Last Dance for Angela Giron
How did the Pueblo Democrat lose her groove?
Even as Senate President John Morse was giving his recall concession speech in Colorado Springs Tuesday evening, a group of mostly women political activists were dancing in front of an election results screen in the Pueblo Union Depot. State Senator Angela Giron was leading by double digits and her supporters were doing an impressively coordinated Cuban Shuffle.
The county’s election site crashed, as it had off and on all night. As word about the delayed results spread across the ballroom, the floor quieted. The dancers stopped dancing. There was a lull until the site came back online showing Giron was suddenly behind Republican newcomer George Rivera by more than 10 percent with half the votes counted.
Seemingly unaware that it was now unlikely that Giron could keep her senate seat, the DJ played Gloria Estefan’s ‘Turn the Beat Around.’ The cheerful song echoed on the empty dance floor where only one person, a little girl, continued shaking her groove thing, hands stretched up to cast shadows on the projection screen.
Elsewhere in the room, the hand wringing started. As Giron’s numbers continued to drop, she made an appearance to thank her volunteers and say, somewhat hollowly, that she still felt optimistic.
There were reasons for her optimism. All indications leading up to that moment suggested Giron was safe from the recall attempt. Pueblo’s Senate District 3 seat had been held by a Democrat for as long as anyone could remember. Giron campaigned longer and seemingly harder than Morse, who was term-limited and fighting a recall effort to the north. And she had advantages that Morse didn’t, including a longer voting period, more volunteers on the ground and, as election results show, 4,619 more Democratic voters casting ballots than Republicans. While pundits spent much of Tuesday wondering if Morse could retain his seat, most projected victory for Giron.
But she got clobbered, losing to Rivera by 12 percentage points while Morse, in the Springs, lost to Republican Bernie Herpin by only 2 percent.
Democrats throughout the state wondered what went wrong. Did organized labor fail her? Would it have helped if statewide Democratic heavy-hitters had campaigned on her behalf? Most confusing of all, why did so many Pueblo Democrats turn against a woman who had spent 30 years serving the community through local non-profits?
Outside the depot, Giron organizers — particularly women — smoked cigarettes as they recounted the dramas of months of door-knocking, campaign calls and rallies to keep the Senator in office.
“He said to me, ‘You know how you know you’re a liberal woman? You’re ugly,’” one canvasser described a nasty interaction with a pro-recall demonstrator.
Though Tuesday’s unseating of state senators Giron and Morse was rooted in the gun control legislation they supported in the spring, both sides say the recalls gained traction on a number of other issues ranging from marijuana regulation to representative democracy.
In Pueblo, gender, race and class had been thick undertones throughout the recall campaign.
“I do think it’s about gender,” said Shaye Donohue, a volunteer and labor advocate who worked to keep Giron in office. “They thought she was an easy mark. I do think she’s disproved them, in her own, very feminine, way. And really it’s women who’ve stepped up to the plate to support her.”
Donohue sensed a problem in the traditional base when she noticed Democratic men in the heavy labor stronghold reluctant to support Giron largely because of her gun-control votes.
“This is very bad for those of us in labor,” she said. “There should be no question among labor groups when it comes to supporting [Giron], but here we are — men and their toys… it’s not about the NRA looking strong, it’s about labor looking weak.”
Mike Schuster, who canvassed for two months defending Giron, agreed that her gender figured in the gun control inspired recall, but added that there were many factors that prompted her defeat.
“There are some underlying issues other than guns,” he said. “She voted for civil unions and for the bill to give in-state tuition to undocumented kids.”
Roy Roman, a Pueblo resident who voted to recall Giron, said the effort was primarily about the problems of representative democracy.
“The recall is a good thing. It helps keep our politicians in check,” he said outside a busy polling place in Pueblo West where members of Pueblo Freedom and Rights, the group behind the Giron recall effort, stood on all four corners of the nearest intersection even in Tuesday afternoon’s torrential rain.
“I’m very disappointed in our representatives for not representing us,” Roman added. “This is a good way to show them we have the power, they don’t have the power.”
George Samaras has lived in Pueblo for 40 years, played music with soon-to-be-state-senator George Rivera, but supported Giron against the recall. “Our political system is still evolving and we’re in the midst of it,” he said. “This recall is a part of that.”
Pundits, politicos and Puebloans of all affiliations agreed that Tuesday’s outcomes signal a kind of evolution.
Some fear the success of the relatively quiet Colorado recall efforts — a departure from last year’s more spotlight-grabbing local showdowns in Wisconsin — may mark the beginning of a new “take no prisoners” political era in which politicians favoring gun control will fear bucking the powerful National Rifle Association and other big-money gun groups.
Both Morse and Giron said in their concession speeches that they don’t regret voting for gun control, or for any other Democratic-backed measure last session. Both said the recall ordeal shows how important the issues they stood for are and that the fight, particularly around gun control in America, has only just begun.
“Angela Giron was on the right side of this issue…Freedom means being free to own a gun. It also means being free to go to a late show and live to see the credits; free to drop your third-grader at school and know she’s going to come home. I don’t believe in the logic that says ‘if children get shot at school, give the librarian a 9mm.’ We have to protect our Constitution and the people who live under it,” said Pueblo voter Tim O’Shea, looking defeated after watching the senator hug her way out of the building to the tune of “Brown Eyed Girl.”
Despite what GIron’s supporters say were a stellar three years representing her community at the Statehouse, they may never pinpoint exactly what caused Giron to her groove by such a wide margin. After the music ended, the crowd slowly trailed her out of the Depot late Tuesday. Their faces looked vacant as they dispersed, shuffling to their cars along the dark road.
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