Rep. Lyons Enters Fray for GOP Chair
By Matt Murphy
State House News Service
BOSTON -- Despite Republican Party Treasurer Brent Andersen claiming sufficient support to become the next chair of his party, the leadership race within the MassGOP appears to be more fluid than ever with one candidate disputing Andersen’s count and another jumping into the race.
Rep. Peter Durant, a candidate for party chair, said Andersen was “making assumptions that simply don’t exist” when Andersen said Tuesday that he had 45 votes, or a majority of the Republican State Committee, to become the next chairman.
Meanwhile, Rep. Geoff Diehl has been quietly telling friends and associates that he has decided not to seek the post, which led friend and fellow conservative Rep. Jim Lyons of Andover on Wednesday to get into the race himself.
Lyons told the News Service Wednesday he spoke with Diehl Tuesday night about Diehl’s decision not to seek the chairmanship. The Whitman Republican ran unsuccessfully this cycle against U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, while Lyons lost his House seat to a Democratic challenger Tram Nguyen November.
“I decided given the circumstances, that I’m going to take a run at it and see how it goes,” Lyons said. Diehl did not return calls or texts seeking comment.
Durant also spoke to Diehl on Tuesday, and said he was hoping to consolidate some of the support for a Diehl candidacy behind his own bid for party chair.
Before Lyons declared his intention to run, Durant said Andersen’s claim of being the front runner in the race only held up in a three-way contest.
“That may have been true in a three person race, however it is my understanding that Geoff is not going to get into this race and with the commitments that I have secured I feel confident in saying that Brent does not have the votes to win at this time,” Durant said.
Durant also said he wasn’t bothered that 20 of his 33 House colleagues have endorsed Andersen, and wouldn’t hold any “ill will” toward them if he wins. He said he purposefully did not seek endorsements from elected officials who do not have a vote in party business because he didn’t want to force them to choose sides.
Durant also dismissed as a “red herring” Minority Leader Brad Jones’s concerns about him serving in a purely political role as party chair and effectively doing his job as a state representative.
“The same group of people endorsed Keiko Orrall for national committeewoman. There didn’t seen to be a problem there,” he said.
“We’re usually fighting for crumbs,” Durant said. “To me it’s not beneficial that we have to betray the things that we [value] to just to get a couple of crumbs in the budget. I’ve slowed down considerably in trying to get earmarks in the budget because as Republicans we don’t really believe in earmarks and you go down the road of begging for the little we might get.”
Asked about Durant’s challenge to his internal whip count, Andersen emailed to say he felt “very confident” in the 45 votes he is counting in his column.
The election to choose a successor to MassGOP Chairwoman Kirsten Hughes will be decided by secret ballot at the next state committee meeting on Jan. 17. Hughes is stepping down after six years in charge of the party.
Several committee members who spoke to the News Service on Wednesday said they weren’t sure where the votes were at this time, but acknowledged that private commitments now may not become votes in January.
“I don’t know if he’s got the majority at this point, but that could change between now and the vote and depends on who shows up,” said committee member and former candidate for state auditor Patricia Saint Aubin. “With a secret ballot, people blank it. People change their minds. You never know.”
Saint Aubin has not decided who to back yet for chair, but got into what several committee members described as a tense back-and-forth with Andersen during this month’s Dec. 12 committee meeting over his level of transparency as treasurer.
Saint Aubin said that it was not the first time she had challenged Andersen to produce a more detailed accounting of the party’s finances beyond top level revenues and expenditures.
“When you query Brent, he doesn’t have a lot of ready answers. My problem is there has been a pattern that this is all we get as a board of directors, so to speak. I think people are getting impatient with the facts that he provides us,” Saint Aubin said.
Committee member Marty Lamb agreed with Saint Aubin, saying that like her he does not think anything questionable is going on, but would appreciate greater access to the books. “I think there’s a lot of frustration that we’re not able to see a year-to-date financial statement,” he said.
Lamb said he would have supported Diehl, with whom he has worked over the years on ballot campaigns. But now, Lamb said he’s backing Lyons.
“I would expect a lot of the Geoff supporters would either be supporting Peter or Jim, but that’s not an absolute,” Lamb told the News Service, before he knew for sure that Lyons had decided to run.
Lyons has spent eight years in the Legislature where he carved out identity as one of the more conservative members of the House on both fiscal and social matters. He often votes on his own against legislation like the annual state budget, which typically garners bipartisan support. Most of his district in Essex County, but it also includes a small portion of Tewksbury.
“I’m often asked how do you change the culture and the direction of Beacon Hill, and I say you change it one seat at a time. Eighty one legislators before I’m 81. I have plenty of time,” said Lyons, 65, referring to what it would take for Republicans to become a majority in the House.
Lyons also said the Republican Party needs to “start now” if it’s going to protect incumbents and think about making gains in the Legislature in a presidential election cycle in 2020, which are historically challenging for Republicans in Massachusetts.
“I think it’s real important that we leverage the fact that we have a popular governor who’s doing a great job and it’s important that as Republicans we can all work together,” Lyons said.
Gov. Charlie Baker has not gotten involved publicly in the race.
“When I look at what happened in November, would I have liked us to have done better as a party? Yeah. But compared to how this election turned out in other blue states all over the country and up here in New England, we lost two seats in the House and one in the Senate and everybody else held serve,” Baker said Wednesday when asked about the future of his party.
Baker said the next MassGOP chairman should be committed to supporting candidates for office from state senator down to planning board, but does not think ideology makes much of difference.
“I’m not a big believer in litmus tests. I think at the end of the day if you’re running as a Republican you’re probably running on a fiscally conservative platform with a real commitment to reform, a big investment in local government and what goes on at what I would call the, sort of, community level, and you want to serve and make a difference,” Baker said.