Briefline

Colorado Sen. Priola jumps aisle to Democratic Party amid Republican election denial, climate inaction

By: - August 22, 2022 1:20 pm
Sens. Winter and Priola

Sens. Faith Winter, D-Westminster, and Kevin Priola, formerly Republican but now a Democrat from Henderson, stand at the well in the Colorado Senate on May 9, 2022. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)

Colorado State Sen. Kevin Priola announced his switch from the Republican Party to the Democratic Party Monday, though he said the way he votes on legislation will remain unchanged. 

In a letter announcing his move, Priola explained that he joined the Republican Party in 1990 and has been proud to serve four terms with the party in the Colorado House of Representatives and two in the Senate. But while he hasn’t changed much in 30 years, his party has, he said. He said his jump over the aisle aligns him with truth over conspiracy. 

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Priola expressed concern over the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and he said he thought the attack would be the point Republicans turned their backs on Donald Trump “and the political environment he created.” When this didn’t happen, Priola said he was disappointed to see “brave and honorable Republicans” fighting to defend the Constitution be met with “ridicule and threats.” 

“I cannot continue to be a part of a political party that is okay with a violent attempt to overturn a free and fair election and continue to peddle claims that the 2020 election was stolen,” Priola’s statement reads. 

Priola’s move will impact Colorado Republicans’ goal of taking back control of the state Senate — where before Priola’s party switch they held 15 seats to Democrats’ 20 — and he said while he may disagree with Democrats on many issues, “there is too much at stake right now for Republicans to be in charge.” 

He also noted in the letter his belief that legislators need to do everything in their power to protect the environment and its future. While Republicans formerly spearheaded the creation of national parks and preservation of federal lands, today his colleagues “would rather deny the existence of human-caused climate change than take action,” he said. 

While fighting climate change is where Priola is most in line with his new party, he said his votes will not change when it comes to matters regarding abortion, school choice and the Second Amendment, as his views on these matters do not align with those of Democrats.

“Our political affiliations have become too tribal and too much of a litmus test,” Priola’s letter reads. “I’ve always been an independent thinker and sometimes buck the conventional wisdom of my party, and I don’t plan to change that. I do not believe either party has a monopoly on the truth.” 

Members of his former party shared their disappointment with Priola’s move. A statement from Senate Minority Leader John Cooke, a Greeley Republican, said he’s not surprised, considering how Priola has voted over the last several sessions. 

“This event will not change the trajectory of this election cycle, nor the outcome of this year’s fight for the state senate,” Cooke’s statement said. “As for Senator Priola, his new district will likely not be happy with this announcement and may explore their options for new representation.”

Other Republicans, including conservative activist Michael Fields, are calling for a recall election. Colorado GOP Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown said in a tweet that Priola has admitted to his “true affiliation” as a “pro tax-increase Democrat,” and that he’s “selfishly chosen to make himself the story at the expense of Coloradans he was elected to fight for.”

Meanwhile, Colorado Democrats are celebrating the announcement. Democratic Gov. Jared Polis welcomed Priola to his party in a tweet, in which he said it’s a “broad tent party, always seeking good ideas from the left and right to move CO forward.”

Attorney General Phil Weiser tweeted that more people like Priola who put principle first is “the cure for what ails our democratic republic.” 

State Sen. Jeff Bridges, a Greenwood Village Democrat, also tweeted saying the government needs more people with the integrity and character Priola has. A statement from Senate President Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat, said Priola chose his constituents over partisan politics. He praised Priola’s support of climate action bills as well as his defiance of 2020 election conspiracies. 

“It is unfortunate that the Colorado Republicans have become so extreme that moderate voices aren’t welcome,” Fenberg’s statement read. “Though we don’t see eye to eye on every issue, the Senate Democrats are excited to embrace Senator Priola’s leadership and diversity of thought into our caucus.”

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Lindsey Toomer
Lindsey Toomer

Lindsey Toomer covers politics, social justice and other stories for Newsline. She formerly reported on city government at the Denver Gazette and on Colorado mountain town government, education and environment at the Summit Daily News. Toomer graduated from the Pennsylvania State University, where she also served as managing editor of The Daily Collegian, with degrees in journalism and global studies.

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