Governor Charlie Baker on Saturday said the leadership of his own state party is out of touch with the “vast majority” of Republicans’ beliefs and ramped up pressure on party chairman Jim Lyons to more forcefully denounce a fellow GOP leader for making anti-gay comments.
“The leadership at the party is not engaged in . . . either points of view or positions that are consistent with what the vast majority of the folks in the party believe in,” said Baker, a moderate, second-term Republican who has clashed with Lyons’s more conservative leadership since his election as chairman in 2019.
The Massachusetts GOP has been roiled for days by remarks from Republican State Committee member Deborah Martell, who told a gay congressional candidate she was “sickened” that he and his husband had adopted children together.
Baker did not directly address questions Saturday about whether he believes Lyons should step down as the party’s chairman, calling it a decision to be made by the state committee. But he said that anyone who is a “serious member of the party organization should be denouncing” Martell’s comments.
“Those were bigoted remarks. There’s simply no way around that,” Baker said at an event in Dorchester. “Jim Lyons needs to come out and say that. They are bigoted remarks, and they don’t speak for the Republican Party.”
Lyons and a party spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment Saturday.
All but one of the 30 Republicans in the Massachusetts House signed a letter Friday demanding that Lyons call for Martell’s resignation from the 80-member party committee or resign his own position. By not doing so, the elected officials said, it “gives the appearance that you, and by extension, the Massachusetts Republican Party, are tolerant of these beliefs and actions.”
But in a statement issued late Friday night, Lyons refused calls to condemn Martell, conceding that her comments were “offensive” but saying that the party must be “unafraid to stand up against censorship and ‘cancel culture.’”
“Members of the Massachusetts House Republican caucus are demanding that I force a woman of deep Catholic faith to resign from the Massachusetts Republican State Committee,” Lyons said. “I acknowledge that she wrote in a manner that was offensive. However, Massachusetts Republican Party bylaws are clear: freedom of speech and religious liberty are values that are unbending and uncompromising.”
Party members “must respect” those he said hold “strong religious convictions,” Lyons said, as well as those “whose real-life experiences happen to contrast.”
“We as Republicans must not act as the far-left wants us to,” he said.
In e-mails obtained by the Globe, Martell denigrated the candidacy and family choices of Jeffrey Sossa-Paquette, who is running for a Second Congressional District seat and along with his husband has two children, 19-year-old Ashley and 10-year-old Rylan.
“I am a Catholic who loves God and His Ten Commandments. I wish the best for every person in the world, including you!” Martell wrote to Sossa-Paquette on May 19. “What sickened me was that you adopted children. . . . Children deserve a mom and a dad. That’s how God designed marriage and the family.”
Baker and other Republicans, including the party’s vice chairman, Tom Mountain, have previously called on Martell to resign for the remarks. Even Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel weighed in Friday, condemning Martell’s comments and saying, “There is no place for discrimination in our party.”
The incident is deepening splits within a party already torn between moderate Republicans aligned with Baker and hard-liners who back Lyons.
Lyons was narrowly reelected to the chairmanship in January, winning with a slim three-vote majority. The chairman has pushed to excise Baker further from the party’s operations, an effort that could come to a head at the party’s next meeting on Wednesday.
Baker also has long been at odds with major planks of the state GOP.
He was the only sitting governor to add his name to an amicus brief filed by Republicans lobbying the United States Supreme Court in favor of gay marriage before its ruling in 2015. Meanwhile, the Massachusetts GOP’s platform, adopted in 2018 when Baker won a second term, praises “traditional marriage,” saying the party believes it “strengthens our society.”
Other Republicans on Saturday also criticized Lyons for his response. State Representative Paul K. Frost of Auburn called the chairman’s statement “unacceptable and cowardly” and accused him of “hiding from your responsibility as a leader of the Party [by] using religion.”
“Her comments were more than expressing her faith as an individual. She was attempting to keep [Sossa-Paquette] from the General Election Ballot based on hate,” Frost wrote to Lyons and state committee members in a Saturday e-mail obtained by the Globe. “Your continued failure to properly address this matter is appalling.”
Divides were quickly apparent.
Steve Aylward, a state committee member, responded to Frost’s e-mail in part by directly addressing Sossa-Paquette, saying he “might” be a good candidate, according to a copy viewed by the Globe.
“I suggest you start trying to prove to us that you have tough skin and can tolerate all views and all ideas,” Aylward wrote.
He then turned to Frost, who has served in the House since 1997 and is part of House Republican leadership, saying it’s “our right” to challenge an incumbent in a primary.
“Let’s start with Frost,” Aylward wrote. “It is my belief that his words and behavior are . . . destructive to our organization, and we should try to get rid of him.”
Emma Platoff of the Globe staff contributed to this report.