After recalls suddenly grabbed hold of the nation’s attention in 2012, anyone could have been excused for thinking they might have gone back to being little used, frequently ignored weapons this year. But 2013 proved such expectations wrong. Despite a sharp drop in their total number, recall elections once again managed to place themselves on centerstage in American politics. Unlike in Wisconsin in 2012, the most prominent recalls of 2013 did not appear to be stark Democrat versus Republican fights. Instead, it was a hot button political issue — the fight over gun control — that allowed recalls to push their way into the spotlight. Colorado, for instance, saw some of its most expensive state legislative elections in history: Two Democratic state senators — including the State Senate president — were kicked out and a third resigned, over the state’s new gun control laws.
From a political standpoint, the fights in Colorado were about sending a message. Removing the officials would not have resulted in a change in the gun laws, nor would have removing two officials given Republicans control over the chamber. The practical value was so questionable that the recall was originally opposed by the state party leaders and, in the early going, appeared to be ignored by the NRA, too. While these groups eventually got involved to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, it was local people who pushed the recalls forward. On the other side of the issue, millions of dollars were given to support the pro-gun-control senators, including big contributions by a group heavily financed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Colorado may have helped inspire other attempted recalls on both sides of the gun control issue, including attempts against a sheriff in Oregon, an Idaho school board member who promoted arming teachers, and various instances in California. Only one of the other gun-control-centered recalls actually got to the ballot, though — Exeter, a small rural town in Maine, tried to remove four City Council members after they tried to ask the Attorney General to handle concealed gun permits. The town of 6,000 people received heavy press coverage for the attempt, but all four council members easily survived the recall election.