Offering frequent news and analysis from the majestic Evergreen State and beyond, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Kirby Wilbur replaces Luke Esser as chair of the Washington State Republican Party

The Washington State Republican Party has a new leader.

Members of the party's state committee today tapped former talk radio host Kirby Wilbur to take over from ex-state senator Luke Esser, who has served as chair for the last four years. Esser was seeking a third term, and had the strong support of Attorney General Rob McKenna (the presumptive Republican gubernatorial nominee in 2012) but he was defeated on the first ballot, receiving only thirty-six votes to Wilbur's sixty-nine.

Wilbur is well-known and liked by the state's right wing. For many years, he was employed by Fisher Broadcasting. His morning talk show could be heard regularly on 570 AM (KVI) up until his ouster a couple of years ago. (KVI has since ceased to carry any conservative political programming; it now broadcasts oldies music).

Wilbur has been consistently active in the Republican Party (as a convention delegate and a PCO, for instance) making him no stranger to the one hundred-plus men and women who serve as the party's legislative body.

Wilbur was tactful in a news release officially announcing his victory:
I am greatly appreciative of the years of service Luke Esser gave to the Republican Party. This should not be seen as a personal repudiation of Luke, but simply a change of direction to further build on his accomplishments of the past four years. Luke is my friend, has been my friend, and will continue to be my friend.
I've already seen a couple blog posts characterizing Wilbur's victory as a big setback for Rob McKenna. I don't think that's the case. Republicans weren't voting on a campaign manager for Rob McKenna. They were deciding who their party chair was going to be for the next two years. McKenna may have had a favorite, but the state committee was not obligated to honor his wishes.

They opted to make their own choice.

They evidently felt Wilbur made a more compelling sales pitch for the job, because they gave him nearly twice as many votes as Esser in the first round.

I've already been asked if Wilbur's election is a good thing or a bad thing for Democrats. I think that's a nonsensical question. As a Democrat, and as a Democratic party leader, I personally don't think about the decisions that Republicans make in regards to their internal affairs as being good or bad for my party. I believe my party has the ability to shape its own destiny and win regardless of what the other side does or does not do.

One more thing I wanted to mention... Curiously, neither Kirby's personal biography (which can be found on his website) nor the press release announcing his election as state party chair mention his most recent gig — serving as the local operative for "Americans for Prosperity", a corporate front created by the Koch brothers to obstruct Barack Obama's presidency.

As their point person in the Evergreen State during the 2010 midterms, Wilbur was in charge of disbursing Koch money against targeted Democratic incumbents running for state Legislature, Senators Eric Oemig and Randy Gordon.

Wilbur, however, failed to report his expenditures as required by law, and his (likely illegal) electioneering activities are presently being investigated by the Public Disclosure Commission. (The investigation was triggered by a complaint filed in early October by the Sierra Club and the Washington State Democratic Party).

Wilbur's excuse is ignorance; he says he didn't know any better. I find that hard to believe given how long he has been active in state politics. If his knowledge really is that incomplete, he should avail himself of any and all training opportunities the PDC offers, so he understands the rules and complies with them.


Blogger Mike Barer said...

I think that it is a significant step in that the Republicans now have a party chair who is in the forefront rather that behind the scenes. It allows the Republicans to define their idealogy, which fortunately does not reflect the values for the majority of Washingtonians.

January 23, 2011 10:24 PM  

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