Republicans in the Oregon House have selected Rep. Jeff Helfrich to be their new leader, handing the Hood River lawmaker the reins before he completes his first full legislative term.
In a closed caucus vote Tuesday evening, Helfrich narrowly beat out state Rep. Shelly Boshart Davis, R-Albany. An Air Force veteran and former Portland police sergeant, Helfrich will now direct House Republicans’ strategy in next year’s legislative session and help steer races in the 2024 election.
Helfrich did not respond to a request to discuss his new role but did issue a statement Tuesday night.
“Oregon is in crisis,” it said. “Residents are leaving because they can’t afford housing, they feel unsafe on our city streets and their taxes keep increasing. Inaction or failed action only makes the situation worse. The status quo must change.”
With the vote, observers say the 25-member Republican caucus decided to stay the course. Helfrich was considered the candidate most likely to seamlessly replace former Minority Leader Vikki Breese-Iverson, R-Prineville, who announced last week she was stepping down amid rumors she could be unseated. Breese-Iverson’s tenure was marked in part by her productive and friendly relationship with Democratic House Speaker Dan Rayfield.
That wasn’t popular with all House Republicans, who looked on as GOP senators walked out to protest Democratic proposals on guns and abortion in this year’s legislative session. Boshart Davis was viewed as a candidate likely to more aggressively oppose the chamber’s Democratic majority.
Helfrich brings some risk to his new role. The lawmaker’s sprawling House District 52 – which stretches from Gresham to Hood River and south over Mount Hood – is one of the most evenly divided in the House, and routinely a major battleground as both parties seek to expand their numbers.
Helfrich was first appointed to represent the district in late 2017, filling out the term of Republican Rep. Mark Johnson, who’d stepped down. But Helfrich was defeated in his bid for election the following year by Democrat Anna Williams. And his 2020 campaign to unseat Williams failed by fewer than 100 votes.
Williams left the Legislature, and Helfrich won the seat by a comfortable margin last year. But his emergence as minority leader is likely to make Democrats even more eager to retake the seat. The party has a registration advantage over Republicans of more than 3,000 voters.
As leader, Helfrich will have a big say in his own fate, with authority to steer cash from the House Republican’s political action committee to his own reelection race next year.
Besides electing a new caucus leader, House Republicans also tapped Rep. Mark Owens, R-Crane, as deputy minority leader and Rep. Kim Wallan, R-Medford as minority whip.
“Each of these representatives hail from different regions of the state and will represent us well in leadership,” Breese-Iverson, the outgoing leader, said in a statement. “I am confident in Leader Helfrich’s ability to continue advocating for the interests of all Oregonians and look forward to his thoughtful leadership of our caucus moving forward.”