An unusual shakeup in Republican Party leadership could signal a more assertive approach ahead of the 2020 elections, and education is a perennial high-profile campaign issue.
The House Republican caucus elected Rep. Christine Drazan as their leader. The Canby representative replaced Rep. Carl Wilson of Grants Pass after a contentious vote.
A genuine contested caucus election vote is rare. When legislators elect caucus leadership, usually there is consensus about who should lead, and often a leader chooses to step down rather than have a tough vote among caucus members. Caucus elections are private and vote counts weren’t released, but news accounts indicate there was no consensus this time.
The split seems to be based on a difference in philosophy on how to approach the 2020 election cycle. Republicans have been losing ground in the Legislature every cycle since 2012. Republican legislators and some business advocates want to reverse that trend — a difficult proposition, given the Democrats’ advantage in registered voters. Republicans have not divulged the specifics of the new approach.
In an unusual development, nearly all the House Republican office staff resigned after the vote. Wilson, whose legislative career spans six terms over three decades, told the Grants Pass Daily Courier that he will not seek reelection.
Oregon Public Broadcasting reported that the leadership change was influenced by Shaun Jillions, a corporate lobbyist who said he would like to see “significant changes” in the Republican caucus.
For school board members, the change will be significant if the new leadership prioritizes education policy in Salem. Most school board members live in school districts represented by Republican legislators.
Drazan was a strong proponent for local control and accountability during the 2019 Student Success Act debate. Rep. Daniel Bonham of The Dalles, who was elevated to deputy leader, has been an advocate for students and education. He drafted one of the predecessor bills for the policy that became Senate Bill 155, Oregon’s sweeping reforms to how schools treat sexual conduct by employees.