In Colorado Recall Election, Republicans Win In Democratic Strongholds

A year ago, George Rivera thought he knew exactly what his future looked like.

Retired since 2005, the former deputy police chief of Pueblo, Colo. was spending his time with family and devoting time to a second calling – being the lead singer and guitarist for the Fat Chance Blues Band.

“I’m a musician, I play guitar,” said Rivera, 64, describing how he had seen himself the last seven years.

“That’s where I was at," he told Fox News Latino. "My identity was blues musician. I was retired and I was going to have some fun. But the good Lord had different ideas.”

On Oct. 3, Rivera is scheduled to be sworn in as a state senator after beating Angela Girón in a recall election with a 56-44 vote.

“I never thought I would be involved in politics,” Rivera said. “I’ve studied issues, I’ve done opining on issues, but never thought about entering political circles.”

The election was nationally significant for manifold reasons.

Rivera, a Republican who never had run for office, beat Girón, a Democrat, in a county that historically leans Democratic. (Another Democrat, state Senate President John Morse, was recalled and will be replaced by Republican Bernie Herpin, a former member of the Colorado Springs City Council.)

It was Colorado’s first-ever recall election, and one that became a proxy fight between gun control and gun rights forces.

It targeted the two Democratic senators for their support for new laws that subjected private gun sales to background checks and banned magazines that hold more than 15 rounds.

The Republicans beat the Democrats, who received contributions to their campaigns that totaled some $3 million, which translated into a 5-1 advantage over recall supporters. Both the National Rifle Association and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s group, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, contributed about $350,000 to back their preferred candidates in the election.

“It sends a message to politicians that they need to be held accountable, just like I’m going to be held accountable, and they need to pay attention to what the people say,” Rivera said of his victory. “The message in the recall was ‘You didn’t listen to us.’”

Gun violence became a focal point in Colorado, and the nation, after a July 2012 rampage in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater that left 12 dead and 70 wounded.

Gun control, Rivera said, is not the solution.

“Having been in law enforcement for 34 years, I know that people are going to do evil things regardless,” he said. “If they have evil in their hearts, they’re going to find a way to cause mayhem. And it’s true of guns, or any other item that can be used as a weapon – a car. Look at the guy in Venice Beach in California who drove his car into a crowd and killed people.”

Rivera said that gun control laws punish gun owners who use their weapons responsibly.

The recall stunned Girón, according to press accounts.

"I'm a little perplexed, but this is what I know: I know that I have not one iota of regret from what I voted on," Girón said, according to the local ABC-TV affiliate.

During the recall drive, Girón speculated that discrimination played a part in the backlash against her.

“I know it’s partially about me being a Latina and being in this position of authority,” said Girón of the boxes of signed recall petitions, according to The Colorado Observer.

Tom Ready, a dentist and former chair of the Pueblo County GOP, accused Girón of playing the race card.

Girón served Senate District 3, which covers most of the City of Pueblo and Pueblo West. She was elected to state senate for the first time in 2010, after spending three decades working with the Boys and Girls Club, say press reports.

Emails and telephone calls to Girón seeking comment did not receive a response.

Rivera grew up in a family of Democrats; his wife is a Democrat, and he once was a Democrat, before switching to Independent and, eventually, to Republican.

He said it was his wife, Kathryn, who persuaded him to take the plunge into politics.

“She looked at the issues,” including the gun control debate, “and she said she thought I should get involved,” he said.

His campaign website credits her as his inspiration: “After much discussion with my wife Kathryn, I have decided it is time to seek public office in order to apply common sense and traditional values to the legislative process in Colorado.”

He added in the interview: “She convinced me. She’s my biggest supporter and my biggest critic.”

Rivera grew up poor. His father was an auto mechanic and his mother worked in a meatpacking plant.

His mother, brother and older sister came to the United States from Mexico illegally in 1948, he said.

They returned to Mexico in 1963, he added, and then came back to the United States with legal documents, eventually becoming naturalized U.S. citizens.

Rivera said as he learned more about the Republican Party, he realized that it was where he belonged.

“Republicans now have a golden opportunity to build bridges,” said Rivera, who dislikes terms like Hispanic and African-American, saying they fuel “identity politics.”

He scoffed at Girón's assertion that the recall was an anti-Hispanic move. Rivera said that Puebla, a city of some 100,000 residents, is diverse and welcoming.

He calls it the "biggest small town in America."

“Republicans have been doing outreach, trying to make the point that the values of Republicans and the values of groups like Mexicans are very close,” he said. “Those values are family, the belief that you work for what you get, you respect people, you take responsibility, you treat people as you would want to be treated.”

Once in office, a priority will be to listen to his constituents, study different sides of the issues, and come to a decision that reflects the wishes of the majority of the people, he said.

“Do the most good for the most people,” said. “My biggest goal is to be a man of my word.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.