WASHINGTON – Two Republicans were sworn in Thursday to replace the Colorado Senate Democrats they defeated in historic recalls over new gun restrictions.
Former Colorado Springs Councilman Bernie Herpin and retired Pueblo police officer George Rivera took the oath of office in front of a Senate packed with Republican lawmakers and other supporters in the gallery. They were greeted with loud cheers and applause.
Herpin said in his opening speech that he would "never forget the lesson of this summer."
"We serve at the pleasure of those we represent," he said.
The recalls last month marked the first time in state history legislators were ousted from office and reflected the continued debate over what gun restrictions, if any, are needed.
The wins boost the GOP's power in the Senate, narrowing the Democrats advantage in the chamber to an 18-17 margin. Democrats control the House 37-18.
Herpin replaces Sen. John Morse and Rivera replaces Sen. Angela Giron. The defeated Democrats remained firm over their support for the new gun laws. The limits on ammunition magazines and expanding background checks to private and online firearm sales were reactions to mass shootings at a suburban Denver movie theater and a Connecticut elementary school last year.
"I leave the legislature with no regrets," said Morse, who held the Democrats' top-ranking position in the chamber as Senate president. He noted that a neighborhood in his district has a high-rate of gun deaths, and that he "served families who expect, at a minimum, that we will prevent criminals from getting guns."
Giron said that her departure from office was not on her own terms, but added that she left "with my integrity intact and with the sure and certain knowledge that Colorado and Pueblo are safer with these modest gun safety laws."
Rivera's voice wavered as he thanked his family and then looked up to the gallery to acknowledge election volunteers. He said a friend had warned him not to get emotional.
"Can't help it," he said.
Democrats will have leadership elections in the coming days to select a new Senate President.
Although Democrats still control both legislative chambers, the slim margin in the Senate is sure to make it difficult for the party to continue the aggressive policy agenda Republicans criticized them for this year.