Lyons ‘having Fun,’ Eyeing Reboot for MassGOP
Part of the early challenge for Lyons has been staff turnover, much of it expected after a gubernatorial election cycle and transition from former party chairwoman Kirsten Hughes.
After a brief transition period, executive director Matt St. Hilaire is gone, hired as chief of human resources at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. So, too, is the party’s communications director Naysa Woomer, who the Baker administration hired as Department of Revenue spokeswoman.
Political director Andrew Preston left the party, as did executive assistant Georgia Polemenakos for a job as an assistant in the governor’s office.
“It’s a refresh. I think it probably was going to be no matter what,” said one Republican operative.
To fill the gap, several Republicans familiar with party operations said Lyons has been leaning heavily on a network of friends and allies closely tied to the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance.
The kitchen cabinet has included people like Rick Green of Pepperell, who founded the alliance, and Paul Craney of North Andover, who is a board member and spokesman for the conservative non-profit.
He also brought on Wendy Wakeman to act as “transition director” while they conduct a search for a new person to run the party’s day-to-day operation, and his former legislative aide Jason Ross followed Lyons to the party as an assistant.
Wakeman is Craney’s neighbor and a former member of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance board, but she resigned that position to help Lyons at the party. Decades ago she worked on Beacon Hill as aide to former Andover Rep. Gary Coon and was a campaign manager to former U.S. Rep. Peter Torkildsen.
“The beginning of a great new era!” Wakeman said in an email.
Lyons said he has also consulted with people like Keiko Orrall, another former representative and current Republican National Committeewoman, and on Tuesday met with Anthony Amore, the GOP nominee for secretary of state last cycle.
“I’m reaching out across the entire spectrum of Republicans in Massachusetts, so hopefully we can unite people and get it so Democrats can’t just go in there and do something because they can,” he said, referring to the Democratic supermajority on Beacon Hill.
On Monday, Lyons will get a little more help when Evan Lips starts at the party. A former reporter for the The Sun of Lowell and the conservative New Boston Post, Lips will take over as the party’s new communications director.
A new executive director, as well as a new finance director, will eventually need to be approved by the MassGOP Executive Committee, which includes people like Republican National Committee members Ron Kaufman and Orrall, party officers and the minority leaders of the House and Senate.
In the meantime, Craney said time will tell what kind of chairman Lyons becomes.
“He’s used me as a springboard for ideas and stuff like that, but Jim is not a wallflower. He’s going to do things his own way,” Craney said this week.
Much was made after Lyons’s victory in the party election of MassGOP Treasurer Brent Andersen about his conservative ideology and how it would blend with the more moderate Gov. Charlie Baker, who is still the leader of the Republican Party in Massachusetts.
Lyons believes that Baker is the best thing going for Massachusetts Republicans at the moment and that there’s “more that unites us than divides us,” but he also hasn’t shied away from who he is and what he believes just because of the governor.
For instance, the House this week passed legislation to ban gay conversion therapy for minors. It’s a bill Lyons vehemently opposed while in the House but one Baker has said he’s “inclined to support.”
The governor has also been a vocal supporter of a woman’s right to choose, and has criticized the Trump administration move to cut off federal funding to Planned Parenthood. Meanwhile, Lyons is staunchly pro-life and has dubbed the latest legislation on Beacon Hill to expand access to abortion services, known as the Roe Act, the “infanticide bill.”
Lyons said he has spoken to Baker at least twice since his election as chairman, and has regular contact with members of the governor’s political team. People close to Baker say they are not worried that Lyons will steer the party in an overly conservative direction or recruit only extreme conservative candidates to run for office.
Some Republicans, however, are privately questioning whether Lyons, as a conservative who supports President Donald Trump, will struggle to raise the money the party will need to cover its operational expenses and compete in elections. Major donors for years have thought nothing of writing big checks for a party led by the moderate and popular Gov. Baker, but giving money to Lyons could be a different story, they say.
In 2017, Hughes and the MassGOP raised about $800,000 in the off-year after the presidential cycle, or about $66,000 a month. Lyons has a cushion to start.
In his first month-and-a-half, Lyons has raised just over $2,700 for the state committee, which has a balance of $424,186. Federal Election Commission reports for the MassGOP’s federal account, meanwhile, show $1,700 coming in since the beginning of the year and just under $200,000 going out. The balance in the federal account, which can be used to pay for some state expenses, has fallen from $303,860 to $106,190.
But that’s still more than the state Democratic Party, which has just $28,000 in its state account and $183,350 in a federal committee. The Democratic Party raised about $25,000 in state funds and $53,000 in federal funds since the start of the year, including a $15,000 gift from U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s campaign committee and another $6,762 from her political action committee, which she has said she’s closing as she mounts a bid for the White House.
Asked how his fundraising efforts were progressing, Lyons said, “Not bad.”
“That’s a whole different animal than it was at state rep level but we’re putting together a team and I’m optimistic well be able to do what we need to,” he said.