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Colorado senator quits Republican party over election deniers, climate change inaction

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Scott Franz, Capitol Coverage
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State Sen. Kevin Priola of Henderson speaks in support of a Democratic led transportation bill in May, 2021.

State Sen. Kevin Priola of Adams County didn’t mince words in his two-page letter announcing he was leaving the Colorado Republican party to join with Democrats who control the statehouse.

“Coloradans cannot afford for their leaders to give credence to election conspiracies or climate change denialism,” he wrote. “Simply put, we need Democrats in charge because our planet and our Democracy depend on it.”

Priola blasted his Republican colleagues for what he called their indifference toward the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

He also said Republicans had shifted from belonging to a party known for creating National Parks to one that is choosing to deny humans are behind climate change.

Priola, widely considered one of the most moderate lawmakers in the Capitol, has often been the lone GOP vote on some of the Democrats’ biggest priorities in recent years.

He stood beside Gov. Jared Polis to support a multi-billion dollar plan to charge Coloradans more on gas, car shares and food deliveries to help pay for road work.

But he said in his letter he won’t see eye-to-eye with Democrats on every issue.

For example, he was one of the biggest critics of the party’s decision to pass a new law aiming to guarantee the right to an abortion in the state.

In the short term, his departure from the Republican party will make it harder for the GOP to regain control of the state Senate, where Democrats now hold a seven-vote advantage heading into the November elections.

Democrats, including Senate President Steve Fenberg of Boulder, are cheering the news.

“Today, Senator Kevin Priola chose his constituents and Colorado’s future over partisan politics,” Fenberg wrote in a statement. “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.”

Republicans are suggesting Priola should no longer represent his district just north of Denver.

“This event will not change the trajectory of this election cycle, nor the outcome of this year's fight for the state senate,” Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, wrote in a statement. “As for Senator Priola, his new district will likely not be happy with this announcement and may explore their options for new representation.”

Michael Fields, a conservative who has organized several ballot initiatives in recent years, is calling for a recall attempt against Priola.

Priola is not up for reelection until 2024.

Scott Franz is an Investigative Reporter with KUNC.