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KS1151

Case Number 2033.2

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In the Crossfire: Guns, Legislative Leadership and Recall
Politics in Colorado Teaching Plan
Synopsis

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In 2013, democratic Colorado state senators John Morse and Angela Giron were recalled from office in the
wake of a successful recall campaign launched by grassroots groups angered by the senators' support for newly-
enacted gun control legislation. After Morse and Giron were recalled, Democrats retained a one-seat majority in
the Senate. Some critics thought Morse should have anticipated the recall election result and resigned while oth-
ers expressed concern that Morse’s ouster had legitimized the use of recall politics—typically used to unseat politi-

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cians over ethical issues—as a way for voters to punish supporters of controversial issues.

The case asks students to consider the benefits and drawbacks of recall elections and how they can be used by
political activists and interest groups as a tool to manage political representation.

Course Context
This case was written for Harvard Kennedy School’s course entitled, “The US Congress and Lawmaking.” The
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United States Congress is the "board of directors" for the Federal Government, and it plays the central role in most
national policy decisions. Yet how it works - the real story of how it works - is largely unknown, even among people
who have worked in policymaking for a long time. Taught by the faculty chair of Harvard's Bipartisan Program for
Newly Elected Members of Congress, this course puts students in the midst of legislative politics through academic
readings and real-world cases. The course begins with the theory and history of legislatures and ends with a simu-
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lation involving lobbyists, journalists, and would-be legislators. It is ideal for anyone considering working with the
Congress or state legislatures.

The U.S. Congress and Law Making blends theory and practice at every stage. Students are introduced to a
handful of academic readings that focus on representation and on legislative procedures. The course utilizes topi-
cal cases and an active simulation. Students will become effective working in or dealing with the U.S. Congress and
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state legislatures. They will come to understand how legislatures work (and why they often do not work) from two
perspectives: the "inside" as a legislator or a legislative staffer, and the "outside" as a lobbyist, reporter, or mem-
ber of the executive branch. Legislatures in the United States are very much alike; the differences among them are
points along a continuum and not differences in kind. Grasping their differences is easy; understanding what they
have in common is more important. This course will prepare students for working in any U.S. legislature, not just
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This teaching plan was written by Professor David King and Senior Case Writer Laura Winig, John F. Kennedy School of Gov-
ernment, Harvard Kennedy School for use at the Harvard Kennedy School. HKS cases are developed solely as the basis for class
discussion. Cases are not intended to serve as endorsements, sources of primary data, or illustrations of effective or ineffec-
tive management.

Copyright © 2015 President and Fellows of Harvard College. No part of this publication may be reproduced, revised, translated,
stored in a retrieval system, used in a spreadsheet, or transmitted in any form or by any means without the express written
consent of the Case Program. For orders and copyright permission information, please visit our website at
http://www.case.hks.harvard.edu/ or send a written request to Case Program, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard
University, 79 John F. Kennedy Street, Cambridge, MA 02138.

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617.783.7860.
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the Congress. Furthermore, legislative behavior and the legislative process are very different from their executive

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and judicial counterparts. What works in the executive branch will not necessarily work in the legislature, and vice
versa.

Legislatures across the United States have become much more partisan and, in many respects, more poison-
ous over the last 20 years. At every turn, and throughout the course, students will be challenged to understand

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why this has been happening and what – institutionally and individually – can be done to foster more bipartisan
comity in Congress.

Learning Objectives
Using the backdrop of Colorado's 2013 gun control laws, this case allows students to explore the efficacy of
grassroots campaigns and the power of a vocal minority to affect the political landscape. The case also asks stu-

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dents to consider how elected officials can govern effectively if their legislative voting record is unpopular with
their constituents.

Study/Assignment Questions
1) When should a representative be a trustee? When should he/she be a delegate? In what situations?
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2) Voter-driven recall efforts are rare; rarer still are successful recall elections. Morse and Giron were caught off
guard when recall efforts were taken after their gun control votes were cast. Should they have been surprised?
Why or why not?

3) Should Morse and Giron have felt “safe” when voting in favor of gun control legislation?
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4) What would a group interested in recalling representatives need to do?

5) How did Basic Freedom Defense Fund get voters activated and motivated?

6) When they voted to support gun control legislation, Morse and Giron voted their conscience. Was that a good
idea?
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7) Is the prospect of a recall good for legislators? For the public?

