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Colorado GOP state lawmaker flips parties, joins Democrats because of 2020 election claims

RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images

A Colorado state legislator has switched parties, resigning from the Republican Party and joining the Democrats because of 2020 election claims and the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

State Sen. Kevin Priola, a moderate lawmaker, announced Monday he could no longer support the GOP, which he accused of ignoring existential threats to democracy and the climate crisis. He said he watched the events of Jan. 6 "with horror" and felt "dismay" that anti-Trump Republicans like Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) were "met with ridicule and threats."

"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," Priola said in a statement announcing his change in party affiliation.

He also said the Republican Party's inaction on climate change was cause for his defection to the Democrats.

"Today, my Republican colleagues would rather deny the existence of human-caused climate change than take action ... my Republican colleagues consistently, and proudly, seek to impede progress on any reasonable climate measure the legislature has undertaken — and I can't, in good conscience, be silent about that," Priola said.

Though he will now caucus with the Democrats, Priola asserted he will not change how he votes on legislation and that his positions on abortion, gun rights, and school choice "run counter to the Democratic Party platform."

Even so, with one fewer lawmaker in their conference, Colorado Republicans face an uphill battle to recapture the state Senate majority, which Democrats now hold by four seats. Priola said he will campaign for Democrats to retain control of the state legislature this November.

"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 said. "Coloradans cannot afford 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."

Though Democrats had sought to defeat Priola in 2020, he was welcomed into their fold on Monday.

"We are a broad tent party, always seeking good ideas from the left and right to move CO forward. Senator Priola is a strong leader on climate issues & will hopefully be even more effective on the Democratic side of the aisle," Gov. Jared Polis (D) said in a statement.

Colorado GOP chairwoman Kristi Burton Brown blasted Priola in a statement, saying he "finally made the move to the party he's consistently voted with."

"After lying to his constituents, routinely voting for tax increases, & hurting the working families of his district, he's now admitted his true affiliation: a pro tax-increase Democrat," Brown said.

"He will regret this decision when he's in the minority come January 2023," she added.

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