News Contraception

Colorado Republicans Want to Recall Democrats Backing Comprehensive Sex Ed (Updated)

Jason Salzman

A campaign backed by Colorado's house GOP leader aims to recall Democrats due in part to a sex-ed bill described as a “state indoctrination plan to undermine parental rights to educate their children about sexuality."

UPDATE, April 5, 1:58 p.m.: A petition to recall Rep. Rochelle Galindo (D) was approved Thursday by the Colorado secretary of state. Galindo’s opponents will have until June 3 to collect the necessary number of signatures to trigger a recall election, the Denver Post reports

A Colorado Republican leader is fundraising for the recall campaigns of four Democratic state lawmakers over their support for progressive legislation, including a comprehensive sex-ed bill that bans abstinence-only curriculum and requires the inclusion of LGBTQ experiences.

Calling Democrats’ sex-ed bill a “state indoctrination plan to undermine parental rights to educate their children about sexuality,” a “Recall Colorado” fundraising website, promoted and funded by Republican state house leader Patrick Neville, states that “Colorado lawmakers are forcing overreaching legislation through the legislature despite widespread opposition by voters.”

The website characterizes six bills as “overreaching legislation,” and three Democratic lawmakers are described as “bad actors.”

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The three Democrats are state Sen. Jeff Bridges (Arapahoe) and state Rep. Meg Froelich (Arapahoe), both representing Denver suburbs, and state Rep. Rochelle Galindo of Greeley, about an hour north of Denver. The organizing effort against Galindo, who is openly gay, is led by a Steve Grant, a pastor and former member of the Greeley City Council. The campaign has the backing of Neville and other conservatives.

Activists who support the sex-ed legislation said it doesn’t rely on a top-down approach, instead allowing for local control. That Democratic lawmakers back the sex-ed bill, they said, shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, especially after Republicans in Colorado were swept out of power in 2018.

“The idea that clarifying comprehensive sex education in our statute is grounds for a recall is a serious overreach and out of step with a majority of Colorado voters,” Karen Middleton, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Colorado and a former Colorado state representative, told Rewire.News. “The same folks who oppose sex education are the minority that have pressed for anti-choice bills that consistently fail in our legislature.”

Along with mandating inclusion of LGBTQ experiences and banning abstinence-only lessons, Colorado would join nine other states and Washington, D.C., in requiring sex ed teach the concept of consent among sex partners, a measure that has drawn fierce opposition from the Catholic church and far-right groups.

In a March 9 sermon, Grant called Galindo a “homosexual pervert,” and said he’d told Galindo to vote against “this homosexual sex education bill,” as first reported by Colorado Politics. Referencing the sex-ed legislation, Grant said that people who are “gender fluid” need “their fluids changed.”

Recall opponents say Republicans should accept the consequences of their 2018 election losses, turning control of Colorado state government to Democrats, who also hold the governorship.

“These are the same folks who just lost by historic margins trying to undo the will of the people of Colorado,” Bridges said in a statement to Rewire.News. “They lost fair and square, but hope they can sneak through in a recall and somehow win when no one is looking. It won’t work.”

“Running a recall is a huge waste of taxpayer dollars that should be going to our schools and roads. I won’t back down, and I’m not intimidated by bullies,” Bridges said.

The Recall Colorado campaign is running a series of Facebook ads to solicit donations and recruit volunteers. Most of the ads focus on the overarching theme that Colorado’s Democratic majority is supposedly passing laws that are more extreme than voters want, after voters sided with Democratic candidates in several critical swing districts five months ago.

One ad states, “Are Democrat State Legislators Trying to Make Colorado the Next California? Stop Overreaching Legislation Despite Voter Opposition.”

With respect to sex ed, California’s law is more prescriptive than Colorado Democrats’ proposed measure, which allows schools to decide not to teach sex ed at all. If it is taught, the curriculum must be comprehensive, according to the bill.

Still, Republicans and their allies, including Focus on the Family and national groups, have waged a loud legislative fight against the sex ed bill, drawing hundreds to testify against different provisions. One state lawmaker objected to the bill’s language that would require instruction on what consensus means in sexual relationships, saying her county could make up its own mind on what consent means. The sex ed bill, passed by the state senate, is expected to be signed by Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D).

Other bills spotlighted by recall organizers include a “red flag” measure allowing police to take firearms from people deemed by a judge to be dangerous to themselves and others. Another would give local jurisdictions more authority to regulate oil-and-gas operations and make health and safety the priority of state regulators. Also controversial among Republicans is a new law conditionally pledging Colorado’s Electoral College votes to the presidential candidate who wins the popular election.

“This is unprecedented overreach. We need to do something,” Neville, the state house leader, said on KHOW radio March 9. “If there is a grassroots effort that starts percolating up, then I am going to help them,” he said.

Recall organizers have yet to begin collecting signatures, but they’ve registered multiple committees with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office to raise money and campaign.

To initiate a recall election, activists need to collect 25 percent of the total votes cast for the specific office in the previous election. So about 20,000 signatures would have to be collected from Bridges’ suburban state senate district, where about 79,000 votes were cast in November, to trigger a new election.

Democrats hold a slim two-seat majority in the state senate, and a comfortable 41 to 24 seat majority in the state house.

Recall organizers are buoyed by two successful 2013 recalls in Colorado. A third state senator resigned, triggering an early election that was lost by Democrats and led to a GOP takeover of the state senate.  The 2013 recalls came in response to gun safety laws passed by Democrats—laws that recall supporters characterized as overreach.

Middleton pointed out that the Republican Party in Colorado is third in registration behind the Democratic Party and “unaffiliated,” showing how out of touch the GOP has become in the so-called purple state.

“At this moment in our history, tying sex education would be like tying personhood to a recall—out of step with our voters and our history of reproductive freedom in Colorado,” she said. 

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