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Colorado state senator changes party affiliation from Republican to Democrat

State Sen. Kevin Priola said the way he votes will not change, but that he can no longer be associated with a party that pushes election conspiracy theories.

DENVER — The November election has not happened yet and Colorado Republicans just lost some ground in the party's effort to gain back control of the state Senate.

State Sen. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, announced in a news release on Monday morning that he has changed his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat, so he is now State Sen. Kevin Priola, D-Henderson.

His official voter record with the Colorado Secretary of State's Office showed that he switched affiliation on Sunday.

"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 a two-page statement.

Democrats control the State Senate 20 to 15. Following Priola's switch, Democrats lead 21 to 14.

With 35 Senators, 18 are needed to be the party in control.

Because of redistricting and the November election, it is possible for Republicans to regain control of the state Senate, but Priola's defection makes that more difficult.

RELATED: Denver council approves redistricting map

"To be clear, I will not be changing the way I vote on legislation. I just simply will now cast my votes with a D next to my name instead of an R," Priola wrote.

Based on voter affiliation registration statistics, there are up to six competitive districts heading into the November election.

Republicans need to win the majority of those races to have a chance at an 18-17 advantage. Priola is not up for reelection. His term ends in 2024.

"Perhaps we should not be surprised by Senator Priola's announcement today that he is now a Democrat. For the last several sessions he voted with the Democrats and championed their legislative causes. This event will not change the trajectory of this election cycle, nor the outcome of this year's fight for the state senate. As for Senator Priola, his new district will likely not be happy with this announcement and may explore their options for new representation," Senate John Cooke, Senate Minority Leader, R-Greeley said in a statement.

RELATED: Democrats likely to keep control with Colorado's new redistricting map

Cooke is one of several Republicans who hinted at the need for voters to recall Priola.

Republican strategist Daniel Cole tweeted, "He's in office through 2024 with a big caveat."

Michael Fields, president of Advance Colorado Institute and a conservative familiar with collecting signatures for a petition, was more explicit.

"Kevin Priola needs to be recalled," Fields tweeted.

"I haven't changed much in 30 years; but my party has," Priola wrote in his statement. "I cannot continue to be 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."

"Everything you see Kevin do now, you have to view the lens of, what would a self-serving politician do?" said State Rep. Colin Larson, R-Littleton. "Never thought that he would actually do something so cowardly and self-serving."

"This is disappointing and frankly one of the worst acts of self-serving, Machiavellian moves in Colorado politics," Larson said. "If he truly valued bipartisanship and moderation, he would have fought for split control of government. He wouldn't have sold out the state for a better committee assignment and office in the Capitol."

Being a member of the party in control comes with the possibility of committee leadership positions and a better selection of offices in the Capitol.

In the last two years when a bill was touted as "bipartisan," there was a fair chance the bipartisan part was support by a single Republican, Priola. 

In his statement, Priola mentioned election conspiracy theories and climate issues as reasons he made the switch.

"Coloradans cannot afford for their leaders to give credence to election conspiracies and climate denialism," Priola wrote. "Today, my Republican colleagues would rather deny the existence of human-caused climate change than take action. I increasingly believe this inaction is counter to our responsibility as political leaders."

Larson pointed out that the far right Republicans like Ron Hanks and Tina Peters lost in the Republican primaries for Senate and Secretary of State.

"Had he issued that letter on Jan. 7 of 2021, had he issued that letter after a Ron Hanks or Tina Peters win in the primaries this summer, then I might have believed what he was saying that this was coming from a genuine place," Larson said.

Democrats gave Priola a warm welcome.

"Proud to welcome Kevin Priola to the Democratic Party. We are a broad tent party, always seeking good ideas from the left and right to move CO forward. Senator Priola is a strong leader on climate issues & will hopefully be even more effective on the Democratic side of the aisle," Gov. Jared Polis (D) wrote on social media.

State Sen. Steve Fenberg, Senate President, emailed a long statement following Priola's announcement.

"Today, Senator Kevin Priola chose his constituents and Colorado's future over partisan politics. Senator Priola has made it clear that the people of Colorado deserve leaders who will boldly take action against the most serious threats facing our country today. Instead of bowing to the pressure of corporate, special interests and right-wing conspiracies, we must continue to take aggressive action to protect the democracy of our nation and combat the climate crisis facing our planet," Fenberg wrote in his statement.

According to Colorado Senate Democrats Communications Director Andy Bixler, Priola informed Fenberg about his plans last week.

"President Fenberg and Sen. Priola have been discussing the direction of the Republican and Democratic Parties, and their concerns over the increasingly dangerous threat extreme Republicans pose to our climate and our democracy, for a while now, since the 2020 election," Bixler said.

Even if Democrats retain control of the state Senate, Priola may not be a vote for all Democratic priorities.

"My pro-life position, school choice and pro-second amendment stance often run counter to the Democratic Party platform," Priola wrote in his statement.

He voted against the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which put abortion access into state statute. The bill, which Polis signed into law, did not change Colorado law on abortion access, it simply put the protections into state statute.

RELATED: Polis signs measure guaranteeing right to abortion in Colorado

"On behalf of the Colorado Democratic Party, I warmly welcome Senator Kevin Priola to the Democratic family," Colorado Democratic Party Chair Morgan Carroll wrote in a statement. "The Republican Party, including the Colorado GOP, has long left behind any roots of principled conservatism, and instead has embraced conspiracy theories and fealty to Donald Trump. They have followed Trump down a moral black hole. We know many Republicans are finding themselves without a political home. The Democratic Party is a big tent, united by our desire to lift up all Coloradans and responsible policies to ensure that Colorado's brightest days are ahead. We know Senator Priola will make a strong addition to the party and that our fellow Democrats will welcome him with open arms."

When asked if Carroll warmly welcomes or welcomes with open arms a Democrat who voted against codifying abortion access, supports school choice and previously sponsored a bill to get rid of permits to conceal carry a weapon, Carroll said, ""We are happy to have Senator Priola join our caucus; we understand we will not agree on every issue, but we are a big tent party that works to uplift all Coloradans."


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