House GOP coup to replace Priola as caucus whip fails

Politics

The House Republican caucus discusses replacing its whip, Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, during a meeting Thursday.

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DENVER — House Republicans met for 30 minutes Thursday morning after Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, called a meeting with the goal of replacing Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, as the caucus whip.

Priola had alienated many of his fellow GOP colleagues a day earlier when he declined to support an amendment to the Student Success Act sponsored by Rep. Jim Wilson, R-Salida, that most Republicans supported.

Instead, Priola supported a competing amendment sponsored by Democratic Rep. Millie Hamner — both amendments focused on ensuring transparency about how school districts spend money.

“The Hamner amendment was more transparent down to the school level for parents and taxpayers, and that’s why I supported it,” Priola explained Thursday.

But Priola hadn’t paid Wilson, one of the more popular members in the caucus, the courtesy of informing him ahead of time that he would be supporting Hamner’s amendment over his.

But Holbert’s motion Thursday to oust Priola as whip failed after the caucus chair, Rep. Kathleen Conti, R-Littleton, decided that a motion to elect a new whip couldn’t be heard unless there was a vacancy for the position.

“I’d hoped Priola would have just resigned after seeing that a majority of our caucus doesn’t support him,” Holbert told reporters after the meeting adjourned.

The attempted coup, whatever vote may have precipitated Thursday’s meeting, has been a long time coming, according to several House Republicans who describe a widening gap between the caucus’s moderate and conservative wings.

“This isn’t about the amendment yesterday,” said Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch. “This is about personalities.”

Initially, a motion to adjourn the meeting by Rep. Bob Gardner, R-Colorado Springs, was voted down, a signal that a majority of House Republicans were ready to see Priola replaced.

Holbert tried to nominate Rep. Polly Lawrence, R-Centennial, as the new whip but a vote was never taken.

Priola told his colleagues he had “tried to do the right thing” with his vote Wednesday and that he’d met with House Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland, and offered to resign but that DelGrosso didn’t take him up on it.

After conferring outside about procedural rules, Conti told the caucus that the motion to vote on Lawrence was out of order because the whip position wasn’t vacant.

A subsequent vote to adjourn was approved by a majority of members, most of them ready to end the meeting without doing further damage to the caucus.

“This has been an embarrassment,” said Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen, as the meeting wrapped up.

Priola left without speaking to reporters but Holbert said a message had been sent.

“It’s good for us to have these discussions and to have them openly,” he said.

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