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Republicans initiate recall of Colorado senator two days after he announces he’s becoming a Democrat

‘It’s strange how the way you affiliate changes people’s perceptions of you,’ says Sen. Kevin Priola
Sen. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, and Sen. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, listen as the Senate Health and Human Service Committee hears debate on a bill that would change Colorado’s vaccine exemption rules on Feb. 19. (Jesse Paul/The Colorado Sun file)

A group of Republicans on Wednesday initiated a recall against Colorado state Sen. Kevin Priola, two days after the Henderson lawmaker announced he was leaving the GOP to become a Democrat.

The recall effort, backed by a deep-pocketed conservative nonprofit, kicks off a flurry of legal questions, namely whether the recall will be focused on Priola’s current state Senate district or the one he will begin representing in January. Priola was drawn into a much more Republican district during last year’s once-in-a-decade redistricting process.

The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office was investigating this week, with the help of the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, how the recall will play out. It’s possible the situation could end up before a judge.

The first step in a recall process is submitting a petition to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office. The petition has to be accepted before the recall’s organizers can begin collecting signatures to try to force a special recall election.

About 18,000 signatures from voters in Priola’s district – again, it’s unclear if it’s his old or new district – would be needed to force the special election. The signatures would have to be collected 60 days after the petition is approved.

Priola represents Senate District 25 now, but come January he will represent Senate District 13, because of last year’s redistricting process. (While the 60-day signature gathering period won’t be over before the new year, the recall election will likely have to take place in 2023.)

While Priola’s current district is a tossup, the new Senate District 13 leans 4 percentage points in Republicans’ favor, according to a nonpartisan analysis of election results in the district from 2016 to 2020.

The recall’s supporters want the recall to happen in District 13.

Priola’s term ends in January 2025.

Advance Colorado Action, a conservative nonprofit with millions of dollars to spend, said it’s supporting the recall. An issue committee called “Recall Priola” has been formed to raise money for the effort.

“Voters in Senate District 13 deserve to decide who they want to represent them,” Michael Fields, a senior adviser for Advance Colorado Action, said in a written statement. “My guess is they’ll pick someone they can actually trust and who more closely reflects their views.”

The recall committee is made up of two Republican voters from state Senate District 13: Louisa Andersen and Jeff Sloan.

The Colorado GOP is supporting the recall effort, said Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown.

“Kevin Priola lied to voters and broke the trust of those who elected him,” Burton Brown said in a written statement.

Priola said earlier this week that he wasn’t surprised Republicans were talking about trying to recall him as soon as he announced he was becoming a Democrat. He said he will defend himself.

“It’s strange how the way you affiliate changes people’s perceptions of you,” Priola said Wednesday, citing the millions of dollars spent on his 2020 re-election race.

Senate President Steve Fenberg, a Boulder Democrat, told The Colorado Sun earlier this week that Democrats will come to Priola’s defense if a recall is initiated against him.

“As I’ve said in the past when these clowns have done this, recalls should be done for corruption and malfeasance, not because you disagree with someone,” Fenberg said.

The petition language submitted to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office to initiate the recall process claims Priola “does not represent the views of (his) district.”

The language cites Priola’s vote in favor of new road-usage fees to pay for transportation projects, support of Proposition CC in 2019 and backing of a 2019 bill making personal-use possession of most drugs a misdemeanor. The recall language also notes that Priola was a co-sponsor of an unsuccessful 2018 bill backed by Democrats and Republicans that would have paved the way for a supervised drug-consumption site in Denver.

Priola, who often voted with Democrats in the Legislature even when he was a Republican, cited concerns about the GOP’s embrace of 2020 election conspiracies and the party’s unwillingness to work on legislation to combat climate change as driving his decision to become a Democrat.

“I cannot continue to be a part of a political party that is OK with a violent attempt to overturn a free and fair election,” Priola wrote in a letter Monday announcing his decision. “There is too much at stake right now for Republicans to be in charge.”

The Colorado Sun is a reader-supported, nonpartisan news organization dedicated to covering Colorado issues. To learn more, go to coloradosun.com.