After losses, Republicans in California Senate elect leader

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Republicans in the California state Senate replaced their legislative leader on Wednesday, a shakeup to start the session after the party lost two seats in the November election that saw their caucus dwindle to a historically low number.

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Senate Republicans unanimously voted to replace Sen. Shannon Grove of Bakersfield with Sen. Scott Wilk of Santa Clarita, the caucus announced.

Grove, a U.S. Army veteran, was elected Republican leader two years ago. She led a small but vocal Republican caucus in deep-blue California where Republicans in the Legislature don't have enough numbers to block the will of the Democratic majority.

California Republicans had reason to celebrate in some November races, when they outperformed expectations despite having an unpopular incumbent president at the top of the ticket. Republicans picked up three U.S. House seats after having won back the 25th district north of Los Angeles earlier in the year. Republicans in the state Assembly had a net gain of one seat.

But that momentum did not carry over into the state Senate, where two Republican incumbents lost, giving the party just nine of 40 seats. It's the lowest number of Republicans in the chamber since 1883, according to Alex Vassar, an unofficial legislative historian at the California State Library.

“With the start of a new legislative session, I know Senator Wilk will do an outstanding job leading the caucus as we face the many challenges that lie ahead,” Grove said in a news release. “It has been an honor to serve as the Senate Republican Leader and fight for Californians who far too often do not have their voices heard in the Capitol.”

The leadership change came as Republicans are regrouping after former President Donald Trump left office. Grove, a staunch Trump supporter, was criticized earlier this year when she initially blamed the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on “antifa,” short for “anti-fascists," an umbrella term for far-left militant groups.

Grove later deleted the tweet and wrote: “This is not the way to settle differences. Enough.”

Wilk, who is seen as a more moderate member of the caucus, was first elected to the state Assembly in 2012 and the state Senate in 2016. He commended Grove for “her hard work, heart and commitment.”

“California is facing unprecedented challenges and Senate Republicans stand ready with solutions,” Wilk said. “Senate Republicans are committed to putting the middle back in middle class by improving economic opportunities for all Californians, restoring faith in government, and ensuring our children and families receive the support they need to succeed.”