The Massachusetts Republican Party has a long and storied history, one that in the modern era includes such historically important figures as former president Calvin Coolidge; Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., a US senator and later a Republican vice presidential nominee; Edward Brooke, the country’s first popularly elected Black senator; governor and then US secretary of transportation and ambassador John Volpe; and other notables such as Bill Weld, governor and Libertarian Party vice presidential nominee; Paul Cellucci, governor and then a US ambassador; and Mitt Romney, later a GOP presidential nominee and US senator from Utah; as well as the first and only woman yet to occupy the Corner Office, Jane Swift.
That tradition shows the value of an even-keeled, big-tent state Republican Party. But today, under the fractious, evasive, and high-handed control of hard-right chairman Jim Lyons, the state GOP is barely limping along, a shell of its former self. It’s in the interests of the whole state for the GOP to right its ship and resume its role as a serious political party, one that can provide a counterbalance to dominant Democrats and nominate credible alternatives for office.
Lyons is under investigation by Attorney General Maura Healey for possible violations of state campaign-finance law — but has refused to give state committee members even the most basic information about the probe. Party fund-raising is so anemic that the committee has, at the most, only three staffers, as opposed to the eight to 10 it counted in the pre-Lyons years. A staff that small obviously can’t do much to help the party’s various candidates next year.
Meanwhile, the party chairman is at war with the GOP’s only statewide officeholder, popular Republican governor Charlie Baker, whom the ultraconservative Lyons considers a RINO, or Republican in name only. With Baker still mulling whether to seek a third term, Lyons, a devoted Donald Trump supporter, is actively maneuvering to help Geoff Diehl, a fellow Trump admirer who has announced his own candidacy for governor. By Trump’s own telling, Lyons brought Diehl to his attention and helped persuade Trump to endorse him for governor. Kimberly Duffy of Quincy is also running for governor as a Republican, and frequent candidate Darius Mitchell, a self-styled “Hip-Hop Republican,” has also said he is running.
As former party chair Jennifer Nassour notes, party rules stipulate the party chair has to be neutral in contested primaries. That holds unless authorized to help a specific candidate by a two-thirds vote of the party’s executive committee. Those same rules state that if a party chair assists or aids one candidate over another in a contested primary without authorization of the executive committee, it ”shall constitute grounds for removal.”
In reaction to Lyons’s controversial reign, an array of GOP fund-raisers have quit raising money for the state party. Funds are so meager that state committee members worry the GOP won’t be able to stage a convention next year. Delegates at those conventions decide which candidates will appear on the GOP’s primary ballot and which will receive the convention’s endorsement as its favored candidate. It’s not clear how that process would move forward without such a convention.
The most recent convention required about $400,000 in upfront money. As of its last filing, the state GOP has less than half that — about $160,000 — on hand.
According to cost estimates he distributed recently to state committee members, Lyons hopes to run a cut-rate convention for just $79,000. Doable? “No,” says a highly skeptical Nassour. “You cannot run even a small convention for that.”
But the party’s biggest potential problem is the apparent criminal investigation underway at the attorney general’s office. That probe commenced after the State Office of Campaign and Political Finance referred a set of dubious-looking transactions to Healey. Those transactions saw Senator Ryan Fattman contribute a total of $137,000 to the state party, which then spent $136,405 to help his wife, Stephanie Fattman, in her reelection bid as Worcester County register of probate. State campaign-finance law prohibits arrangements that disguise the true source of a donation to a campaign and limits what one candidate can contribute to another to $100.
Many state committee members were caught off-guard in mid-October when the Globe reported that prosecutors were calling witnesses before a grand jury in that affair. Investigators wouldn’t do so unless they saw the very real possibility of criminal indictments resulting.
Enough state committee members want a briefing thereon that it has been on the agenda at the last two state committee meetings. Lyons, however, has ended those meetings before that order of business came up. Forty state committee members have written party legal counsel David Carr, a Lyons loyalist, asking for basic information on the matter. Carr has not responded.
In reaction to the high-handed way Lyons runs the monthly meetings, committee members have, with Lyons’s apparent acquiescence, asked the party’s national committeeman and woman to find a professional parliamentarian to help guide those meetings.
The committee next meets on Nov. 30. At that meeting, state committee members should:
▪ Authorize the hiring of one of the recommended parliamentarians — and require that Lyons conduct the meetings according to his or her rulings.
▪ Insist on an update on the attorney general’s investigation, including what criminal or civil penalties could loom. Although prosecutors aren’t supposed to discuss such matters, nothing prevents a potential subject from doing so.
▪ Remind Lyons of the party rules and demand that he end his pro-Diehl maneuvering and stay on the sidelines of any primary challenges unless and until he is authorized to do otherwise.
▪ Instruct the chairman to move “expeditiously,” as the party bylaws stipulate, to schedule district caucuses to fill two state committee seats he has left open for almost a year, for fear, it seems, that Baker supporters will prevail there, as well as a newly vacant seat.
▪ Determine how they will respond if the AG’s investigation results in any indictments.
Lyons has put the party he purports to lead in a sorry situation. If that situation is to be remedied, state committee members need to step up. Doing so wouldn’t just be good for the GOP but for the state as well.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us on Twitter at @GlobeOpinion.