Conservative activists submitted paperwork to initiate a recall petition against state Sen. Kevin Priola on Wednesday, two days after he announced a switch of his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat.
Priola, of Henderson, immediately faced praise from his new party and hisses from his old one, including threats to launch a recall campaign. Heading into the November election, the Senate has been seen as the likeliest breaking point in Democrats’ trifecta of state control over both legislative chambers and the governor’s office.
Before Priola’s switch, the GOP needed to flip three Senate seats to win a majority. Republicans now need a net gain of four. Priola himself is not on the ballot this year.
A conservative operative involved in the recall effort suggested the Priola wouldn’t be a good fit for Senate District 13, the redrawn district he will represent starting in January. Until then, he represents the old District 25, which is more of a tossup in its partisan makeup.
“Recalling Kevin Priola would be good for SD 13 and good for the State of Colorado,” said Advance Colorado Action senior advisor Michael Fields, the registered agent for the recall committee, in a statement. “His record at the Capitol has been terrible. He voted for higher fees and taxes, to take away our TABOR refund checks, for ‘safe’ injection sites, and to decriminalize fentanyl.
“Voters in SD 13 deserve to decide who they want to represent them. My guess is they’ll pick someone they can actually trust and who more closely reflects their views.”
The members of the recall committee are two residents of SD 13: Louisa Andersen, an educator and business owner who lost a race for Greeley City Council last year, and Jeff Sloan, an auto shop franchise owner in Greeley who briefly was a candidate for a House seat in 2018.
Reached Wednesday, Priola called the petition a political move of the sort “that most people are sick and tired of.”
“I just find it interesting, when just two years ago (Republicans) ran campaign ads talking about how bipartisan I am and how I’m a problem solver who worked to create solutions for Coloradans,” he said. “Now they’re going to find some reason why I’m bad.”
In announcing his party switch Monday, Priola said he could not continue to be part of a political party that’s OK with “a violent attempt to overturn a free and fair election and continues to peddle claims that the 2020 election was stolen” and that “would rather deny the existence of human-caused climate change than take action.”
He won re-election to a second Senate term in 2020 with 50.8% of the vote. His new district, drawn during last year’s statewide redistricting process, shows a slight Republican edge over the past eight elections, according to state data, but is still within toss-up territory.
Priola is term-limited and will finish serving in early 2025, unless he’s recalled.
According to Fields, to force the recall election, petitioners will need to collect 18,291 valid signatures, or 25% of the total votes cast for the seat in the most recent election. The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office still needs to approve the petition for circulation.
Senate President Steve Fenberg said the Democrats would defend the newest member of their caucus against the recall, adding that “it’s too soon to tell if it’s real.”
It wasn’t immediately clear Wednesday afternoon if the recall election would take place in the district Priola currently represents or the newly drawn district he’ll reside in next year. Advance Colorado cited the 2020 vote total from his current district in calculating their petition signature goal.
The Secretary of State’s Office didn’t have an immediate answer.
“I think it’s ridiculous, because a recall really is meant to be a way for voters to take someone out of office that’s been accused of corruption or malfeasance or something of the sort,” Fenberg said. “Not to get even with somebody for a political disagreement.”
Colorado Republican Party Chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown said it “fully stands” with the recall effort.
“Kevin Priola lied to voters and broke the trust of those who elected him,” she said. “He does not represent the views of voters in SD 13.”
Recalls are a weapon with a mixed record of success in Colorado. Republicans spent the summer of 2019 working to recall several Democratic politicians after the blue wave of 2018, but organizers failed to gather enough signatures in five of the six recall efforts that year. The sixth target resigned for unrelated reasons.
In 2013, though, voters recalled two Democratic state senators over their votes for laws imposing new gun restrictions, replacing them with Republicans.