DENVER — In one of the more unlikely insurgencies of the year in American politics, three young plumbers from Pueblo have stunned Colorado’s political establishment by doing what many campaign veterans insisted was impossible.
Armed with little more than a petition, an army of volunteer signature-gatherers and their iPhones, political newcomers Victor Head, his brother Adam Head, and Ernest Mascarenas have forced a recall election for state Sen. Angela Giron, a rising star in the state’s powerful Democratic Party and a labor favorite in heavily unionized Pueblo.
The three plumbers’ grass-roots efforts — and Ms. Giron’s struggle to hold on to her seat — have roiled politics in this purple state while laying down a marker in the increasingly fierce state-level battle over gun control laws, political watchers say.
The feat is even more impressive when placed in context: The Sept. 10 recall votes for Ms. Giron and fellow Democrat state Senate President John Morse, driven by their support of sweeping gun control legislation this year, are the first against any elected state official in Colorado’s 137-year history.
“It’s unbelievable. How do these guys get 13,000 people to sign the petition, and [roughly] 12,000 of them are good?” Denver pollster Floyd Ciruli asked. “It’s a miracle. And it shows the passion here in Colorado behind this issue.”
A tattooed 28-year-old “backflow specialist” who works in the family plumbing business, Victor Head helped launch Pueblo Freedom and Rights in March, shortly after the Democrat-dominated state legislature approved three bills restricting access to firearms and ammunition.
Republicans and national gun groups have rallied against the laws, which sparked Erie-based Magpul Industries, a leading firearms and accessories manufacturer, to announce plans to leave the state. The package of bills — signed in March by Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat — were passed in the wake of the movie theater shooting in Aurora last year that killed 12 and wounded dozens more.
One bill limits ammunition magazines to 15 rounds, another requires universal background checks, and the third charges gun customers for the cost of the checks.
Political analysts initially dismissed the recall talk as a pipe dream. Officials at the Colorado Republican Party and Rocky Mountain Gun Owners, the state’s largest gun advocacy group, took a pass on the idea, saying they would wait for the 2014 elections.
The problem for Victor Head was that he couldn’t wait. “I just [couldn’t] sit on my hands for 18 months,” he said. “There are only 19 states that do have the recall, and those that do have a duty to do something.”
He and his fellow organizers didn’t have college degrees, money, connections or political experience, but they did have two things that would prove pivotal: the outrage of blue-collar Pueblo voters over the gun bills, and the ability to do almost anything with an iPhone.
Setting up petition stands in parking lots, volunteers used their smartphones to check every signature against the Colorado secretary of state’s website of registered district voters.
They also videotaped pro-Giron demonstrators who blocked their tables. One recording showed a man passing out $20 bills to demonstrators.
Pueblo Freedom and Rights submitted 13,466 signatures in June. Of those, 11,285 were deemed valid by state officials. None of the signatures has been challenged despite a phone-calling and door-knocking campaign by Pueblo United for Angela to peel off signers.