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OPINION

MassGOP’s Jim Lyons leads the party into oblivion

With Republican voter registration headed for single digits, finding candidates is like a unicorn hunt.

Jim Lyons, chair of MassGOP, speaks from the back of a truck at an Aug. 2020 Republican rally on the Wilmington Town Common during the coronavirus pandemic.
Jim Lyons, chair of MassGOP, speaks from the back of a truck at an Aug. 2020 Republican rally on the Wilmington Town Common during the coronavirus pandemic.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

This isn’t about the rantings of one crotchety old guy; this is about the future of what little remains of the Republican Party in Massachusetts.

No wonder a group of high-powered party donors has decided to exercise a little financial muscle in an attempt to rid the party of its perpetually off-the-rails chair. More than making a laughingstock of himself, Jim Lyons now presides over a party that this year officially dipped below 10 percent of registered voters (9.7 percent, according to the secretary of state’s office).

That appalling number has consequences. It makes finding Republican candidates to run in Massachusetts House and Senate races rather like looking for a needle in the proverbial haystack. In some spots — like Suffolk County, where GOP registration is 5.37 percent — it would make finding a credible candidate for, say, district attorney as likely as a unicorn roundup. And if DA Rachael Rollins gets the nod for US attorney for Massachusetts and Governor Charlie Baker wanted to find such a mythical beast to be appointed to the job — who actually stood a chance of winning election to it — well, good luck with that.

Yes, Lyons’s brand of policy nuttiness — not to be confused with the kind of responsible fiscal conservatism the party used to stand for — has its consequences.

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In the last month alone, Lyons refused to condemn the homophobic slurs of Republican State Committee member Deborah Martell, insisting calls for her resignation (by every GOP member of the Massachusetts House) would be giving in to “cancel culture.”

Lyons followed that with a fund-raising letter earlier this week in which he described critical race theory as “blatant racism,” adding that “for far too long, Massachusetts Republicans have been afraid to wade into so-called ‘cultural issues.’ ”

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And not to be outdone by Republican-sponsored voter suppression efforts in Texas and Georgia, Lyons is using the state party website to solicit support to put a voter ID law on the 2022 ballot.

It is any wonder that 16 former Republican Party donors, who collectively have already given more than $900,000 “to support the party’s mission,” have said, in a letter to the 80-member Republican State Committee recounting some of the most recent efforts by Lyons to alienate as many voters as possible, “we have lost our remaining confidence in current party leadership.”

The signers, including such party stalwarts as Chris Egan and Ray Stata, added, “Due to these events, we are no longer comfortable providing financial support to the MassGOP.”

On the positive side, they are offering to ransom the party from the dark hole to which Lyons has consigned it and raise $1 million — that is, should the state committee come to its senses and take “appropriate action to restore the Massachusetts Republican Party’s reputation.”

And reputation is what it’s all about. The party of Ed Brooke and Margaret Heckler, of Bill Weld, Frank Sargent, Scott Brown, and Richard Tisei, is a distant memory. When Weld took office as governor, in 1991, there were 16 Republican members of the state Senate — enough to sustain a gubernatorial veto. Today there are three.

Imagine for a moment some newly minted grad with a job in Boston or Kendall Square or the Cape registering to vote right now and signing up as a Republican. Seriously!

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Sure, there are any number of “crypto-Republicans” registering as independents — a segment that constitutes a majority (now 57.4 percent) of the state’s registered voters. (Where do you think Charlie Baker voters come from?) But they aren’t eligible to run for office as Republicans — thus depriving the party of badly needed new blood. And voters can rant and rave about the power of the House speaker or Senate president and the sheep-like behavior of the overwhelmingly Democratic membership of both branches — but that’s what happens with one-party rule.

Jim Lyons didn’t single-handedly create that problem, and it won’t disappear on that blessed day when he’s finally ousted. But until that day comes, the Republican Party will continue its long march to oblivion.


Rachelle G. Cohen is a Globe opinion writer. She can be reached at rachelle.cohen@globe.com.