Republicans on Wednesday launched a campaign to recall Colorado state Sen. Kevin Priola from office, two days after the Henderson lawmaker changed his registration from Republican to Democrat.
Organizers filed paperwork with the Colorado Secretary of State's Office to initiate the recall and formed a committee to fund the campaign, the head of a GOP-aligned nonprofit said in a release.
"Recalling Kevin Priola would be good for SD 13 and good for the State of Colorado," said Michael Fields, a senior advisor with Advance Colorado Action and the registered agent for the recall committee, in a statement citing Priola's legislation record over the past four years, including support for raising the gas tax to fund transportation and co-sponsoring a bill to establish so-called "safe injection" sites for intravenous drug users.
The term-limited Priola, who served four terms in the state House and is in the middle of his second and final Senate term, said on Monday that he decided to leave the GOP over his former party's stance on attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election and what he described as Republicans' refusal to take action on climate change.
"Coloradans cannot afford for the leaders to give credence to election conspiracies and climate denialism," Priola said in a written statement. "Simply put, we need Democrats in charge because our planet and our democracy depends on it."
Priola's move increases the Democrats' majority in the state Senate to 21-14 and throws a wrench in GOP aspirations to flip control of the chamber in the November election.
Recall organizers don't mention Priola's party switch in the petition statement submitted to election officials, who have three days to approve or deny the petition.
In the statement, organizers say Priola should be recalled because the lawmaker's "voting record is out-of-step with the people of this district" and list legislative votes and sponsorships they contend are "harmful to working families or dangerous for our community."
"Kevin Priola broke the trust of voters who elected him," the proposed petition statement reads. "He does not represent the views of this district and should be removed from office."
Priola didn't respond to a request for comment.
There are plenty of ifs ahead.
If the petition language is approved by the Secretary of State's Office, Priola has three days to submit a response. If recall organizers decide to move ahead, they'll have 60 days to gather 18,291 signatures. If the petition signatures are verified, election officials must schedule a recall election within 60 days. If that happens, voters will be asked to decide whether to recall him and to pick a replacement from among candidates who petition their way onto the ballot.
It's unclear whether a recall election — if approved — would go before the voters in Democratic-leaning Senate District 25, who elected Priola in 2020, or if the decision could fall to voters who live within the more heavily Republican Senate District 13, which will be represented by Priola after this year's election, due to redistricting.
A spokeswoman for the secretary of state told Colorado Politics on Wednesday afternoon that the office is looking into the question.
Within minutes of Fields announcing the recall campaign, the Colorado Republican Party issued a statement of support.
"Kevin Priola lied to voters and broke the trust of those who elected him," said state GOP Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown. "He does not represent the views of voters in SD-13. They deserve to choose whether or not they want to be represented by a Democrat who has a record of raising taxes on working families and supporting drug injection sites. The Colorado GOP fully stands with the citizens working to recall Kevin Priola."
Democrats, who welcomed Priola to their caucus earlier this week, scoffed at GOP attempts to remove Priola from office.
"Considering how recall-happy the Republican Party under Kristi Burton Brown has proven to be, we are not surprised to see this happen," said Madeline Zann, director of the Democratic Senate Campaign Fund, in an email to Colorado Politics. "Nor are we surprised to see that they are attempting to force the cost of a special election on taxpayers in order to further their political agenda. While we may not always agree, Kevin Priola has knocked hundreds of doors in his district to earn the support of Adams County voters, and has consistently been a transparent and thoughtful legislator."
Republicans have mounted multiple attempts to recall Democratic politicians in recent years, including Gov. Jared Polis, Secretary of State Jena Griswold and numerous legislators, though none had been successful.
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