What’s behind the split within the Mass. GOP

There is a struggle going on for the soul of the Massachusetts Republican Party between Trump loyalists who control the party apparatus and a more moderate brand of Republicanism espoused by Gov. Charlie Baker.

The state party is headed by Jim Lyons, a social and economic conservative who said in a recent email to state Republicans that President Trump’s economy is working for Massachusetts residents. “We learned on Election Day that even here in ‘blue’ Massachusetts, voters in our targeted areas are picking common sense over creeping socialism,” he said.

But the party is also headed by its top office-holder, Baker, who is no fan of Trump and practices a brand of politics that blends social liberalism, fiscal restraint, and a willingness to work cooperatively with the Democrats who dominate Beacon Hill. A relatively new super PAC affiliated with Baker spent money on behalf of Republicans and Democrats in the November municipal elections.

While Lyons and Baker refrain from attacking each other publicly, it’s clear they represent competing factions within the party. On the CommonWealth Codcast, two Republicans from those factions engaged in a sometimes testy debate about the struggle over the party’s direction.

Todd Taylor, a Republican state committeeman who won election to the Chelsea City Council last month with no financial help from the super PAC affiliated with Baker, said the state GOP for about 30 years has been focused exclusively on winning the governor’s office. It’s now shifting gears, he said, attempting to build grassroots support to grow conservatism in Massachusetts from the ground up.

“Conservatives have basically had no place in the party for a long, long time,” Taylor said. “I think conservatives deserve a chance to see what we can do, and I think we’re doing it.”

Ed Lyons, a Republican activist who is no relation to the party chairman, penned an op-ed recently in which he said the super PAC affiliated with Baker is the governor’s bid to form a third party of sorts. “My point was that Baker has all this power and money and network around him,” Lyons said. “How does that create a moderate Republican brand that people will actually vote for to create change that will help the state rather than the Mass. GOP, which is very much focused on national politics and Donald Trump and has turned off most people?”

Lyons says the Massachusetts Republican Party, without Baker, is equivalent to the Rhode Island Republican Party, which hasn’t elected anybody to a statewide or federal office in many, many years. “It fights over a very small number of seats. It gets no money or attention. It’s more or less dead in terms of affecting Rhode Island state politics,” he said.

Taylor said the party’s plight in Massachusetts is a reflection of its past preoccupation with the governor’s office. “For all the time Baker has been in power and had complete control, what did he achieve other than getting himself elected?” Taylor asked. “If we want to do something other than elect Republican governors to make deals with Democrat Legislatures, we better start doing something different.”

Lyons said the handful of victories by Republicans in the recent municipal elections are all well and good, but not a sign of a Republican resurgence at the grassroots level. “That has nothing to do with our viability as a statewide organization,” he said. “The problem is if you have a state party that’s all about Trump and the vices of the president rather than the virtues of Charlie Baker, those tiny number of people who won municipal office have nowhere to go.”

Taylor says he wants a big tent party welcoming all types of Republicans. “Every time I’ve had a chance to vote for Charlie Baker, I voted for Charlie Baker, and that includes at the convention,” he said. “The problem is not really with conservatives not wanting to embrace Charlie Baker. That is true with some conservatives; they feel Charlie hasn’t been Republican enough. But I think the vast majority gave Charlie Baker a chance, wanted to be a big tent party, and it was Charlie’s people that didn’t want to take our outstretched hand. We get blamed for an awful lot, but we haven’t had much power to do anything except for the last 10 months.”

Taylor described Baker’s brand of Republicanism as “training wheels” for many potential Republican voters in Massachusetts. “We need Charlie Baker Republicans in the party,” he said. “The problem is that a lot of Charlie Baker Republicans like Ed don’t want us in the party.”

Lyons said he doesn’t want to exclude conservatives from the party, but he said it matters who from the party is welcoming voters into the tent. He said Lyons, the state party chairman, talks about Trump and national politics and never broaches issues such as housing, transportation, the environment, or health care – issues that matter to people in Massachusetts. He predicts a blue wave is coming in 2020 as independents and Democrats turn against all things Trump.

“We are simply on the wrong path,” Lyons said. “On this trajectory, nobody will care what the Mass. GOP believes in four years.”.

