His foiled campaign to eliminate state funding for abortion made him the leading political target of the Planned Parenthood Advocacy Fund of Massachusetts this election season.
Governor Charlie Baker’s appearance with him at a summer fundraiser attracted a crowd of Democratic candidates and protesters holding signs with messages like “Love Not Hate Makes America Great.”
And transgender activists celebrating a win on Election Night served up one of their loudest cheers for the news presented by cochair Kasey Suffredini: Representative James J. Lyons Jr., one of the people who had spearheaded the effort to repeal transgender rights, had been “taken out.”
The four-term Republican legislator from Andover had become Massachusetts liberals’ favorite villain this election cycle, his reelection hopes dashed by frustrations they couldn’t take out on anyone else.
Lyons was one of just 41 Republicans who make up a little over one-quarter of the state Legislature, and his ultra-conservative bent kept even some fellow Republicans at a distance. But in these highly contentious times, his ouster carried more than its proportionate weight.
His loss to a female candidate who once said he had an “anti-woman agenda” also contributed to the further diminishing of Republican ranks on Beacon Hill. Republicans currently hold 25.6 percent of the Legislature’s 200 positions. That share will drop to 19 percent, after the election — even lower than the proportion of women, which will climb to 28.5 percent (from 24.5 percent.)
Lyons was defeated by Tram Nguyen, a 32-year-old legal services attorney and first-time candidate whose campaign attracted support not only from reproductive rights organizations but also Emily’s List, former president Barack Obama and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton. The newcomer won by 10 points.
But Lyons bristles at the public notion that he was motivated by hate — saying he had always tried to present with civility his legitimate differences of opinion.
“I am very aggressive. I stand for what I believe in,” he said. “But to have them categorize me in that fashion and my family in that fashion is simply wrong.”
To those who would say he spearheaded a discriminatory effort — as one of the initial petitioners who put Question 3 on the ballot to repeal the law protecting transgender people from discrimination in public places — Lyons maintained he was misunderstood. He believed transgender people would continue to be protected under other civil rights laws and that this law merely stretched their access — particularly in bathrooms — beyond a reasonable boundary.
“This is what I believe in,” Lyons said on Thursday. “My position on the pro-life issue is what I believe in. They want to translate all that into ‘hateful old man.’ ”
The 65-year-old, who owns Dandi-Lyons, a family-owned flower and ice cream shop business with several area locations, isn’t going away anytime soon. He said he and his wife will remain active in anti-abortion causes locally.
“We’re going to continue to speak out on it. Maybe someday that will make people realize it doesn’t make us haters,” Lyons said. “Maybe there’s places where we can find common ground where everybody’s going to be better off.”