A Republican moderate is taking over as the state Senate’s minority leader this week – a small step after Trump who could help rejuvenate California’s GOP.
Most recently, Scott Wilk, 61, of Santa Clarita, is a recurring Republican lawmaker, the type the GOP needs if it is ever to move forward and regain legislative relevance.
He is a self-described “practical conservative” who strives for bipartisanship and often co-authored bills with Democrats.
“I do not sting them in the eye,” he said. “I try to be very civil. It is much lacking in today’s world. ”
Wilk’s brand of conservatism makes him moderate by contemporary standards where politics is polarized in gridlock. What keeps Sacramento churning is one-party rule. Democrats are so dominant that they can adopt everything they unite behind. Without ballast to the right, unfortunately, the majority party often swings too far to the left.
What is left of the weakened Republican House of Representatives in the Senate realized the need for change. And that’s a good sign for the GOP and for bipartisan democracy.
But there is a sad story for moderate Republican leaders in the state Capitol. Here’s the pattern: When they’ve moved too far to the center – voted for tax increases, fought for climate change or not shown enough bias – they’ve been dumped.
In contrast, Wilk’s predecessor was dumped in part because she’s too far to the right.
Senator Shannon Grove, 55, from Bakersfield probably would have been pulled anyway because she committed an unforgivable sin: Two Republican seats were lost in the November election on her watch. When this happens, the leader is usually dismissed.
Meanwhile, Republicans scored elsewhere in California. They took one assembly seat and four in the US House.
Republicans are down to nine state Senate seats. Democrats have a super-majority of 30. In addition, there is a vacancy that will definitely be filled by a Democrat – the seat Holly Mitchell holds before she was elected to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
The last Republicans in the Senate to be close to this weak were in 1961, when there were only 10 of them. Long before, in 1883, there were eight.
Assembly Republicans are not much better off. There are only 19 of them against 59 Democrats. There is a vacancy and an independent – former GOP leader Chad Mayes from the Yucca Valley who was considered too moderate and dumped. Then he dumped the party.
The current Assembly GOP leader is Marie Waldron of Escondido, who maintains a low profile.
In contrast, Grove’s profile was too high and too picky for most Senate Republicans. She once described herself as a “weapon-bearing, tongue-speaking, spirit-filled believer.”
She was an energetic supporter of former President Trump, calls him “the greatest of all time.” Grove bought Trump’s lie that Democrats stole the election with voter fraud.
After being proclaimed the winner of all but the incumbent president and his faithful, Joe Biden tweeted that Americans should “remove the harsh rhetoric.” Grove retweeted with a retort: ”Oh, I do not think so.”
The Senate Republican clinic came on Jan. 6 when a deadly, Trump-mad mob stormed the U.S. Capitol. Grove wrote a tweet erroneously claiming that the rebels were led by the left-wing movement known as the antifa, not by Trump supporters. She deleted it quickly, but not before it popped eyes all over the political world in California.
“This is an example of a Trumpian lawmaker negotiating conspiracy theories about the election that paid the price and lost a leadership position,” said Republican veteran consultant Rob Stutzman. “Members of the conference heard from the business community that if they expected companies to fund Republican election efforts, they had to make a change.”
In fact, large business donors have virtually given up on the GOP in California and have focused on electing moderate Democrats to the legislature.
“Wilk is a great example of the type of big-tent Republican that the GOP in California needs to win,” said Marty Wilson, executive vice president of the State Chamber of Commerce and a longtime political player. “He’s a guy who knows how to win by talking about something other than Donald Trump.”
Wilk, the former owner of a public affairs firm that started his career as a legislator, represents a purple district covering the Santa Clarita, Antelope and Victor valleys. It is a competitive district that favors Democrats in voter registration by about eight percentage points. Across the country, Democrats have a huge advantage over Republicans of nearly 22 points.
Biden beat Trump in the district by six percentage points, making it hard for Republicans with reduced tickets. Wilk won re-election with just 1.6 points. He will be fired in 2024.
If you are asked, Wilk will tell you that he voted for Trump because the alternative was Biden. What more can a Republican leader say? Six million Californians voted for Trump, even though 11.1 million supported Biden.
Wilk does not believe the election was stolen. He sounds like he wishes toxic Trump would be lost and leave the party alone.
Trump was “too much,” Wilk said. “He sucked all the oxygen out of the room.
“With Trump no longer there, hopefully people will start turning their attention to what is happening in Sacramento,” he added. “Education, roads, water – everything in Sacramento.”
Wilk turned down a request to chair the recall campaign against Gavin Newsom. If it qualifies for the vote, “I will be supportive,” he said. But because the Democrat is still facing re-election next year, it is the right time to oust him, the GOP leader claims.
Wilk is a turn in the right direction for GOP management, redirecting towards the center.
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