember the brief glory days of 2013 gun-related recalls — it’s now a matter of political self abuse.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in the Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.