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State Senator Priola's party switch could decide Colorado Senate control

With seven seats up for close races, party control requires 18 of 35 Senate seats to be the party in charge. Republicans have not held the Senate since 2017-18.

COLORADO, USA — When State Sen. Kevin Priola, D-Henderson, switched parties from Republican to Democrat earlier this week, he single-handedly diminished the chances of Republicans taking back control of the state Senate.

It requires 18 of 35 Senate seats to be the party in charge.

Republicans have not held power in the state Senate since 2017-'18.

Democrats currently control the House 41-24, and the math is unlikely for the House to flip from Democratic control.

With the Senate being the chamber that Republicans have in reach, what would happen if they won back power versus Democratic control of both the House and Senate?

"Whether it's the climate crisis, the threats against our Democracy, reproductive health access, I think those are the issues that are very clear, we do not move forward, whatsoever, if Republicans are in charge of one of the chambers," State Sen. Steve Fenberg, D-Denver, said.

To stay in power, Fenberg, the Senate President, needs Democrats to win three of seven close Senate races that are expected during the Nov. 8 election.

"There's no question if Republicans are in charge of one chamber, we're not doing anything more to ensure that we are protecting those who are seeking abortion care or those types of reproductive health services," Fenberg said.

This past legislative session, Colorado Democrats put existing abortion access into state law.

Fenberg wants to pass legislation to protect medical professionals helping out-of-state patients coming to Colorado for abortion access.

"There are Coloradans that could be wrapped up in that. And those are the doctors and the nurses and the providers, and those are who, I know, I have a priority in wanting to protect," Fenberg said.

"The split legislatures kept the extreme elements from governing the entire middle that is Colorado," Kevin Grantham, former Republican Senate President, said.

Grantham was the last Republican to be Senate President, in 2017-'18.

"That's the last thing I want on my epitaph. The last Republican President of the state Senate," Grantham said.

When Republicans led the Senate and Democrats led the House, there were a few contentious bills (transportation funding), but the majority of bills that passed were not controversial.

For example, several bills cleaned up previous language in state laws. There were bills to establish new license plates like the one commemorating the Pueblo Chile. Another bill added protections for children against sexting. And there was the bill that provided immunity for people who break into a hot vehicle to save an at-risk adult or animal.

"How do we make this thing functional? How do we make it work where enough people don't not like it," Grantham said.

With a split legislature, there are also bills that die.

IN 2018, Republicans in the state Senate killed a Red Flag bill.

The kind of bill that would allow a person to petition a judge to temporarily take weapons away from someone deemed a threat to themselves or others.

The same kind of Red Flag bill that passed in 2019 under a Democratic controlled House and Senate.

Fenberg warned about a difference of opinion on climate change, election security and water issues, depending on who is in charge.

"Clearly, we have a climate crisis on our hands. That is not under debate, I don't think, amongst reasonable people that look at the science," Fenberg said. "What is our plan on water? We keep hearing that there is a water crisis here and it is going to get worse. I think the Republicans and Democrats will have a different approach on that."

That is an issue he might within his own party even with a Democratic-controlled state Senate.

"There are many issues that we don't see 100% eye-to-eye, in unison on. Some of that has to do with housing policy, some of that has to do, frankly, with water, depending on some of our members are from the plains or the Western Slope or rural areas versus urban versus suburban," Fenberg said. "The difference, though, is when Democrats are in charge, we allow for those debates to play out and we don't just simply kill bills in a committee before that debate is allowed to happen."

Should the Democrats control the Senate with an 18-17 majority following the Nov. 8 election, the likely recall effort against Priola could ramp up. Since Priola is anti-abortion, pro school choice and pro-Second Amendment, would the Democrats fight against his recall just to remain in power?

"Even if it isn't a deciding seat, we would have his back. There is no question he is part of our party. He supports us, we support him. We will defend anybody who is targeted with an unfair recall effort," Fenberg said.

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