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OPINION

As the state GOP turns — and churns

Wednesday’s meeting will see state party chairman Jim Lyons on the hot seat.

In this 2020 file photo, Jim Lyons speaks from the back of a truck at a state GOP rally in Wilmington.
In this 2020 file photo, Jim Lyons speaks from the back of a truck at a state GOP rally in Wilmington.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Congratulations for an unexampled accomplishment are owed Jim Lyons, state Republican Party chairman. Over the short space of a week, Lyons has united his party’s legislative wing in common cause.

The bad news for the combative hard-right conservative is that they are united in opposition to him — and are calling for him to resign as Republican State Committee chairman.

The reason? Lyons’ dither-and-blither stance in the face of anti-gay bigotry from Republican State Committee member Deborah Martell, a close ally, who wrote to fellow state committee members about one of the party’s congressional hopefuls: “I heard he was a ‘married’ homosexual man, who adopted children. I was sickened to hear this.’ "

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Lyons avoided the issue for several days, a duck-and-dodge crouch that led 29 of the GOP’s 30 House members to declare in a letter that if he lacked the fortitude to demand Martell’s resignation, he should resign in favor of someone who would. Whereupon the party chairman tried to recast his no-condemnation toleration of Martell’s bigotry as a principled defense of freedom of speech and religion.

There are other reasons for Republicans to want Lyons gone.

From the point of view of those who think one of the primary purposes of a political party is to win elections, the better to advance a set of principles and proposals, Lyons’s tenure has been a train wreck. Under his stewardship, Massachusetts Republicans have suffered a net loss of five legislative seats.

A major part of a party chairman’s job is to raise money. The state party now has a grand total of about $173,000 in its accounts — less than half of what its 2018 convention cost. In a non-election year, a party would normally have eight to 12 full-time employees. Lyons’s GOP lists four staffers. One recently left; another is apparently part-time.

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Most party chairmen strive for working relationships with their state’s prominent elected officials. Not Lyons. He derided moderate Republican Governor Charlie Baker at a recent GOP event on the Cape as a “Republican In Name Only,” enunciating each word rather than using the shorter “RINO,” according to one person in attendance. Until recently, Lyons was scheming to push Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito and the GOP’s legislative leaders off the party’s executive committee. His behind-the-scenes machinations (and party rule bending) certainly create the impression he would welcome a conservative primary challenge to Baker. In that light, it’s instructive to remember that in 2018, Baker won a landslide reelection as governor, while Lyons couldn’t even hang on to his Andover state rep’s seat.

Lyons’s own allies include the A1 Auto enclave, where online car-parts entrepreneur Rick Green provides funding or employment for an array of conservative “think-tank” attack hacks and defeated political hopefuls, at least one of whom, Lyons ally Geoff Diehl, is weighing a challenge to Baker or Polito.

But surely Lyons has enjoyed some successes? Well, let’s see. He has, um, succeeded in bringing the state party to the investigatory attentions of Attorney General Maura Healey’s office. That came after the Office of Campaign and Political Finance referred to the AG a campaign-finance controversy that saw state Senator Ryan Fattman donate some $137,000 from his campaign account to the Republican State Committee, which then spent $136,405 to help Fattman’s wife, Stephanie, in her reelection campaign for Worcester County Register of Probate. That has raised suspicions that the Fattmans and Lyons were using the state committee to sidestep state campaign-finance law.

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Healey’s office won’t comment, but the Office of Campaign and Political Finance wouldn’t have referred the matter to her unless campaign-finance officials believed the misconduct could constitute a criminal violation. The AG’s office is said to be evaluating the matter both civilly and criminally. Interestingly, there’s said to be some sort of electronic communication detailing the arrangement.

The boiling cauldron of discontent over Lyons promises to make Wednesday’s state committee meeting one for the ages.

Still, let’s be fair to the GOP’s embattled state chairman. He has fans aplenty who want him to keep his post and carry on his work.

Thousands of them.

Millions even.

Who?

Why, Massachusetts’ many Democrats, of course.


Scot Lehigh is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at scot.lehigh@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeScotLehigh.