By Keith Coffman
DENVER (Reuters) - A Colorado lawmaker facing a possible recall election over her support for gun control resigned on Wednesday in a move that will allow Democrats to appoint a successor and block Republicans from wresting control of the state Senate.
The resignation of Evie Hudak, a former educator who represented Denver's northwest suburbs, comes after two other Democratic senators were unseated in September, leaving that party with a mere 18-17 majority in the state Senate.
All three Democratic lawmakers were targeted for recall after they supported a package of laws to strengthen gun control following the mass shootings last year in a suburban Denver movie theater and at a Connecticut elementary school.
Hudak said in a resignation letter that she was stepping down to spare taxpayers in her county from having to pay for a special election, after budgets have been slashed for mental health and senior citizen programs, among other services.
"I cannot allow those cuts to grow deeper," she said.
Among a package of gun control measures passed by the state legislature were laws to limit ammunition magazines to 15 rounds and to require background checks for private firearms sales and transfers.
Governor John Hickenlooper, also a Democrat, signed the bills into law, angering a gun rights lobby that viewed the measures as a constitutional infringement. They quickly struck back with recall campaigns that succeeded in ousting two state lawmakers, including the then-president of the Colorado Senate.
Emboldened activists then launched a petition drive to oust Hudak, and were days away from a December 2 deadline to submit the 18,303 valid signatures required to force a recall election.
Independent Denver political pollster and analyst Floyd Ciruli said it was clear Democrats had pressured Hudak to resign to avoid losing their slim majority in the state Senate. Democrats have 30 days to appoint a successor, and that person must stand for election next year.
"I don't think the Democrats wanted to take the risk of losing another seat," Ciruli said. "This way, they can keep the majority at least through the upcoming legislative session."
Colorado Republican party chairman Ryan Call accused Hudak of "sidestepping the recall process" to prevent voters from choosing their own senator.
"Evie Hudak's resignation shows that Democrats are much more concerned about holding on to political power than being held accountable," said Call in a statement.
While recall proponents listed a number of grievances against Hudak, it was the gun-control issue that was front and center of the effort. Hudak defended her votes for the gun-control measures in her resignation letter.
"Most Coloradans believe that the convenience of high-capacity ammunition magazines is less important than saving lives in tragedies like Sandy Hook, Aurora and Columbine," she wrote.
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Gunna Dickson)