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Morse code: Unapologetic and campaigning hard

July 27, 2013 Updated: July 28, 2013 at 7:27 am

Volunteers poured into the El Paso County Democratic Party headquarters Saturday morning in Colorado Springs, ready to spend the day knocking on doors and urging voters to keep Senate President John Morse in office with a "no" vote in the Sept. 10 recall election.

"We knock on doors every day. We make phone calls every day," Morse, D-Colorado Springs, said. "I wish the accusations were true, that Michael Bloomberg were going to spend billions of dollars defending John Morse. So far this has just been much more of a grassroots thing."

Bloomberg, the New York Mayor behind Mayor's Against Illegal Guns, has become as much a figure in the pending recall election as Morse himself.

Those trying to unseat the Senate president over gun legislation he sponsored during the 2013 legislative session use Bloomberg's name as a four-letter profanity in almost every interview, accusing Morse of being a puppet in a political scheme to slowly eat away at Second Amendment rights.

For Morse, last session's legislation wasn't a response to political outsiders, but to the Aurora movie theatre shooting in July that killed 12 Coloradans. The mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., that killed 20 children and six adults added to the momentum.

"It just dumbfounds me that people are like 'I'm so sorry it happened but I'm not going to do a thing to make sure it doesn't happen again,' " he said. "I hear you. I listened, but I disagree."

Morse was a vocal supporter of a new ban on magazines that hold more than 15 rounds of ammunition - both mass shootings involved high-capacity magazines - and a new requirement for background checks on all gun sales, even those between private individuals.

For the Basic Freedom Defense Fund, a non-profit established in February to help recall four Democratic lawmakers who voted for those bills, the issue with Morse goes beyond the gun legislation.

They've taken to attacking his leadership style, which at times is loud and pushy. As a politician he notes that he withdrew his own gun legislation even when he had enough votes in the Senate to pass the bill. The legislation would have held the owners, manufactures and sellers of military-style assault weapons liable for damages caused by the guns. Morse killed the bill after losing key votes to pass it through the Senate.

But the accusation he changed the Senate rules to stifle public debate is simply not true Morse said. There were hours of public testimony accepted at the Capitol on the gun legislation. Not everyone who signed up was able to speak, but both those for the laws and against the laws received the same amount of time.

For most legislation public comment is not time-limited, but Morse said there is precedent for limiting the time on controversial issues that could go all night.

Morse might have been humbled a bit by the more than 10,000 signatures that were collected in his district to force the recall election. Morse received just over 13,000 votes when he won in 2010. He assumes the recall election will be far from a cake walk.

"It's tricky," Morse said. "The reality is that the passion on the other side is fever-pitched and so on my side I have to motivate people in the middle end of summer around Labor Day to cast ballots in an election that they didn't see coming and that many of them still don't know is happening."

For Morse it is an issue campaign of urging voters to vote 'no' in the election, but former city council member Bernie Herpin, a Republican, will appear on the ballot. Voters who vote yes to recall Morse, will then have the option of selecting Herpin as his replacement.

But Morse is riding the wave of a well-oiled Democratic machine that got him elected in 2006 and again in 2010 from one of the toughest districts in the state.

"We hadn't had a Democrat county-level office holder in El Paso County since 1986," Morse said. "That's how Republican this area is."

Still Morse says he was able to win his seat by however narrow a margin (340 votes) in 2010 during the tidal wave of Republican victories across the state and nation.

"They should have cleaned my clock," Morse said. "But they didn't."

Already his committee, A Whole lot of People for John Morse, has raised $160,865 toward the campaign to keep him in office. Much of the money has come from big donors (some from out-of-state) whose identities are withheld. Morse's opponents are using the same strategy.

Morse is unapologetic about accepting the out-of-state donations.

"You're trying to undo the way we do government in Colorado," he said. "We're going to fight to the very end."

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