Roadmap for Discussion


10 minutes Introduction

10 minutes Initiating the Recall

15 minutes Anticipating Defeat


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15 minutes The Future of Recalls

10 minutes Wrap up

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Discussion Plan

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Introduction

In the case, John Morse and Angela Giron face a recall election because some constituents were unhappy that
they were exercising trustee judgment rather than serving a delegate function when they voted in favor of gun

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control laws in Colorado. Accordingly, the class introduction consists of a brief overview of the tensions elected
representatives manage between functioning as trustee versus delegate. As trustees, representatives consider the
views of their constituents but use their own judgment when deciding how to vote on legislation. In this manner,
voters trust that their representative will vote in their best interests. As delegates, representatives are expected to
consult with their constituents and vote based on their majority position, subverting their own judgment.

Voters want to elect candidates who will function as delegates—otherwise they may not be re-elected—but

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they are also expected to be trustees. When comparing the voting records of senators, for instance, one finds that
those in their first four years of a six-year term behave in ways that are manifestly trustee oriented and in the last
two years their behavior switches and they behave in a way that is manifestly more delegate oriented.

In reality, it's not just a function of time but also of how closely voters are paying attention to their represent-
atives’ actions; if voters pay close attention, representatives might be more likely to act as delegates, rather than
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trustees. This case is not about Congress, but it is broadly about representation and students will consider this
concept throughout the discussion.

After the introductory remarks, show a 3-minute news video (available on YouTube) announcing Morse's re-
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call. The video is from the day of the election and covers the aftermath of Morse's concession speech. In it, Morse
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acknowledges that he knew he was vulnerable and knew the recall election was very well organized. He also ex-
presses concern that recall efforts could become commonplace.

After screening the video, open with the first case question: When should a representative be a trustee? When
should he/she be a delegate? In what situations?

Students tend to focus on representatives’ motive to retain their offices and win re-election and how this mo-
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tive affects representatives’ voting actions. In Morse and Giron’s case, their votes on the gun control bills jeopard-
ized their offices; they behaved as trustees, rather than delegates. This leads into a discussion about whether and
how representatives should act when their vote on legislation could imperil them.

Discussion Block 1: Initiating the Recall

Voter-driven recall efforts are rare; even rarer still, are successful recall elections. Morse and Giron were
caught off guard when recall efforts were taken after their gun control votes were cast. Should they have been
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surprised?

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"State Senators John Morse and Angela Giron recalled," 7 News The Denver Channel, September 10, 2013,
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EIXfWGZrCw, accessed August 13, 2015.

HKS Case Program 3 of 6 Case Number 2033.2

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We start this discussion block by asking students to consider whether Morse and Giron felt “safe” when voting

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in favor of gun control legislation. At the time, the democratic party maintained a majority in the Colorado senate:
20 to 15. The discussion then shifts to an analysis of the recall challenge and students are asked to consider what
would constitute a successful recall? In this situation, recall advocates would need to recall three democrats to
give senate control to the republican party.

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Ask, What would a group interested in recalling three representatives need to do? Students’ answers include
an analysis of the rules on how to get on a recall ballot: the number of signatures they would need to collect and
the timing of their collection. You can refer students to the case exhibit which they can use to calculate the num-
ber of signatures recall advocates would need to collect for each candidate. Since the case states they would need
signatures equaling 25% of the votes that were cast in the last general election for Morse, for example, only 7,250

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signatures were needed—a fairly low barrier. At this point I remind students of the importance of “knowing your
number.” A representative must always know what they need to survive—in Morse’s case, recall advocates had a
low hurdle, something Morse should have been mindful of.

The case discusses the formation and recall efforts of a grassroots organization, the Basic Freedom Defense
Fund (BFDF). Ask students, How did this organization get voters activated and motivated? Students will likely note
that BFDF was comprised of volunteers and lacked resources and professional support but had significant political
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will.

This is a good time to discuss the concept of intensity of preference—a measure of voter willingness to invest
their time and effort in registering a preference on an issue. For example, one could draw a bell curve to measure
voter preference on gun control. Those who strongly support gun control and those who strongly oppose would
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fall on either end of the curve; each is likely to be a small group. The majority—those whose preferences are less
well-defined—will occupy the largest area under the curve.

If this bell curve represents preferences, then intensity is its inverse. The small groups on either end of the bell
curve may have strongly held views and be willing to invest in advocating for their beliefs. Candidates and cam-
paigns tends to originate from the middle—there are very few passionate moderates.
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For representatives, the question becomes how to activate those in the middle and assess the threat posed by
those at the margins. For organizations like BFDF, the question becomes how to use voter intensity of preference
to recruit supporters into activism.

