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Colorado Senator Kevin Priola on November 5, 2019 in Denver.Helen H. Richardson / Denver Post via Getty Images file

Why a legislator in a battleground state is abandoning the GOP

A Colorado state senator switched parties yesterday, citing the GOP's conspiracy theories on elections and climate. It's a move with national relevance.


Elected officials just don’t switch parties very often, especially in Republican politics in recent years. Someone who’s stuck with the GOP through the Bush, Obama, and Trump eras just isn’t likely to give up on the party now.

But it’d be an overstatement to suggest it never happens. Last year, for example, a state representative in New Hampshire gave up on Republicans and became a Democrat, pointing to the GOP’s misguided stances on vaccines and Covid protections. A month later, Oklahoma’s school superintendent switched from Team Red to Team Blue, citing concerns over education and public health.

Yesterday, the contingent picked up a new member. The Associated Press reported:

Citing alarm toward the Republican Party’s widespread embrace of 2020 election conspiracies, a moderate GOP Colorado state senator has switched his affiliation to Democrat, enhancing that party’s prospects to retain its majority in the chamber in the November midterms. Kevin Priola, who represents Adams County in Denver’s suburbs, said in a letter Monday he was horrified by the Jan. 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol and had waited in vain for his party to repudiate it as well as former President Donald Trump, who continues to insist that it was stolen.

“It never came,” Priola said. “To my dismay, brave and honorable Republicans like Mike Pence, Liz Cheney, Mitt Romney and Adam Kinzinger have fought to defend the Constitution and the rule of law only to be met with ridicule and threats.”

He added, “I cannot continue to be 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.”

Priola went on to lament the GOP’s indifference to the climate crisis. “Today, my Republican colleagues would rather deny the existence of human-caused climate change than take action,” he wrote. He added that electing Democratic majorities is important “because our planet and democracy depend on it.”

The practical effects in the Rocky Mountain State are clearly meaningful: Colorado Republicans have predicted in recent months that it might be able to flip control of the state Senate from “blue” to “red” in this year’s elections. Priola abandoning the GOP and aligning with Democrats will make that task more difficult.

But just as notable is the national relevance. There’s a school of thought in Republican politics that suggests those who accept election results and scientific evidence should stick with the GOP, despite its radicalism, in order to push back against the party’s shift to the far-right.

This Colorado state senator effectively made the opposite case yesterday, suggesting that to stick with the contemporary Republican Party is to reward and enable it. To force a change in direction, the argument goes, the GOP will need to see its members walk away in disgust.