BOSTON – Under fire for his handling of anti-gay remarks made by a member of the state committee, MassGOP Chairman Jim Lyons lashed out Thursday out at nearly every elected Republican in the House, accusing them of bowing to “poisonous woke cancel culture groupthink.”
Lyons, who served eight years in the House with many of the lawmakers he is now attacking, said the 29 House Republicans who insisted he call for state committeewoman Deborah Martell to step down had turned their back on Republican values.
The group, including House Minority Leader Brad Jones, signed a letter last Friday saying Lyons should himself step down if he refused to demand Martell’s resignation after Martell told Congressional candidate Jeffrey Sossa-Paquette she was “sickened” by his adoption of children with his husband.
“These elected officials made it clear in a letter demanding my resignation that they’d sooner turn their backs on the bedrock American principles of free speech, free expression, and religious liberty, so long as it meant they could appease the Democrats controlling the state Legislature,” Lyons said in an email to party members on Thursday.
The chairman urged party members to sign a petition that would send the elected legislators a message: “Please join us in calling on them to lead, to stand for the First Amendment, and to push back against the woke cancel culture mentality whose only endgame is to silence Republicans like you into submission.”
Lyons’ escalation of the turmoil within the Republican Party came a day after a contentious state committee meeting in Marlborough when the chairman gave Martell a platform to defend herself in front of the committee, according to people who attended the meeting.
Despite calls from nearly every elected Republican, including Gov. Charlie Baker, for her to resign, Martell has refused and Lyons has supported that decision, despite calling her remarks offensive.
Rep. Marc Lombardo, of Billerica, was the only House Republican not to sign the letter last Friday giving Lyons an ultimatum. The three Senate Republicans also said anyone with Martell’s views should not serve in a position of party leadership, but stopped short of calling for Lyons to resign if he failed to intervene.
By taking on the House GOP caucus, Lyons is choosing to engage in a fight with nearly every elected Republican in state politics at time when the party has struggled to make inroads on Beacon Hill and actually lost four seats in the Legislature in 2020.
Republicans amount to less than 10 percent of registered voters in Massachusetts, and that share of the electorate has been shrinking. But some conservatives believe starting fresh and solidifying that base instead of trying to appeal to moderate Democrats and independents is the way to build the party.
“Maybe we’re better off without the governorship, and we’re able to grow the party from the ground up,” Republican State Committeeman Steve Aylward told NBC10’s Alison King outside the Marlborough meeting Wednesday night.
The petition Lyons circulated was written by state committee members Jay Fleitman and Mary Lou Stuart and addressed to Jones and state Rep. Peter Durant. Fleitman and Smart wrote that it was “quite astounding” that the legislators chose not to defend Martell’s right to free speech, even if they disagreed with what she had to say.
“Not only did you all wave the white flag of surrender, but you all betrayed our fundamental principles. In addition it is unforgivable for Republicans to be giving left-wing democrats ammunition to use against us: accepting their cancel culture tactics only emboldens them,” the petition stated.
Durant, of Spencer, said he didn’t understand why the head of the party would be spending his time attacking elected Republicans while they were on Beacon Hill taking votes against tax hikes.
“We know how the people of our districts feel. Remember, Lyons lost his own seat using these same tactics. It might be that the 29 of us know better how Republican voters feel about these issues,” Durant said.
Baker on Thursday called Martell’s remarks “disgusting and unacceptable, period,” and said there was no place for bigotry in Massachusetts or the Republican Party.
Baker and the party have been drifting apart for years since Lyons became chairman after the 2018 election, and that fissure has widened in recent weeks as Lyons and his allies on the state committee sought to diminish his role in party decision making. When he served in the House, Lyon’s district included parts of Tewksbury.
As a three-time statewide candidate, Baker said at a press conference that he believed he had a good feel for the views of the electorate, but he avoided a direct question about how much responsibility Lyons bears for policing comments like Martell’s.
“Those comments, those ideas do not represent the Republican Party of Massachusetts, or the people of Massachusetts,” he said.
MassGOP Vice Chair Tom Mountain, who told the News Service on Thursday that he is no longer on speaking terms with Lyons, said there aren’t enough votes to oust Lyons from the chairmanship right now, but he believes he could be defeated in 2023.
Mountain called it “insane” to alienate Baker from the party, despite the Trump supporter’s disagreements with the governor over politics and policy.
“I cannot think of anything more vindictive, more absurd than to create this schism with the sitting Republican governor. What good will come of this? No good,” Mountain said. “It’s the political twilight zone, that’s what it is.”