We have had roughly the same two parties in the U.S. competing and, over the long haul, checking one another, for more than 160 years.
For the second half of that span, each has believed at various times there is a natural majority or even a “super majority” for its governing philosophy. It is a short walk from there to the suspicion and then belief that anything which interferes with the party’s electoral or legislative victories is a contrivance, from the filibuster to paper ballots and including parts of the Constitution.
Notably, neither party has ever claimed that its wins – and each has had its share – were artificial.
This has a corollary: Each party in power tends to confuse a win with a mandate and unanimity, which leads to overreach. The beauty of this system from 10,000 feet is that we correct at the next election, or we over-correct. It is a perpetual motion machine.
Nowadays, however, when stakes feel heightened – when many Democrats believe the Republican president is leading the country into fascism and white nationalism, and Republicans believe Democrats are contriving to confiscate cows, automobiles and wealth – we sometimes cease to believe we can wait until the next election.
Colorado in this respect has been spooked by 2013, when two Democratic members of the state Senate were recalled, including the Senate president, after they supported gun-control measures. (Durango Rep. Mike McLachlan, another Democrat, also was targeted.) Republicans were elected in their stead, and then, in the 2014 election, they were defeated by Democrats. It was a circular exercise.
Last year, an effort to recall La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt, one of two Democrats on the three-seat board, fell just short of the number of petition signatures needed. Then, in November, voters put a third Democrat on the commission.
Rochelle Galindo, a Democrat from Greeley, was elected to the state House from District 50 in the blue wave of last November, beating Republican Michael Thuener 53% to 47% in a race that set a record for district midterm turnout. Galindo, 28, is a former Greeley city councilor who had worked on President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign. She is what she appears to be, which is key. Predictably, she has voted with the Democratic majority in the House to further regulate oil and gas, which has spurred a recall effort in her district.
One of that recall’s backers, Mary Achziger, told the Greeley Tribune she did not believe in recalls – until now: “I thought your next election is your recall. However, when you have someone who is poised to do irreparable damage, then that’s the reason for the recall. If it’s just because you don’t agree with them, if it’s just because they did something you don’t like, that’s a little different. But when they’re getting ready to do irreparable damage, they need to go.”
It’s not just Galindo. As Denver correspondent Ryan Maye Handy reported for The Durango Herald this week, “rural and conservative areas of Colorado have cried for the recall elections” of Gov. Jared Polis and Democratic lawmakers after party-line passage of the “red flag” Extreme Risk Protection Orders gun bill.
We think that bill encroaches on due process, but we do not think its passage, or the passage of the oil and gas bill, does irreparable damage. Opponents can fight the gun bill in the courts and let it guide their votes the next time they are regularly scheduled to vote.
There may come a time when we think extraordinary measures like a recall are warranted, which is all the more reason to keep our powder dry now. In Colorado, what we have seen is Republicans wanting to remove Democrats, but the principle works both ways, as it should. Efforts by some Democrats in the U.S. House to still make a case for impeaching President Donald Trump seem more impractical and less warranted the closer we get to November 2020.