Afternoon Jolt

Monday Jolt: Wilbur Out as State GOP Chair

The day's winners and losers.

By Josh Feit July 29, 2013

Washington State Republican Party Chair Kirby Wilbur, the former conservative talk radio host who ousted previous Republican chair Luke Esser just two years ago (after Esser ousted Diane Tebelius in 2007), resigned today to take a job in D.C. as head of Young America's Foundation, a group that supports college Republicans.

In his statement, Wilbur said:

“I am resigning as the chairman of the Washington State Republican Party, effective today at 5:00 PM. I have been offered a five-year contract with the Young America’s Foundation that I would be foolish not to accept. I will be moving to the 'other' Washington within the next couple of months to write this next chapter of my life.”

“It has been an honor to serve as chairman of the WSRP since January 2011. We have had many successes and I have had some failures. The Party has a good crop of up-and-coming leaders, and a strong staff, and it will continue to move forward no matter whose hand is on the helm,” he added.

The WSRP press release added:

Chairman Wilbur was elected to his first term in January 2011. Under his leadership, Washington elected the only statewide Republican official on the west coast in Secretary of State Kim Wyman, and picked up 1 seat in both the State Senate and the State House in 2012.

In late 2012, early 2013, two Democrats joined with our Republican Senators to create the Majority Coalition Caucus, thus giving Republicans a majority in at least one chamber of the Legislature for the first time since 2004. Chairman Wilbur was reelected to a second term in January 2013.

Despite the Wyman win (one out of nine state offices), the 2012 election were sorely disappointing to the GOP.

Moderate supposed Republican savior, former attorney general Rob McKenna, lost the same-old/same-old governor's race to liberal Democrat Jay Inslee. And conservative Snohomish County Council member John Koster lost to now-U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA, 1) in a newly drawn federal district that was considered defining swing turf. The GOP also went down in flames (again) in the U.S. senate race where incumbent U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell won 60.45 to 39.55.

As Wilbur's statement noted, the Republicans did control the state senate this year. Wilbur can't take credit for that, though: The Democrats actually had greater numbers—25-23—but two conservative Democrats, Sens. Tim Sheldon (D-35, Potlatch) and Rodney Tom (R-48, Medina), teamed up with the Republicans in December making Tom the majority leader. In fact, the Majority Coalition Caucus, as they called themselves, recoiled at being called Republicans, in a PR effort to rid themselves of partisan trappings. 

Wilbur deserves some credit for the MCC coup, though: It was also made possible by a close Republican victory in Vancouver where Sen. Don Benton (R-17, Vancouver) held of Democratic challenger then-Rep. Tim Probst (D-17, Vancouver) by 78 votes, 50.07 percent to 49.93 percent. 

However, Republicans definitely have it hard in Washington state. Funny, we called over to his office earlier today (unrelated and oblivious) to ask if they supported any of the candidates running against liberal King County Executive Dow Constantine, an open seat they aggressively went after in 2009. They hadn't picked anyone yet.

Vice Chair Luanne Van Werven will serve as acting chair until a successor is chosen by the state party’s central committee. They have three months to pick a new chair.

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