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Oregon House Republicans' New Leader Looking Beyond The 2019 Session

<p>File photo of state Rep. Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, on the Oregon House floor.</p>

Casey Minter

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File photo of state Rep. Carl Wilson, R-Grants Pass, on the Oregon House floor.

The new Republican leader in the Oregon House has no illusions about what the next two years hold for his caucus.

“We’ll probably have little opportunity to have major impact other than telling our story on bills we don’t like,” state Rep. Carl Wilson said Tuesday, a day after being elected House minority leader by his fellow Republicans. “At the end of the day, how much impact will that have on the Democrats? Probably none, because in a superminority status we’re essentially not even legislative speed bumps.”

It’s true Wilson has chosen a challenging time to be leader. In the Nov. 6 election, Democrats picked up three seats in the House, giving them 38 seats, more than the three-fifths supermajority needed to pass any bill. Republicans have just 22 seats in the chamber.

Wilson says his background as a business owner — he runs a Josephine County radio station — will serve him well in dealing with that landscape.

“We’ve learned to live with really tough times,” he said. “And I think I’ve learned to develop a response to tough times where I tend not to get excited about the most bleak of circumstances.”

Wilson’s taking the leadership role from Rep. Mike McLane, R-Powell Butte, who had served as minority leader since 2012. McLane announced he wouldn’t seek re-appointment to the seat — and its cushy corner office in the Capitol — following the election, though a spokesman said he’d been thinking about stepping down before the results rolled in.

“Mike was tired and he thought the caucus needed another look and so I was more than happy to step in,” Wilson said.

Wilson, a U.S. Navy veteran, is on his second stint in the Oregon House. He previously served from 1999 to 2003, when Republicans controlled the chamber. He won election to the House again in 2014.

Given the difficulty Republicans will face in pushing their policy objectives in a year when Democrats plan to take on education funding, carbon pricing, gun control and more, Wilson says his caucus will work toward another end: regaining seats in the next election.

“We’ll be spending a lot of time talking about our campaigns,” Wilson said. “We’ll talk about recruiting. And during our long session in Salem we will spend plenty of time talking about how we meet the elective challenges of 2020, 2022 and beyond.”

The talk of Republicans not being "speed bumps" for Democrats next year masks a key point: House conservatives still have available tactics for slowing progress of bills they don't like.

In years past, Republican lawmakers have insisted Democrats read bills in their entirety before they can come up for a vote, rather than waiving a rule requiring such a reading. Republicans can also refuse to show up to House floor sessions, denying Democrats the 40-member quorum they need to conduct business.

Those rules were created "in order to protect the minority from the majority," Wilson said. "Let’s check the waters and see how things are looking in our relationship with the Democrats. But thank god we do have those things at our disposal and if things become too difficult we certainly can use them."

Wilson was one of two lawmakers to seek the leader position when House Republicans met to vote on Monday. The other, Roseburg Rep. Cedric Hayden, was out of the country at the time of the vote. Hayden had previously said on Twitter he supported Wilson as leader.

Rounding out Republican House leadership, Rep. Greg Barreto, R-Cove, was re-selected as deputy leader, and Rep. Sherrie Springer was named House Republican whip.

Copyright 2018 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Dirk VanderHart covers Oregon politics and government for OPB. Before barging onto the radio in 2018, he spent more than a decade as a newspaper reporter—much of that time reporting on city government for the Portland Mercury. He’s also had stints covering chicanery in Southwest Missouri, the wilds of Ohio in Ohio, and all things Texas on Capitol Hill.