Baker: Not Involved “yet” on Party Chairman Contest
By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON -- Gov. Charlie Baker, the foremost figure of the Massachusetts Republican Party, said Monday he was not “yet” getting involved in the contest to lead the party apparatus into the next election cycle, but House Minority Leader Brad Jones said he does have a preferred candidate in the race.
“I think we expect that that will be a robust discussion for people,” Baker told reporters Monday in his first press conference since it became public that MassGOP Chairwoman Kirsten Hughes would not be seeking another term in January after six years at the party’s helm.
Asked if he would seek to influence the party’s selection of a new chair, Baker said, “We haven’t gotten involved yet.”
MassGOP Treasurer Brent Andersen and Rep. Peter Durant of Spencer have both said they are running for party chair, while Rep. Geoff Diehl, who is exiting the Legislature, said Monday he has still not made a decision whether to seek the post.
Diehl said he has no timeline to make up his mind, but the two other candidates are already making their case to state committee members.
Durant is planning a reception at the State Committee’s next meeting on Dec. 12 to share his vision for the party with members, which includes better training for first-time candidates, while Andersen says he’s looking “to unite Republicans under Ronald Reagan’s big tent.”
And Jones believes Andersen is the man for the job.
“I would probably be inclined to be supportive of Brent Andersen,” Jones, of North Reading, told the News Service Monday. “I’ve known Brent the longest time and I think he makes the most sense. I think he has the ability to represent the different factions of the party, if you will.”
Andersen has been the party treasurer since 2003, and a member of the state committee since 2000. Durant, meanwhile, was elected to the Legislature in 2010.
Jones, who will lead a caucus of 32 Republicans in the 160-seat House in the next session, said Durant’s position as a lawmaker could be detrimental to his ability to also lead the MassGOP.
“I’ve got to be honest with you, a sitting legislator’s potential takeover as party chair is a really, really difficult task. I’ve been here when that happened,” Jones said.
Sitting lawmakers from both parties have chaired their respective parties in the past, but Jones said that it’s particularly difficult for a Republican who as a lawmaker needs to work with Democratic leadership to deliver for their district, and as party chair needs to be critical of the controlling party.
He cited the example of Rep. Brian Cresta, who represented Wakefield and Middleton in the early 1990s at the same time he was chair of the MassGOP.
“It just presents challenges to represent a district and work in a body that’s heavily weighted to the party that theorectically in your other job you’re trying to disgorge,” Jones said.
Presented with that question last week, Durant told the News Service that he thought being a lawmaker would be an advantage because it would give him inside knowledge of what was happening on Beacon Hill to help other Republican candidates.
A date for the party election has still not been set, but it will be decided in early January by the 80-member state committee that Baker worked hard in early 2016 to stack with loyalists. During his time in office, Baker has stood behind Hughes even as she faced periodic challenges from some of the more conservative elements within the party who were unhappy with the direction of the party and the results at the ballot box.
“We all think Kirsten did a terrific job and we wish her well in whatever she chooses to do next,” Baker said Monday, as Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito stood beside him nodding in agreement.
Baker got back on Friday from Arizona where he attended several days of meetings with his fellow Republican governors at a post-election Republican Governors Association conference. Asked where he thinks his national party should move after a disappointing midterm, Baker said Republicans in Washington could learn from governors.
“We all live in the same communities that the people who elect us live in and so we hear from a lot of people on a pretty regular basis about how things are goingm what they think we’re doing well, where they think they need us to get better, and frankly I wish that was more true of what went on at the federal level,” he said.