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State Sen. Kevin Priola, center.
State Sen. Kevin Priola, center. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

If the GOP opponents of state Sen. Kevin Priola, who last week switched his party affiliation to Democrat, collect enough signatures to force a special recall election of the Henderson lawmaker, the contest will take place in his new, Republican-leaning district, state officials said Monday. 

The announcement is a real threat to Democrats who were celebrating Priola’s party-registration switch last week since it gives them a better chance of hanging on to power in the Senate after the November election. If a recall election happens, it will give Republicans a solid chance of installing a GOP replacement.

Priola, who has two years left in his term, currently represents state Senate District 25, a tossup district based in the northeast Denver suburbs. But after last year’s redistricting process, he will represent Senate District 13, a Republican-leaning district that runs along the U.S. 85 corridor, starting next year. 

The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office had to decide whether the recall would happen in District 25 or the new District 13. The office didn’t explain its decision Monday, but said last week it was consulting with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office on which district the recall should take place in.

The new District 13 leans 4 percentage points in the GOP’s favor, according to a nonpartisan analysis of votes cast in statewide races in the district from 2016 to 2020.

The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office says the recall’s organizers must collect 18,291 signatures from voters in the new Senate District 13 to force a special recall election. The office estimates the special recall election would cost $200,000.

The recall’s organizers still must get their petition approved before they can begin collecting signatures. They have 60 days after the petition is approved to meet the threshold. 

The draft petition language submitted to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office to initiate the recall process claimed Priola “does not represent the views of (his) district.” 

The draft cited Priola’s vote in favor of new road-use fees to pay for transportation projects, support of Proposition CC in 2019, and backing of a 2019 bill making personal-use possession of most drugs a misdemeanor. The recall language also noted that Priola was a cosponsor of an unsuccessful 2018 bill backed by Democrats and Republicans that would have paved the way for a supervised drug-consumption site in Denver.

The recall has the backing of a deep-pocketed conservative nonprofit, Advance Colorado Action. The Colorado Sun refers to the nonprofit as a dark-money group because they don’t have to disclose their donors.

Priola announced last week that he was leaving the GOP to become a Democrat, citing concerns about the GOP’s embrace of 2020 election conspiracies and the party’s unwillingness to work on legislation to combat climate change.

“I cannot continue to be a part of a political party that is OK with a violent attempt to overturn a free and fair election,” Priola wrote in a letter announcing his decision. “There is too much at stake right now for Republicans to be in charge.”

Republican groups spent nearly $1.8 million in 2020 helping Priola get elected.

Roughly half of that spending — or $939,000 — came from Unite for Colorado Action, a state-level super PAC affiliated with Unite for Colorado, a conservative dark-money nonprofit. Unite for Colorado’s successor is Advance Colorado Action, the group that is set to fund Priola’s recall.

Priola hasn’t been surprised about Republicans’ plans to recall him and has said he will defend himself. Democrats have also said they will come to Priola’s aid.

“It’s strange how the way you affiliate changes people’s perceptions of you,” Priola said Wednesday, citing the millions of dollars spent on his 2020 reelection race.

Priola said Monday night that he disagrees with the position and is exploring his legal options.

It’s possible that the Colorado Secretary of State’s decision results in a lawsuit.

Democrats have a 21-14 advantage in the Senate after Priola’s party-registration switch. Democrats are guaranteed 13 seats in January, compared with seven for the GOP. Of the Senate seats up for election in November, three are considered solidly Democratic, five solidly Republican and seven are tossups.

The Colorado Sun —

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Jesse Paul is a Denver-based political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is the author of The Unaffiliated newsletter and also occasionally fills in on breaking news coverage.

A Colorado College graduate, Jesse worked at The Denver Post from June 2014 until July 2018, when he joined The Sun. He was also an intern at The Gazette in Colorado Springs and The News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware, his hometown.

Jesse has won awards for long form feature writing, public service reporting, sustained coverage and deadline news reporting.

Email: Twitter: @jesseapaul