President Ronald Reagan famously quipped, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The party left me.”

More than a half century later, the modern equivalent seems to be, “I didn’t leave the Republican Party. The party went crazy, traded its principles for conspiracies, and began throwing dishware at my head.”

Mario Nicolais

At least, that is what it probably seems like to State Sen. Kevin Priola. Last week, Priola shook the Colorado political world when he changed party affiliation midway through his final legislative term.

It only took two days for embittered Republicans to begin a recall effort against their former colleague. But that is the way for dying animals like the current Colorado GOP; lash out in anger and vitriol against anyone and anything.

Priola’s campaigns served his erstwhile party exceptionally well in 2016 and 2020. Running in a highly competitive district that required a thoughtful, centrist approach, Priola delivered a district more far-right candidates would have surrendered.

For example, in 2016, as the far-right darling Laura Woods was losing her rematch against Rachel Zenzinger in Senate District 19, Priola won SD25 (a slightly Democratic-leaning district) by a little less than 2,500 votes. That victory proved to be the difference in control of the state Senate for the next two years. Because of Priola, Republicans held the slimmest of majorities (18R – 17D) for that cycle.

Without Priola, Democrats would have returned to a political trifecta (governor plus majorities in both the state House and state Senate) after a brief two-year hiatus. Instead, thanks to Priola’s victory, the GOP maintained one lever of control over state laws.

By 2020, Republicans had already frittered away that advantage, but not due to Priola. As many Republicans were swept away by the sewage line current created by former President Donald Trump, Priola won again, albeit by only about 1,200 votes.

His reward? Regular ridicule by alleged allies.

Priola never toed the party line at the expense of principle or public service. He frequently reached across the aisle to work on legislation and help pass bills that many hard-line Republicans derided. As just one example, last cycle Priola worked for months on a recycling bill (he believes in climate change) that his own party attempted to kill.

Those types of confrontations led to accusations and recriminations throughout his time as a state legislator. It had to take a toll delivering so much control and power to people who then turned on you after the election.

Unfortunately for the Republican Party, that seems to be their standard operating procedure. Many within the party have spent so long ridiculing others as squishes, RINO (Republican In Name Only) and cuckservatives that they have driven away allies that helped deliver elections and majorities in the past. 

Priola, former state Rep. Cole Wist and I are just a few examples. We once fought for a party that fought against us and against the underpinnings of our democratic system of government. It is no wonder we banded together with a few like-minded individuals to host a fundraiser for Brittany Pettersen over the weekend.

As the generic congressional ballot has slid away from Republicans, President Joe Biden has seen a resurgence in approval ratings, and GOP candidates across the state are being swamped in both the polls and campaign finance reports, it would seem like a terrible time to push back against people like Priola.

By November, I doubt Priola’s defection will have made much difference. Republicans will endure another cycle of decline and find themselves in a deficit far deeper than Priola’s single seat. A recall election will not have any effect except to bilk unsophisticated zealots out of money. Again.

And if they do collect enough signatures to force a recall? My guess is that Priola will win by more than he ever did as a Republican.

Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq

Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq