Kevin Priola basis of Democrat-backed committee lawsuit to block recall

A Democrat-backed group has filed a lawsuit against Colorado’s Secretary of State in an effort to block the recall effort against Sen. Kevin Priola, who last month announced he would cross the aisle and leave the Republican Party.

The suit, filed Monday morning in Denver County, requests a judge block the recall because it includes residents of Priola’s new district, which was redrawn last year and leans conservative. Priola was elected in 2020 by constituents in his previous district, and he won’t technically begin representing the new area until January, when the state legislature reconvenes. The challenge wants the recall effort, which officially got underway last week, halted immediately while the judge sorts out if it should be allowed to take place at all.

A resident of Priola’s current district, Frederick Sandoval, and Colorado Over Party, a committee formed last week to defend Priola against the recall, are the plaintiffs in the suit, which was filed against Jena Griswold, Colorado’s secretary of state. A spokeswoman for Griswold’s office did not immediately provide comment Monday, nor did a representative for Colorado Over Party. An attorney for the organization referred comment to a spokesperson.

Griswold’s office said last week that the recall would cover Priola’s new district, a decision that Colorado Over Party argued “deprives (his current constituents) of their right to sign or not sign the recall petition, and vote for or against Sen. Priola’s recall.” If the recall advances now and is successful, they continued, Priola’s old district could be without representation until early January, while his new district would have two representatives.

The lawsuit also argues that the recall push as currently approved violates the state constitution and that only members of Priola’s new district can sign the petition, even though he doesn’t represent them currently.

If successful, the suit won’t shield Priola from a recall forever: As Colorado Over Party itself notes, he could be recalled by his new constituents in January, once he actually begins representing them.

The challenge comes two months before an election that Republicans had previously hoped could see the state senate flip into their control. That hope had been dealt a blow by Priola’s decision to switch parties and forcing his former colleagues to target an additional seat in an already tight field. Previously considered a moderate Republican, Priola announced last month that he was crossing the aisle in part because of the Jan. 6 insurrection and the broader election denialism present in some parts of the GOP. An effort to recall him was announced soon after.

Sen. Stephen Fenberg, the senate’s president, said Monday that the suit makes it clear that Priola shouldn’t be recalled by Coloradans that he doesn’t yet represent. Fenberg last week promised to mount a full defense of Priola going forward and said then that a legal challenge was being considered.

Michael Fields, who runs the conservative Advance Colorado Action group, which is backing the recall, called the lawsuit “desperate” and said the recall should “take place in the district (Priola) will be representing when the recall election occurs.” The campaign has already raised $130,000, Fields said last, and anticipates spending as much as $300,000 to oust Priola.

“I just think this is a losing legal argument,” Fields said. “Signatures are gathered in districts before they officially take effect all the time.”

In his official response to the petition seeking his removal, Priola last week called the effort a “hyper-partisan” attempt to punish him for switching parties. He criticized “political insiders ” for “wasting hundreds of thousands of your taxpayer money on a special election to punish me for serving you as an independent voice.”

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