Last week's landmark recall election in Colorado didn't get the attention that it probably deserves, if not for the fact that the central issue was gun control, then at least for the lesson on what can be accomplished if you motivate enough people to act.
State Senate President John Morse and Sen. Angela Giron, both Democrats, were defeated in recall elections - the first successful recall elections in Colorado history - for their support of gun control laws enacted by the state legislature in the wake of mass shootings in Aurora and Sandy Hook.
Political pundits are trying to analyze the results with the pro-gun side claiming overwhelming public support and the anti-gun side saying the low voter turnout and decision to not allow mail in ballots were the deciding factors. Overshadowing it all was $360,000 spent by the NRA and about that same amount spent by Mayors Against Illegal Guns, a group founded by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. I had to chuckle when I read the NRA's statement following the vote.
"The National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund is proud to have stood with the men and women in Colorado who sent a clear message that their Second Amendment rights are not for sale," the group wrote in a statement. Umm, yeah. Not for sale. Apparently the going price was $360,000, but it wasn't for sale. Perhaps using terminology like "gun rights won't be trampled on..." would have been more accurate.
Regardless of where you stand on the gun issue, the recall election holds some inspiration for people in other states where one party dominates. Some western Maryland counties don't like the fact that a Democrat is in the State House and Democrats control both the Senate and House of Delegates. One person has even launched an effort to secede.
The situation is the same in Colorado, and even with the recall and placement of the two Republican challengers in office, Democrats still control all of state government. Probably why there is also an effort in Colorado for some counties to secede.
But the successful recall challenges - efforts to recall two other legislators for the same reason failed to make it to a vote - is something to think about for underrepresented Republicans in Maryland. Imagine mounting a recall election against Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller Jr. because Gov. Martin O'Malley passed similar gun restrictions in Maryland.
The gerrymandered districts that Democrats have put in place in Maryland make most of their seats safe, but in Colorado only a small percentage of voters cast ballots on the issue, so what it came down to was which side was better able to motivate its base.
For any given issue there are a relatively small number of people who are energetically impassioned to act. In most cases the majority of voters just stay home. We see this in the difference in number of people voting in the primaries and then in the general elections. Fewer people associated with either major party vote in their primary, but they turn out to support whoever their party base has supported when it comes time for the general election.
People say they vote for the person, but the record indicates that here and across the nation we're too often just lemmings pushing the button next to the name with the appropriate "R" or "D" after it.
In most cases, it is bad for communities when important issues are on the ballot, and only a few people show up to vote. For recall elections, however, this can work in favor of those attempting to oust someone, as was apparently part of the reason for the successes in Colorado last week. In both districts the Democrats had the voting advantage, yet in both cases they lost.
Republicans in Maryland are in such disarray when it comes to state office that they can't even agree on a single candidate to replace a departing senator. They instead left that choice up to the Democratic governor, the one person despised above all others among Republicans in Maryland. So their chance of mounting any successful recall election challenge is probably slim to none. But perhaps the odds are a little better within the individual districts, some of which have lots of GOP support and strong followers.
Looking back at referendums that approved gay marriage, gambling and rights for certain illegal immigrants, not to mention the newly enacted gun laws in Maryland which go further than those in Colorado, it would be interesting to see if anyone here could mount a successful recall campaign.
The lessons from Colorado will be debated for months from those on both sides of the gun issue, but in the bigger picture, the greater lesson is in deciphering the mechanics of mounting a successful recall campaign, and the pro-gun side in Colorado nailed it last week.