UPDATE (11:30 a.m. PT) — Republicans in the Oregon House of Representatives have ousted their leader as they look to reclaim seats in the 2020 election cycle.
In a vote Monday night, the 22-member caucus chose Rep. Christine Drazan, R-Canby, to serve as House minority leader. She replaces Rep. Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, who said last week he would not give up the spot willingly.
“It is an honor and privilege to be selected by my colleagues to lead our caucus into 2020,” Drazan said in a statement Monday evening. “We appreciate the service of Rep. Wilson as our leader during one of the most challenging periods in Oregon Legislative history. We cannot thank him enough for his dedicated years of service to our Caucus and the residents of Oregon.”
A freshman lawmaker, Drazan has previous experience as a staff member working for House Republican leadership but relatively little experience as a lawmaker. She took office in January.
And Drazan isn’t the only new member now steering House Republicans. Rep. Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles, who was first appointed in 2017, will serve as deputy minority leader. Rep. Lynn Findley, R-Vale, appointed in early 2018, will serve as whip.
The vote immediately triggered an upheaval in the House Republican ranks. Wilson announced shortly afterward that he will not seek a sixth term next year. And on Tuesday morning, nearly every staffer in the House Republican Office tendered their resignations.
“I think that we have an opportunity to continue conversations with some of those staffers and see if they would like to reapply for any of those roles,” Drazan said in an interview with OPB, making clear she had not asked for any resignations. “If they don’t, we’ll thank them for their excellent service…”
Rumored for weeks, the leadership coup comes as House Republicans are still licking their wounds from a bruising 2018 election that saw Democrats win a 38-22 advantage in the House — a supermajority that allows Democrats to pass any piece of legislation without Republican support.
Wilson was not available for comment early Tuesday. He told the Grants Pass Daily Courier on Monday that the challenge to his leadership was a result of different philosophies in how Republicans should try to win back seats, with Drazan’s approach ultimately winning out.
Drazan acknowledged that she and Wilson have “different profiles” and “different things to offer,” but declined to provide details of how her approach differs from the former leader.
“I just don’t want to be in that position where I’m running through any specifics,” she said. Asked what it said about House Republicans that they’ve elected three newcomers to top leadership spots, she replied, “I think that says we have a caucus of 22 members in a superminority and we are open to new ideas and a new approach.”
Wilson, who was elected leader in late 2018, had not overseen an election cycle while atop the House Republican caucus.
In an interview last week, Bonham, the new deputy leader, declined to discuss the push to unseat Wilson but did allude to an urgency for reclaiming seats.
“Being in the superminority sucks, and the big push to try to reintroduce some balance to Oregon is all that our caucus wants,” Bonham said.
The leadership change is also said to have occurred at the urging of Shaun Jillions, a corporate lobbyist who can steer large donations to Republican candidates. According to sources who spoke with OPB, Jillions had been agitating for Wilson’s removal, threatening to pull support for some House Republican efforts if a change wasn’t made.
Jillions sought to downplay those rumors last week, but he did not outright deny them.
“Honestly, I think it’s a distraction that makes it seem that it’s more about a corporate lobbyist making this determination rather than members of the caucus,” he said last week.
On Tuesday, however, Jillions clarified his position on the matter, suggesting he’d been open to Wilson remaining on as leader.
“I wanted significant changes to their campaign infrastructure,” Jillions said. “That didn’t necessarily equate to Carl being out.”