Taylor said conservatives can succeed in Massachusetts if they make their case directly to voters. “Conservatives have, I think, not engaged in the public discourse in productive ways in the past. And we’ve kind of vacated the conversation a bit,” Taylor said. “We do need to engage more in the public discourse and challenge some of these ideas.”

Lyons responded to that by just laughing.

BRUCE MOHL


BEACON HILL

Massachusetts’s abortion laws are deemed too restrictive by San Francisco, which has banned travel by its employees to the Bay State starting January 1, and outlawed city contracts with Massachusetts companies. (WBUR) 

Lawmakers are thinking about ways to regulate the rentable electric scooters that have proliferated in some communities. (Gloucester Daily Times

The Department of Revenue won’t say who purchased tax credits from a developer that qualified for them. (Salem News

ICYMI: Say goodbye to flavored cigarettes. (State House News)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Activist Jordan Meehan and others want Boston to commemorate the death of Rita Hester, a transgender woman whose murder in 1998 galvanized a movement, by naming a park after her in the Allston Yards Development. (WGBH) 

Savin Hill residents are arguing over whether to restrict more parking in the Dorchester neighborhood to resident-only, and City Councilor Frank Baker dinged UMass Boston as a being uninterested in the problem caused in part by its students. (WGBH) 

A city health inspector visited a Brockton apartment complex undergoing a mass eviction less than a week after The Enterprise reported on the cutthroat business practices of the property’s new owner, Igor Liberman. More than two dozen code violations were found. 

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

The White House said President Trump will not take part in the House Judiciary Committee’s first impeachment hearing, scheduled for Wednesday. (Washington Post

Lisa Page, the Justice Department attorney whose text messages became fodder for Trump deep-state theories, tries to put everything in context. (Daily Beast)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Q&A with Andrew Tarsy, who explains why a business coalition is pushing for immigration legislation, including the Safe Communities Act. (CommonWealth) Carol Rose, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, calls for passage of the Safe Communities Act. (CommonWealth)

Even state-subsidized child care slots are often too expensive for the working poor in Massachusetts. (Boston Globe)

The owner of a Chatham nursing home and assisted living center who had trouble finding workers because of the high cost of living on the Cape bought properties in the area to rent to employees to address the problem. (Boston Globe) Meanwhile, Cape Cod restaurants and hotels are getting creative to fill empty jobs, including recruiting at winter resorts in Florida. (Cape Cod Times) 

EDUCATION

Improvements were made on attendance at New Bedford High School last year, with 29 percent of students missing at least 10 percent of the school year. That’s down from 45 percent in 2017. (Standard-Times) 

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

US Rep. Seth Moulton explains why he thinks supervised drug injection sites make sense. (CommonWealth)

The CEOs of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care and Tufts Health Plan talk up the positives of a merger between their two companies. (Boston Globe

ARTS/CULTURE

In Quincy and 100 other cities from Helsinki to Barcelona to Lima, local artists on Saturday showed off their work and put on concerts to raise money for good causes. (Patriot Ledger) 

TRANSPORTATION 

Jonathan Bray, a UK transportation expert, says usership could replace ownership with Mobility as a Service. (CommonWealth)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Toxic chemicals have been found in fertilizer produced by MWRA treatment facilities. (Boston Globe)

Joseph Fitzpatrick, the principal at a solar development firm, says Attorney General Maura Healey’s lawsuit against ExxonMobil is counterproductive. (CommonWealth)

Alex Morse, the mayor of Holyoke, and Thomas Abrosino, the city manager in Chelsea, say access to clean energy must be democratized. (CommonWealth)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The Supreme Judicial Court faces a tricky constitutional challenge in a case from Hampden County: How to ensure indigent criminal defendants’ right to counsel without stepping over separation of powers principles that limit the court’s reach into funding issues. (CommonWealth

Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins is defending her office’s prosecution of a former Boston College student charged with tormenting and manipulating her boyfriend into committing suicide. (Boston Globe)

MEDIA

Boston Globe sports columnist Dan Shaughnessy predicted before Sunday’s game with the Houston Texans that “there is no doubt anywhere in the football universe that the Patriots will win.” After they lost, badly, he wrote a mishmash of a column for Monday’s paper that suggested a Super Bowl appearance was now probably a long shot.