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January 22, 2011 at 2:56 PM

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Wilbur unseats Esser as state GOP chairman

Posted by Jim Brunner

Post updated at 4:10 p.m. with comments from Esser and Wilbur

State GOP chairman Luke Esser was unseated this afternoon by longtime radio host Kirby Wilbur.

Delegates at a Republican Party meeting in Tukwila gave 69 votes to Wilbur, 36 to Esser and 7 to Bill Rennie, a lesser-known candidate from Puyallup.

The change in GOP leadership came despite the pleas of Washington State Attorney General Rob McKenna, who had personally campaigned on Esser's behalf. McKenna is widely regarded as a leading GOP candidate for governor in 2012.

Addressing the couple hundred activists in a hotel ballroom, Esser argued the state GOP was in much better shape than it was four years ago when he took the reins.

In November, Republicans picked up several legislative seats and got Jaime Herrera Beutler elected to the U.S. House in southwest Washington's 3rd Congressional District.

"It wasn't an accident, it wasn't luck," said Esser, a former state legislator elected chairman in 2007.

But Wilbur countered that Republicans should have fared better given the national GOP tide that changed control of the U.S. House.

"The question is not are we better off. The question is are we as good as we could be?" Wilbur said.

After all, Wilbur said, voters agreed with Republicans positions in soundly rejecting an income tax on the wealthy and repealing taxes on candy and soda. Yet some of those same voters sent Democrats back to the legislature and congress.

The trick is for the state GOP to link itself better with those pocketbook issues, Wilbur said.

If Republicans do that, and welcome "new ideas" and people into the party, there is no reason they can't become the majority party in Washington State, he said.

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