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GOP tries to stifle dissent within state committee

WESTBOROUGH — Gathering for the first time since its March political convention devolved into litigation and distrust, the fractured Republican State Committee met Wednesday night and found little to agree upon — except a measure to silence critics within its ranks.

In a closed-door session, the committee approved a resolution saying members of their executive committee should “refrain from public criticism or condemnation of any vote of the state committee.”

The measure grew out of an effort to censure or unseat the chairwoman of the public relations committee, Nancy Luther, for writing a March editorial in the Boston Globe opposing the party’s new official platform regarding abortion.


Ultimately, the resolution that passed — during an executive session with of some 64 members — said that anyone who fails to carry out the party’s policies in the future will be ousted from a leadership position.

“The vast majority of the state committee voted in favor of our platform and it’s the expectation of the body that the chair of the public relations committee would honor that,” said member Lisa Barstow.

The dispute highlighted the fierce battle ongoing within the party between conservatives who want to speak out forcefully on social issues and the moderate establishment that has traditionally shied away from them. The growing base of conservatives on the 80-member state committee passed a new platform in February that frowns upon abortion rights and gay marriage.

Also Wednesday night, the State Committee unanimously denounced a gun control bill proposed by House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, a Democrat, last month. Their resolution asked every Republican candidate — “from the top of the ticket to the legislative candidates at the bottom to stand united in opposition to this unconstitutional bill in its entirety and without compromise of our most basic rights to self-defense.”


That measure move could expose yet another rift between the party and its endorsed candidate for governor, Charlie Baker, who has spoken generally in favor of the gun bill.

“Charlie’s position remains the same,” spokesman Tim Buckley said after the vote.

Baker, a moderate who also supports abortion rights and gay marriage, faces Tea Party conservative Mark Fisher in the Sept. 9 primary. Fisher sued the party to get his name on the ballot after the convention, where he contended he was unfairly blocked from challenging Baker. Some state committee members had wanted to compel the party to release the convention tally sheets to substantiate the official vote, but that vote did not pass in executive session Wednesday night.

Some of those in attendance would not discuss the inner workings of the executive session. But several members criticized their leaders for the resolution aimed at squelching criticism.

“This is something that was very popular in Stalin’s Russia and Hitler’s Germany,” said one member who opposed the measure but did not want to be identified.

“I did not agree with one word in Nancy’s piece,” the member said. “But she had a right to say what she wanted to say.”

In an interview before the meeting, Luther called herself a libertarian.

“They’re welcome to have their thoughts and opinions,” she said of her critics, “and I think I should be allowed to have mine.”

Stephanie Ebbert can be reached at Stephanie.Ebbert@ globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @StephanieEbbert