POLITICS
08/25/2013 09:04 am ET | Updated Aug 25, 2013

Angela Giron, Colorado State Senator Facing Gun Vote Recall, Predicts Victory

AP

WASHINGTON -- As Colorado's state legislature considered landmark gun control measures this year to reduce gun violence, state Sen. Angela Giron (D-Pueblo) was widely regarded as the swing vote in the Senate State Affairs Committee.

The reforms included requiring background checks for all firearm purchases and a ban on ammunition magazines that hold more than 15 rounds. Gun rights advocates steadfastly opposed the bills and focused on Giron, the committee chairwoman, who ultimately voted in favor of the new measures. Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signed the reforms into law in March, marking a significant victory for the Democrats who controlled the state legislature.

Months later, Giron finds herself the target of a recall election on Sept. 10, along with fellow Democrat and Senate president John Morse -- an effort orchestrated by local gun rights advocates and backed by the National Rifle Association. The stakes are especially high, Giron told The Huffington Post, and may shape the national debate on gun policy stirred by December's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

"If they are able to take down both a Senate president and a strong labor representative ... they really do believe it would send reverberating messages to legislatures across the country," Giron said in a phone interview.

Giron said the recall involves more than retaliation for her support of stricter gun laws. She drew the ire of conservatives by supporting a bill that would require electric cooperatives to double renewable energy standards and by backing legislation that granted in-state college tuition to students who are undocumented immigrants. Groups and individuals opposed to those measures have joined the gun lobby to oust Giron and Morse from office.

"As I look at the money that's being spent on this recall, both in mine and President John Morse, where you have Koch brothers spending money in here ... I think it's a lot about Democrats vs. Republicans, and has grown very partisan," Giron said.

The recall election has been blasted by some Democrats as a waste of taxpayer money, with an estimated cost of $500,000. Giron already faced reelection in 2014. The gun lobby nonetheless has vowed political retribution for any lawmaker who voted in favor of Colorado's anti-gun violence package, and pounced as Giron faced backlash over her vote.

During Colorado's gun debate, the general manager of the Pueblo Chieftain, Giron's hometown newspaper, wrote to her opposing the gun control measures, identifying himself as a gun owner who is "responsible for the entire newspaper, including the newsroom."

"They reign here in Pueblo," Giron said of the newspaper's influence in her district. "The new general manager sends me an email while we're debating the legislation, and he says, 'I want you to know that I'm not only in charge of the newspaper but every piece of news that goes out, and I don't like these gun laws, and I don't want you to vote for them.'"

After Giron voted for the bills, she said, she was the subject of negative stories on the front page of the newspaper each day for more than a week. Morse told "The Rachel Maddow Show" on MSNBC in March that the paper targeted Giron with "pictures that weren't very flattering, almost deliberately."

Giron said she voted on behalf of her constituents after holding town hall meetings and other discussions with members from both sides of the debate. Through these conversations, she saw not just the effect Newtown had on families in her district, but of last year's mass shooting in Aurora. When a gunman walked into a late-night show at a movie theater on July 20, 2012, killing 12 and injuring 70 others, it marked a turning point for Colorado, Giron said, as it grappled with the second mass shooting in recent history.

The parents of Alex Sullivan, a young man killed in the Aurora shooting while celebrating his 27th birthday, were among those who visited Giron as she considered how to vote.

"I identified with them," Giron said. "I have a 30-year-old daughter. She could have been there."

"It's not just about these national tragedies but about gun violence every single day," she added.

One constituent told Giron she witnessed her teenage brother kill himself with a gun he acquired despite his depression. Another young woman Giron met with told the senator she escaped an abusive relationship after her boyfriend threatened her and "had guns laying across the room."

"He told her, 'If you think about leaving me, you won't make it out alive,'" Giron said.

Giron said she entered the Senate with a focus on women's issues and minorities. But she began to see the gun issue from a different light.

"Now I will forever be labeled with this whole gun issue, and I'm fine with that, because when you think about gun violence, the communities who are disproportionately affected are women and children and people of color," she said.

Giron has also picked up key endorsements in the recall fight from Colorado Lt. Gov Joe Garcia and from EMILY's List, the group that helps elect Democratic women to office and has formidable resources for women in politics.

"Angela Giron has been a fierce advocate for families -- fighting to increase funding for education, expand high-quality health care coverage, and build youth development programs," said EMILY's List President Stephanie Schriock in a statement. "But now Republicans are trying to kick her out of the Colorado Senate for listening to the people of Colorado instead of special interest groups."

A Quinnipiac poll released Thursday found strong support for Giron, with 52 percent of Colorado voters saying she should remain in office. Although respondents were split down the middle on the 15-round magazine limit, 82 percent said they favored requiring background checks for gun buyers.

Giron was optimistic that her record will speak for itself. Twenty-one of the 26 bills she introduced this session were passed, according to her campaign website.

"I think it's without a doubt that we're going to make it through this ... and hopefully it does send a message to the gun lobby that has held a lot of legislation hostage, so that people can feel free to be able to do what they know is right," Giron said. "We are going to be making some history here."

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated the cost of the recall election as $500 million; it is estimated to cost $500,000.

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