Aug 22, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Colorado lawmaker leaves GOP citing Jan. 6 attack and Trump

State Sen. Kevin Priola, left, talks to Gov. Jared Polis, center, in 2019. Photo:  AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images

State Sen. Kevin Priola, left, talks to Gov. Jared Polis, center, in 2019. Photo: AAron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post via Getty Images

A state senator in Colorado is resigning from the Republican Party and becoming a Democrat, citing the party's complicity in the Jan. 6 insurrection and 2020 election denial as the reason.

  • "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 continues to peddle claims that the 2020 election was stolen," Sen. Kevin Priola said in a statement.
  • He also cited his party's lack of action on climate change, saying his GOP colleagues "consistently and proudly seek to impede progress ... and I can't, in good conscience, be silent about that."

Why it matters: The announcement represents a stark rebuke of former President Trump and the national Republican Party.

  • It also deflates the GOP's hopes of retaking the Democratic-controlled Colorado Senate, one of the most targeted legislative battles in the country. Democrats now hold a 20-15 advantage, making a flip less likely.
  • Priola went out of his way to advocate against his party in the 2022 midterms, saying: "Democrats in charge because our planet and democracy depend on it."

Between the lines: Priola is a political moderate, often siding with Democrats on major legislation as the chamber's most bipartisan member.

Yes, but: He still votes with Republicans 90% of the time, and said he "will not be changing the way I vote on legislation."

  • Priola has previously voted against abortion rights and efforts to regulate guns. 

Context: The Henderson lawmaker won re-election in 2020 in a tight battle in which he was targeted by Democrats. He is term-limited in 2025.

  • Earlier this year, he led an effort to strengthen election security in Colorado.

What they're saying: Democratic Gov. Jared Polis issued a statement welcoming Priola to the party.

  • "We are a broad tent party, always seeking good ideas from the left and right to move [Colorado] forward," he said. "Senator Priola is a strong leader on climate issues and will hopefully be even more effective on the Democratic side of the aisle.

The other side: Sean Paige, a former spokesperson for the state Senate GOP caucus, said Priola's switch is not surprising. "He's beyond just a big phony; he's a squirrely and calculating opportunist. But I'm glad, for his conscience, that he finally came out of the closet," Paige said.

  • A prominent Republican activist said voters should recall Priola after the switch.
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