Bernie’s on the Ballot

A still from Herpin campaign video set in Garden of the Gods. Although highly emblematic of Colorado Springs, the Garden is actually situated to the north of contested Senate District 11.

Former Colorado Springs Councilman Bernie Herpin has won a spot on the ballot to challenge sitting state Senate President John Morse in the historic Senate District 11 recall election to be held September 10. Voters will first choose whether or not to recall Morse and then choose his possible replacement.

Herpin supporters turned in 1,600 signatures to the secretary of state’s office Monday and state staffers declared 1,400 of the signatures valid. Herpin needed to notch only 1,000 valid signature to qualify.

“Right now we’re just trying to provide as much support to Bernie and his campaign as we can,” said El Paso County Republican Party Chairman Jeff Hayes, who said gathering the signatures to get Herpin on the ballot was mostly a matter of retracing the steps of the much larger recall petition effort earlier this summer.

“[Herpin’s] a patriot and we’re fortunate to have him on our side,” Hayes added.

Hayes is a member of the side recently grown to include the El Paso Republican Party but one that began with a coalition called The Basic Freedom Defense Fund, which coalesced from outraged reaction to Morse’s pro gun-control legislation. The BFDF later received financial support from a nonprofit run by conservative Black Forest-based gun-rights activist Laura Carno. The BFDF hired Kennedy Enterprises, the company responsible for circulating the vast majority of the controversial petitions required to bring about the special election that will call Morse to recall.

Herpin, originally from Florida, served in the Navy beginning in 1965, joined the Air Force in 1980, and retired to the private-defense sector in 1985. He served as an at-large city council member in 2006, and again for a four-year term beginning in 2009, representing Colorado Springs District 4.

District 4 overlaps Morse’s downtown district on its southeastern flank and includes a combination of middle- and working-class families, many living in the modest, mid-century single-family homes that line the area’s curved suburban streets. Herpin’s district also includes parts of Peterson Air Force Base.

“From what I’ve been able to learn about Bernie’s record and his stance on different issues, ‘reasonable’ is the key word,” Hayes said.

Christy Le Lait, spokesperson for A Whole Lot of People for John Morse – the campaign to keep the Senate President in office — says Herpin’s inclusion on the ballot is separate from the Democratic Party’s current efforts.

“Senator Morse is the sitting Senator,” said Le Lait. “He’s not running against Bernie Herpin; he’s running against a recall. That said, Bernie Herpin represents some extreme views that I don’t think are in line with [Morse’s] constituents.”

Over the course of his five years on city council, Herpin developed a record that some liberals would call extreme. Council campaign literature has him staunchly opposed to gay marriage, abortion rights, ‘entitlement’ programs and gun control. His voting record puts him largely in line with conservative Springs Mayor Steve Bach, particularly when it came to economics. Yet a few his votes raised brows among conservatives, including support of a doomed solar gardens initiative, which would have increased green energy a few percentage points in the Springs and added about $3 to an average household’s taxes.

Dan Ajamian works on social media for the El Paso County GOP and his impression of Herpin’s politics ran somewhat counter to the Councillman’s online statements — which, in all fairness, date to 2009.

“He’s more in line with moderate leanings of SD-11,” said Ajamian. “For example, he supports civil unions. Most very conservative folks don’t.”

Herpin did not respond to interview requests placed this week.

At Party headquarters Hayes, like Le Lait, has that first recall vote on his mind.

“There were quite a few Democrats and independents who signed those petitions” Hayes said, referring to petitions in favor of holding a recall election. “They had no idea who would run [in the special election], they were just displeased with Senator Morse… The first question is Should Senator Morse be recalled? and the second is Do we want Bernie Herpin? So, obviously, we need to win both of those, in succession.”

Hayes and Le Lait agree that the September 10 election is not really the traditional kind of contest that pits two candidates against one another.

“This election is really a much more about Senator Morse than it is about Bernie Herpin,” Hayes said.