The state GOP chairman’s plan to oust Governor Charlie Baker from the political party’s operation is all but dead, according to several members of the Republican State Committee.
Chairman Jim Lyons, a former Baker ally who heads a more socially conservative faction of the party, had been lobbying to minimize the influence of Baker and other elected officials. The move could have cleared the way for the party to endorse — and fund — a primary challenger to Baker should he face one in next year’s gubernatorial race.
But Lyons could not secure enough votes for a party bylaws change to strip voting power from Baker and the other elected officials who serve on the party’s executive committee, according to multiple Republicans whom he told directly. Instead, Lyons will pursue a watered down version, the Republicans said.
“They’re not giving up because they’ve suddenly seen the light that it’s a bad idea to ostracize the Republican governor of the Commonwealth. They changed their minds because they can’t succeed,” GOP Vice Chairman Tom Mountain said. Mountain, who called the original idea “ludicrous,” said Lyons has not returned his calls but he knows that most of the committee opposes the proposal.
The loss comes at a particularly vulnerable time for Lyons, whose party split is between those who share his ideological bent and more moderate establishment Republicans. He was reelected to his position in January by a narrow, three-vote margin. And he faces fresh criticism this month for staying silent for days about a fellow Republican’s anti-gay comments.
Lyons, who has feuded with Baker since he became party chairman in 2019, claimed the change was simply a structural one. Proponents argued that the party should be independent from elected leaders since officials in liberal Massachusetts are forced to compromise, while party leaders should not have to do so. But critics said it was counterproductive to exclude the party’s most popular elected officials from its political arm.
The measure would have revoked the voting power of Baker, Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, and Republican legislative leaders.
Asked about the proposal, Baker said on Friday “kicking us off doesn’t make any sense.”
In May, the state party’s bylaws committee had voted in favor of Lyons’ pitch, setting it up for a vote of the full body on June 9. Lyons, who attended the meeting to agitate for that outcome, told the dozen Republicans on the Zoom call that his proposal was “nothing negative about Charlie, nothing negative about Karyn.”
But he also said Baker and Polito had done “zero… to help the party” in recent years, according to several people on the call.
Lyons did not return requests for comment. Baker has not said whether he plans to run again in 2022.
Several members of the Republican State Committee said the measure could still come up at the body’s next meeting on Wednesday evening, but predicted that if it does, it will fail. Some Republicans have been circulating a watered down version of the proposal, which would allow the full state committee, rather than the smaller executive committee, to endorse candidates before the primary has taken place, sending them crucial party resources.
Lyons told POLITICO he would support that narrower measure.
“We’ve listened to some of the concerns of our members and a couple of members have come forward with an amendment, and I totally support it,” Lyons told the outlet.
The expected failure of Lyons’ original pitch comes at a low moment for the chairman, who has faced criticism from Baker, along with nearly every Republican member of the Massachusetts House, for his handling of a growing scandal within the party.
Lyons stayed silent for days about revelations that Deborah Martell, a fellow Republican, told a gay GOP congressional candidate she was “sickened” that he and his husband had adopted children together. The House Republicans told Lyons in a letter on Friday that he must condemn Martell’s comments or resign.
But Lyons was defiant, conceding that her remarks were “offensive” but insisting the party must be “unafraid to stand up against censorship and ‘cancel culture.’”
Meanwhile, top Republicans including Baker and Mountain have called on Martell to resign. Her ongoing role in the party is set to come up at the Republican State Committee meeting this week, when a resolution by state Representative Shawn Dooley condemning bigotry will be discussed.