A Colorado state senator announced on Monday that he has left the Republican Party to become a Democrat, citing the GOP’s efforts to peddle election conspiracy theories and block increasingly necessary climate legislation.
State Sen. Kevin Priola released a letter in which he announced he would begin caucusing with Democrats instead of Republicans, though he stressed that he would not be changing the way he votes on legislation. The former Republican, who was elected as a state senator in 2016 and reelected in 2020, added that he believes political affiliations have become “too tribal” and that neither party “has a monopoly on the truth.”
“I recognize that we are in the midst of an election that will determine which party controls the Senate Chamber. 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. “Coloradans cannot afford for their leaders to give credence to election conspiracies and climate denialism. Simply put, we need Democrats in charge because our planet and our democracy depend on it.”
Priola expressed dismay that the Republican Party has changed from the one he joined in 1990. The new Democrat detailed how the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by Donald Trump’s followers left him horrified and hoping that his party would distance itself from the former president.
“Week after week and month after month, I waited for that response; it never came,” he wrote. “To my dismay, brave and honorable Republicans like Mike Pence, Liz Cheney, Mitt Romney, and Adam Kinzinger have fought to defend the Constitution and rule of law only to be met with ridicule and threats. Fear-mongering to raise money or motivate voters is nothing new, but it has been taken to a dangerous and destabilizing level.”
“I cannot continue to be a 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.”
The state senator also said he “can’t, in good conscience, be silent about” Republicans’ refusal to address the urgent issue of climate change, saying they “consistently, and proudly, seek to impede progress on any reasonable climate measure the legislature has undertaken.”
“With a near year-round wildfire season here in Colorado and seemingly never ending drought already upon us, Coloradans are already feeling the effects of the climate crisis, and I believe it’s immoral to saddle the next generation of Coloradans with even worse impacts,” he wrote.
Colorado Democrats welcomed the new party member, with Senate President Steve Fenberg saying Priola “chose his constituents and Colorado’s future over conspiracy theories and lies.” State Senate Minority Leader John Cooke, a Republican, told HuffPost that Priola’s decision “will not change the trajectory of this election cycle, nor the outcome of the year’s fight for the state Senate.”
“Perhaps we should not be surprised by Sen. 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,” Cooke said, adding that the former Republican’s district “will likely not be happy” with him and “may explore their options for new representation.”
While Priola is not up for reelection this year, his party switch means that Democrats now outnumber Republicans 21-14 in the Colorado Senate — making it more difficult for the GOP to gain control of the state Capitol in the November election. According to the Colorado Sun, seven of the 15 state Senate seats up for election in a few months are tossups, while three are solidly Democratic and five solidly Republican.
Priola has often voted with Democrats on issues like climate change and tax reform, though he maintains that he still holds strongly conservative views on some issues, including abortion and gun control. He joins a growing list of more moderate Republicans — like Cheney (Wyo.) and Kinzinger (Ill.) — who find themselves no longer included in a party publicly aligning itself with extremist views and candidates.