Discussion Block 2: Anticipating Defeat

BFDF was successful in its efforts to force a recall election for Morse and Giron. Ask students, Once it became
clear that a recall election would be held, should Morse and Giron have resigned? Students will typically offer a
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variety of responses, including:

If Morse had resigned, he could have replaced himself with another democrat. He could have decided to step
down before facing the recall if he really wanted to help and support his party and ultimately his cause.

HKS Case Program 4 of 6 Case Number 2033.2

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Morse didn't step down because he stood by his record and values. He believed safety was paramount. He took

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a stand as a trustee. He knew there were certain factions that wouldn’t like it but he decided to take a stand.

He didn’t resign because he was confident he would win the recall election. Nobody could have anticipated the
problem with the mail-in ballots.

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Morse underestimated the amount of support for the recall. Because recalls are so rare, he thought it would
fail.

Morse’s own self-interest was a key factor in him refusing to resign.

When you talk about holding elected officials accountable, who are they being held accountable to? The entire
district or just those who go out to vote? If you take away the mail in ballots, now it’s even more difficult to vote.

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AND, some people may not even know there’s an election going on. Maybe Morse was actually being a delegate for
the preferences of the district but the district preferences were not reflected by the turnout of those who vote.

The rules of the game can really dictate an outcome. The judge’s ruling [against mail-in ballots] potentially im-
pacted the outcome.
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If a student does not mention it, at this point it is useful to note that recalls were designed as a lever to re-
move elected representatives who had a record of malfeasance or misconduct while in office. Here, recalls are
used by savvy constituents as a tool to change public policy and disrupt the election cycle. As one student put it:
Now we’re recalling representatives just because. If this becomes part of our culture, it jeopardizes stable public
policy.
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To follow up, you might ask students: If representatives are not behaving the way we want them to, should the
disciplining event be the next election or the threat of a recall? Student responses may include:

If you can be recalled, it influences how you behave. You are threatened very easily.

A recall can be healthy. It is about continuing to hold politicians accountable. Granted we have elections, but a
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lot can happen between elections. If there is the threat of recall, it keeps people somewhat in line.

It may be a bad precedent to set. You can’t hold the threat of recall over people’s heads all the time.

Discussion Block 3: The Future of Recalls

After Morse and Giron were recalled from office, their supporters alleged opponents engaged in voter sup-
pression and intimidation to engineer their win. In a short video featuring commentary by Bill O’Reilly, who dis-
misses this argument and gets to the heart of the case question: will recalls become a more widely-used tool to
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HKS Case Program 5 of 6 Case Number 2033.2

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617.783.7860.
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“fire” representatives when they support legislation that does not reflect the electorate’s values? The video, “Bill

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O’Reilly: Are the Voters Finally Wising up and Rising Up?” (and a transcript) are available on Billoreilly.com.

After showing the video, ask: When they voted to support gun control legislation, Morse and Giron voted their
conscience. Was that a good idea? Student responses may include:

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Morse had more votes than he actually needed to pass the gun control legislation. Giron and Morse could have
voted no, but they voted in favor. Politically, it would have been smarter to have voted no. The legislation still
would have passed but their seats would have been protected.

Sometimes, politically, to survive, you have to vote against something you secretly want to pass. Morse should
have told Giron to vote no to take her out of the crosshairs of recall campaigners because he already had enough

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votes to get the legislation passed.

Is the prospect of a recall good or not? If you’re on a 2-year cycle, then it means constant instability. But if
you’re in the senate and you have 6 years, maybe when you get to year three, it is a reasonable tool.

Wrap Up
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I conclude the class by presenting students with the image of an automobile as a metaphor for politics. One’s
drive to support the issues that inspired them to seek public office is the gas pedal; the need to campaign for re-
election which inhibits representatives from supporting the issues they personally care about is the brake. Today,
representatives are under constant scrutiny and as a result, they may start to ride their brakes. Of course repre-
sentatives always need to be responsive to their constituents, but this case demonstrates the potential threat to
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those practicing trustee representation.


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"Bill O'Reilly: Are the Voters Finally Wising Up and Rising Up?" Talking Points Memo, Billoreilly.com, September 13,
2013,http://www.foxnews.com/transcript/2013/09/16/bill-oreilly-are-voters-finally-wising-and-rising-0/, accessed August 13,
2015.

HKS Case Program 6 of 6 Case Number 2033.2

This Teaching Note is authorized for use only by Monique Falcao, HE OTHER until September 2016. Copying or posting is an infringement of copyright. Permissions@hbsp.harvard.edu or
617.783.7860.