Backers of a campaign to recall Colorado lawmaker who left the GOP and joined the Democratic Party last month, citing the Republican Party’s embrace of discredited 2020 election conspiracies, received the go-ahead Friday from state elections officials to begin collecting voter signatures.
The recall organizers have 60 days — or until Nov. 8, which is the date of the 2022 general election — to collect about 18,000 signatures from voters in state Sen. Kevin Priola’s Senate District 13 to force a special recall election. Priola’s term ends in 2025.
Priola infuriated Republicans when he announced his party switch in August, saying he was horrified by the Jan. 6 insurrection at 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 the 2020 presidential election was stolen.
Numerous assertions that the presidential election was stolen have been proven false.
Priola also rebuked what he called the GOP’s refusal to take climate change seriously. “Today, my Republican colleagues would rather deny the existence of human-caused climate change than take action,” he wrote in a letter announcing his decision.
Priola’s move enhanced Democrats’ prospects for retaining a majority in Colorado’s senate in the November midterm elections. The party holds a comfortable majority in the House. But the recall drive is in a new district assigned to Priola that has become more conservative thanks to last year’s redistricting process.
Signature-gatherers hit the streets Friday, and the recall campaign already has raised $130,000, said Michael Fields, who heads the recall committee and is president of the conservative group Advance Colorado Institute.
Fields cited Priola’s past votes with Democrats, especially on state tax policy, as well as what he called Priola’s betrayal of the Republican voters who elected him to office.
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“Conservative Republicans voted for him to be a conservative leader in the Senate,” Fields said.
Priola this week submitted to the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office the language defending himself that will be printed on signature petitions recall organizers will begin circulating to try to force a special recall election.
“Special interests with deep pockets filed this recall as personal and political retribution for my decision to put people over partisan politics,” Priola wrote, “and I have confidence you will see through their deceptive tactics. These hyperpartisan political insiders are wasting hundreds of thousands of your taxpayer money on a special election to punish me for serving you as an independent voice.”
Priola encouraged people to visit coloradooverparty.com to “get the facts.”
Priola added that he’s “proud to be one of the most bipartisan legislators in our state.”
Advance Colorado Institute appears to be the only special interest group working on the recall effort. It’s a conservative nonprofit that doesn’t have to disclose its donors — the kind of organization The Colorado Sun calls a dark-money group.
The nonprofit’s predecessor spent about $1 million to get Priola reelected in 2020.
Priola is in his second term as a state senator and is not up for reelection in November. The campaign needs signatures equal to at least 25% of the number of votes cast in the district in the last election to force a vote.
Priola currently represents Senate District 25, a swing district northeast of Denver. But starting next year, after the 2021 redistricting process, he will represent Senate District 13, a conservative district. The Colorado Secretary of State’s Office ruled that the recall would take place in District 13, not District 25 as some Democrats had hoped.
Fields said any recall vote, if certified by the secretary of state’s office, could be held in January.
James Anderson of The Associated Press contributed to this report. Jesse Paul of The Colorado Sun contributed to this report.