Colorado Republican Sen. Kevin Priola switches party to Democrat

Colorado Sen. Kevin Priola, a Henderson Republican, announced Monday morning that he is changing his party affiliation to Democrat.

Priola, considered a more moderate Republican in the statehouse, said he believed the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol would make the Republican Party distance itself from Donald Trump and “the political environment he created.” But it did not, and he said he watched “brave and honorable Republicans” who did get threatened and ridiculed.

He said he could no longer support a party that was OK with “a violent attempt to overturn a free and fair election and continues to peddle claims that the 2020 election was stolen” and one where his GOP colleagues “would rather deny the existence of human-caused climate change than take action.”

Priola has been at odds with his party over legislation related to the climate he’s sponsored and legislation he’s supported in the past with Democrats. He will be entering his third year of his most-recent four-year Senate term. He previously served four years in the House.

“Over the past four years, Senate Democrats have taken bold, meaningful action to curb emissions, prepare for climate related disasters — including wildfires — and invest in renewable energy. And despite consistent fierce opposition from his Republican colleagues, Senator Priola has been a tremendously valuable partner of ours almost every step of the way,” Democratic Senate President Steve Fenberg said in a written statement.

Fenberg added that Priola has been outspoken about election conspiracy theories and sponsored legislation with Fenberg on election security and integrity.

“At the same time, the Colorado Republican Party was largely silent about the election crimes Tina Peters had been accused of and not a single one of his Republican colleagues, in either Chamber, supported SB22-153,” Fenberg said.

Priola’s decision makes a difference for state Republicans who needed three seats to win the majority in the Colorado Senate — now they need four, making it a much heavier lift in the November election.

“Even if there will continue to be issues that I disagree with the Democratic Party on, there is too much at stake right now for Republicans to be in charge,” Priola wrote in his letter. “Coloradans cannot afford for their leaders to give credence to election conspiracies and climate denialism. Simply put, we need Democrats in charge because our planet and our democracy depend on it.”

Priola said he became a Republican in 1990 “after the ascent of Ronald Reagan.”

“He spent his presidency looking out for American interests, not cozying up to Russia,” Priola wrote. “He was for free trade and not raising taxes on Americans through tariffs. He also worked across the aisle on immigrant issues.”

While Priola said he hasn’t changed much in 30 years, he can’t say the same of his former party.

Colorado GOP Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown said in a written statement that Priola “finally made the move to the party he’s consistently voted with” and said he would “regret his decision when he is in the minority come January 2023.”

But Fenberg said even before Priola switched, he thought Democrats would keep their Senate majority.

Burton Brown called Priola “a pro tax-increase Democrat,” adding that “it’s clear that Priola has selfishly chosen to make himself the story at the expense of Coloradans he was elected to fight for.”

Colorado Senate GOP leaders did not immediately return requests for comment on Monday.

Fenberg told The Denver Post that he’s been in discussions with Priola since the 2020 election and said the senator is making decisions based on his principles and the “two existential threats” to democracy and the climate.

“At the end of the day, I think it’s a shame because I wish there were more moderate Republicans to be able to work together on issues with,” Fenberg said. “I think the sad part is that he doesn’t feel like he has a home in his party and sort of felt like he had to make this decision.”

Fenberg added that the Democratic Party doesn’t have a “litmus test” and Priola may not vote with the caucus on every issue, but the Senate Democratic caucus will still be “staunchly pro-choice” and a “party that stands up for workers and a party that wants to protect communities from gun violence.”

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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