A House GOP rift has led to the unexpected resignation from a party leadership post on the part of one of its members.
Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, announced his resignation as House minority whip on April 14, four days removed from an unsuccessful Republican caucus vote that sought his ouster.
Priola will remain a state representative.
A senior Republican House member sought to replace Priola in his leadership role, a day removed from his role in a vote on an education bill.
Priola did not side with Republicans on a school district transparency amendment to the bill, which angered many in his own party — including one who hurled an expletive toward Priola on the House floor.
Although he acknowledged that the majority of his party wanted him out as whip, Priola believes he did nothing wrong.
“I didn't want this to be the story of the last month of the session,” Priola said. “We have a lot of bills we're working on. At the end of the day, I believe I made the strong conservative vote for real transparency for tax payers and for parents, down to the local school level.”
Rep. Chris Holbert, R-Parker, called for a vote to replace Priola as party whip — a position that is charged with rounding up votes among party members — during a hastily-called GOP caucus meeting that was announced just before the House adjourned its morning business on April 10.
Holbert sought to replace Priola with Douglas County Rep. Polly Lawrence, who is still considered to be a candidate for the post.
“Rep. Priola either doesn't want to do the job of whip or doesn't know how to do the job of whip,” Holbert said.
Holbert and other Republicans were upset over Priola's handling last week of a whip count involving a GOP amendment to the Student Success Act, a bipartisan education bill.
The failed GOP amendment, which dealt with transparency over school financial operations, competed with a Democratic transparency amendment that ultimately made it on to the bill.
Priola did not support the GOP amendment, nor did he work to whip votes in favor of it. Priola said that the prevailing amendment ensured that school districts would provide the public with greater transparency in a more uniform statistic system.
“I believe I took the conservative vote,” he said. “I firmly believe that what I did was the right thing. It's just that there's a strong faction in our party who want school districts to do whatever they want, no questions asked.”
Holbert said that's not the point.
“Rep. Priola has every right to vote the way he thinks is right or wrong on any bill and that's what he did,” he said. “But the disappointment was that he did not inform the leadership that he was working against the (amendment).”
After the vote on the amendment, Holbert walked up to Priola at his desk and hurled an expletive toward him and walked away.
Holbert said his comments came during a moment of frustration.
“Tensions were probably running a little higher than normal,” he acknowledged.
The initial effort to replace Priola was unsuccessful. There was confusion among the caucus as to whether members could fill a leadership seat without it being vacant, or without someone submitting a resignation.
Holbert felt that it was OK for the caucus to convene to replace leadership posts at any time. That logic wasn't accepted by all party members.
“If your analysis held true, then there would be mass chaos,” Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, told Holbert.
After recessing for a while to confer with party members, Rep. Kathleen Conti of Littleton, the caucus chairwoman, determined that the effort to replace a non-vacant leadership post was improper. That prompted a vote among the majority of party members to adjourn.
But there clearly was sentiment among party members to discuss replacing Priola. Both Priola and Holbert said there would have been enough votes to oust Priola, had a vote gone forward.
Holbert said the move by Priola to resign was for the best.
“I think this was a good decision for him,” Holbert said. “I wish we could have done this last week. But I think a significant majority of his caucus agrees with his decision.”
Priola said he's looking forward to having more free time to spend with his loved ones.
“My colleagues, probably the majority of them, want me to go,” he said. “I don't want to fight and hang on to something when I could spend my time with my family.”