Mass. GOP shootout in a lifeboat continues

With barely a toehold in state politics, party infighting rages 

LOU MURRAY, the chairman of the Ward 20 Republican Committee in Boston’s West Roxbury neighborhood, gets it at least partially right in an op-ed in today’s Boston Herald when he says Massachusetts Republican Party chairman Jim Lyons has become a “pariah.”  

Murray, who is billed as having served as a “national Catholic adviser to Donald Trump,” is a huge Lyons fan, framing the party chairman’s reputation as “the pariah of progressives” as a badge of honor. The problem is that Lyons is now also a pariah among Republicans, an outcast within the party he leads. 

In an already awkward and tense situation that seems like it’s reaching a breaking point, seven former state party chairs released a letter yesterday calling on Lyons to step down or for the state committee to remove him if he won’t. The move came after Lyons issued a statement ripping 29 of the 30 Republicans who hold seats in the Massachusetts House for submitting to “poisonous woke cancel culture groupthink.” 

Ostensibly, the war of words has to do with a Ludlow representative on the Republican state committee, Deborah Martell, who recently told a gay Republican candidate for Congress that she was “sickened” by the fact that he and his husband have adopted two children. 

For days, Republican elected officials called on Lyons, as the party chairman, to call for Martell to resign over the comments. All but one House Republican signed a letter saying Lyons must decry Martell’s comments or resign if the party is to grow and be a more inclusive force in state politics. Lyons refused, defending Martell’s free speech rights and decrying the “cancel culture” he says is trying to silence her.

But the flap over Martell’s comments is only a proxy for the much larger division over the direction of the party, a battle pitting Gov. Charlie Baker and more moderate Republicans against Lyons and the party’s hard-right wing that was loyal to Donald Trump and continues to embrace his brand of combative social-issue-driven politics. 

The problem for Republicans, of course, is that this is a shootout in a lifeboat. 

The party claims less than 10 percent of the state’s 4.7 million registered voters. It has seen its  already anemic standing in the Legislature shrink even further under the leadership of Lyons, with only three of 40 Senate seats now held by Republicans to go with the 30 seats they hold in the 160-member House. 

The party holds no congressional seats and no statewide office — other than the governor and lieutenant governor.

Meanwhile, some think the party would somehow do better by casting off that one toehold on electoral relevance. 

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

“Maybe we’re better off without the governorship and we’re able to grow the party from the ground up,” state committee member Steve Aylward told NBC10’s Alison King earlier this week at the site of a fractious state committee meeting. 

That less-is-more strategy may appeal to the hard-right purists who regard Baker as little more than a “RINO,” or Republican in name only. Weeding out the Baker types among the 9.7 percent of registered Republicans in the state could make for more unified state committee meetings. But it’s not clear how it puts the party on a path to winning more seats for elected office.