It technically happened while state Sen. Kevin Priola was a Republican, but those reading the Centennial Institute’s just-released legislative scorecard will recognize the Legislature’s newest Democrat as unique among the awardees.
Colorado Christian University’s Centennial Institute (CI), the state’s most prominent conservative evangelical policy organization, bestows its Faith, Family and Freedom Awards annually to legislators “who have a proven track record from the preceding legislative session of advocating for conservative policies and standing for faith, family, and freedom at the Colorado Capitol.”
This year’s awards ceremony, which Priola did not attend, took place back in June during the Western Conservative Summit and when he was still a Republican. However, CI didn’t release the actual scorecard detailing the bills and votes that decided the winners until yesterday.
In between then and now, of course, Priola switched parties. Does that really make him a Democrat who won? Neither he nor CI President Jeff Hunt immediately returned after-hours requests for comment, so for now we’re forced fall back on a cliché and quote. First, at the end of the day, legislators are defined by their votes. And secondly, when announcing his decision to switch parties, Priola wrote, “I will not be changing the way I vote on legislation. I just simply will now cast my votes with a D next to my name instead of an R.”
The Centennial Institute is non-partisan and the award is based strictly on votes cast on its list of priority bills. Now in its fourth year, the CI scorecard chooses about 15 priority bills that best address its mission. Senators and representatives score points by voting with CI either for or against each bill. Those who reach or exceed a certain number of points win the award.
This year’s scorecard addressed a wide range of issues, from government assistance for teen parents to get driver’s licenses, which CI supported, to the “Vote Without Fear Act,” banning the open carrying of firearms within 100 feet of a polling place, which CI opposed. Of particular note was the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which codifies Coloradans’ right to abortion care. CI opposed that bill so strongly it weighted it worth quadruple the points of any other bill.
Priola’s opposition to that bill clearly helped his score, and his position on that issue was certainly top of mind for Jeff Hunt when Priola left the GOP and joined his Democratic colleagues last month. After first characterizing him in a Tweet as a “pro-life Democrat,” Hunt then agreed with fellow Republican Austin Hein’s reply that Priola is “more pro-life than Joe O’Dea.”
That exchange took place just three days after O’Dea clarified his own position in support of banning all abortions after 20 weeks with exceptions for rape, incest and the life of the mother.
Priola is currently facing a recall attempt over his party switch. Led by conservative operative Michael Fields, the effort has until Election Day to gather 18,291 valid signatures from voters living within the boundaries of the new Senate District 13.
This article will be updated with any responses received from Priola or Hunt.