The wrong issue: How Bernie Herpin blew away John Morse

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]f you’re looking to understand Senate President John Morse’s ouster from office Tuesday, all you had to do was hang out with Bernie Herpin’s supporters as they expounded on guns, government and fear.

One explained his backing of Herpin by boasting about the sidearm he was carrying outside a polling place.

One offered this reporter a chance to hold his 15-round magazine.

And another prayed for Herpin’s victory to protect what he interprets as Jesus’s 2nd Amendment mandate.

“I was praying tonight that God would inspire His people,” Gordon Klingenschmitt, assured Linda Herpin, wife of the GOP recall challenger, minutes before El Paso County Republicans announced that her husband had unseated Morse, a Democrat.

Klingenschmitt, who goes by the name Chaplain Gordon James Klingenschmitt, PhD,  or “Chaps,” has made Colorado Springs his home off and on since 1986. He describes himself as pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-Israel and pro-Jesus. He’s also pro-guns.

“I wanted to help recall John Morse specifically because of 2nd Amendment issues,” he said. “As a Christian, as a person who follows Jesus, I believe in the 2nd Amendment. I believe that when Jesus said, for example, ‘sell your cloak and buy a sword,’ that he endorsed the idea of self-defense, that defending yourself is not a crime. In fact, it’s a moral obligation to defend your wife, to defend your family, and John Morse stands against families who want to do that —stands against people who want to exercise their 2nd Amendment rights.”

Klingenschmitt has made headlines for trying to “exorcise” homosexuality out of gay men and lesbians and what he sees as a demonic spirit in Barack Obama. He also was court-martialed from the Navy for wearing his uniform in front of the White House protesting restrictions on prayer.

Many in the loyal cadre of Herpin activists and supporters gathered Tuesday night shared similar 2nd Amendment views, even while the party downplayed the role Morse’s gun legislation had in Herpin’s recall success. Still, panic about the possibility of losing the 2nd Amendment, and anxieties about the growth of a central government gave recall supporters an ideological fervor that Morse’s bakers seemed to lack.

“He [John Morse] quit listening to the people in his district, and he started listening to the people back East, or wherever,” former state Rep. Larry Liston said in the moments after Herpin’s victory. “Nobody [in his district] had met him.”

Liston doesn’t see Herpin’s win as a national referendum, but is sure it sent a strong message to elected officials: “It is more than about guns, it’s about respect for the citizens.”

In his victory speech, Herpin — a former Colorado Springs councilman — credited his victory to volunteers and local Republican Party activists. One audience member loudly added: “And the NRA.”

Earlier in the day, sharing a street corner with three of John Morse’s siblings near a polling center in downtown Colorado Springs, Herpin volunteers and NRA members Rick Calhoun and Pat Dejong chatted about the importance of 2nd Amendment rights.

Concerning gun violence, Calhoun said “It ain’t because of the firearms, it’s because of the culture.” He figures there may be an unexamined link between anti-depressants and an increase in gun violence.

Dejong agreed with Calhoun and interjected frequently. “If someone breaks in, police say they’d be there in seven minutes. Well you know what, I’ll be dead in seven minutes,” she said.

Calhoun pulled out a 15-round magazine from his blue jeans and told me if I were to hold it we’d both be breaking the law. He slipped it back into his pocket as a police officer walked by. Both Calhoun and Dejong — as with many Herpin supporters – were eager to cite a lawsuit filed by 55 sheriffs against the Morse’s gun-control legislation as evidence of government’s insidious power.

“Cuba registered their weapons and after five years they ended up with a dictator. You think we couldn’t end up with a dictator? Of course we could,” Dejong said.

Steven Martin, a military veteran, stood near anti- and pro-recall supporters by Centennial Hall Tuesday. Martin said he “wore his vote”: a .40 caliber Beretta handgun holstered on his hip.

“I fought a foreign war, and now I’m fighting in a domestic war. And both wars are wars for freedom,” he said. Martin was medically discharged from the military, and had sores on his arm from an undisclosed injury he suffered while in The Persian Gulf. He said he once paid a $10,000 fine after shooting first in the air, and then at home invaders who fled before police arrived.

About fifteen feet down the sidewalk, sitting cross-legged on the ground with a 4-year-old named Augustine, Mike Martinez collected signatures for the Brady Amendment, a measure that would give legal status, or “personhood,” to human fetuses. As The Colorado Independent has reported, both Herpin and George Rivera – who unseated Sen. Angela Giron in Pueblo — have political pro-life histories. Martinez hadn’t been paying attention to the Senate District 11 recall attempt, but saw Tuesday’s gathering of conservative Herpin supporters as an opportunity to rally his cause.

After a well-publicized vacancy process involving a former erotica novelist led to Herpin’s nomination to run against Morse in the recall, Colorado Springs GOP coordinated closely with Herpin’s campaign.*”

“It’s probably the wrong issue to pick a fight over, in Colorado,” said Jeff Hayes, the chairman of the El Paso County Republican Party, which hosted Herpin’s victory gathering Tuesday. As the ballot results rolled in, and the sliders and potato-skins were snagged off the foldout table, the likelihood of Herpin’s victory energized even the most skeptical party moderates. “Bernie, Bernie,” they chanted. “Long live the American patriots!”

Correction: The original version of this article reported that ‘the Republican Party officially distanced itself from Herpin and the recall effort.’ The Colorado GOP says it coordinated closely with Herpin from the beginning of his campaign. Herpin’s campaign to run against Morse gained momentum after a well-publicized, but unsuccessful bid for the seat by Jaxine Bubis, an author of erotica.”


  1. Of course there are crackpots on both sides. But the people of Pueblo and D11 have spoken. Gun control is not the will of the majority in either district. Now, can we move on and stop wasting our time pushing for these kinds of laws? Too bad the votes of those recalled aren’t retroactively changed to reflect the will of their constituents. But at least going forward the will of the people will be known. Many of the gun laws passed by a single vote in the Senate. Those laws would not pass today now that the people have spoken. Maybe now we can focus on ideas that might actually reduce violent crime.

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