State Republican Party Chairman Kirby Wilbur resigned Monday to take a job with a conservative foundation in Washington, D.C., raising leadership questions for a GOP still recovering from a dismal 2012 election.
A former talk-radio host, Wilbur was elected to head the state GOP in 2011 and had been re-elected earlier this year.
In a news release announcing his departure, Wilbur said he had been offered a five-year contract with the Young America’s Foundation (YAF), a group that works to train the next generation of conservative leaders.
Wilbur did not respond to interview requests, but said in a statement he’d been honored to serve as GOP chairman.
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“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 said in the statement.
In an email to state GOP leaders, Wilbur said the new job would pay more than twice his current salary.
Wilbur’s departure raises another potential challenge for the state Republican Party, which has amassed a losing record lately in high-profile races.
In 2012, the GOP lost all three contests for open congressional seats and managed only one victory in statewide contests, electing Kim Wyman as secretary of state.
Former state GOP Chairman Chris Vance said most of those losses were the result of national trends and can’t be blamed on Wilbur.
“Republicans have a huge political problem on the West Coast that the state party itself can do very little to fix — as I know all too well,” he said.
Vance rated Wilbur’s performance as “OK” but faulted the state party for failing to match Democratic voter-turnout efforts last year.
In his statement, Wilbur touted some wins, noting Republicans had picked up one seat in the state House and state Senate last year. The state Senate victory set the stage for this year’s political coup in which two Democrats joined Republicans to create a ruling Senate Majority Coalition Caucus.
Although he’d been re-elected to his post in January, Wilbur had shown signs of restlessness, filling in on local talk radio and acknowledging he’d accept a job in radio or elsewhere if the right opportunity came along.
Wilbur has served on the YAF board for years and has been a periodic guest at the Reagan Ranch, the California vacation home of the late president, which YAF has preserved for conservative training sessions and retreats.
State GOP Vice Chair Luanne Van Werven, a state committeewoman from Whatcom County, will be interim chair until a replacement can be elected.
Party spokesman Keith Schipper said that may happen at the next GOP state committee meeting, in Spokane in late August.
Jim Brunner: 206-515-5628 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @Jim_Brunner