LEE >> With an unprecedented strong-arm approach, Governor Charlie Baker wants to take control of the Massachusetts Republican State Committee.
A Boston Globe article brought the issue into the open last week, describing how Baker is attempting "to muscle conservatives out of GOP state committee." The piece explains how the governor has targeted dozens of the most faithful and hard-working Republican activists in the state, some of whom were his key allies in getting out the votes that put him over the top in his narrow 2014 victory.
Why is Gov. Baker trying to defeat these loyalists? Could it be to assemble a GOP State Committee that will do whatever he wants it to, won't ask questions, and won't operate as the independent voice it's designed to be? If the Globe article is any indication, the answer is "exactly."
State Committee member Steven W. Aylward's campaign provides an example. Aylward helped lead the successful 2014 fight to repeal automatic increases to the Massachusetts state gas tax, and is widely credited for bringing out conservative and independent voters who might otherwise have stayed home, voters who then voted for Charlie Baker, turning him into Gov. Baker. Subsequently, Baker publicly praised Aylward for mobilizing these votes, aware that without them he might not have been elected.
Now, two years later, the new governor wants to oust Aylward from the Republican State Committee, and has endorsed Aylward's opponent, a 29-year old former Democrat who just recently moved to Massachusetts from New York, and only registered Republican within the past year.
It boggles the mind. As governor, Charlie Baker has a great opportunity to build the unity and energy of his party, and further stoke the motivation to its grassroots activists. But that's not what's happening. The governor is alienating key allies, the very people on whom the party's strength depends. His approach may end up disintegrating the support that got him elected.
The Globe article says that "Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito have endorsed candidates in 52 of the 54 contested GOP races," and warns that "The aggressive attempt to dominate the 80-member state committee by marginalizing the right-leaning conservatives is creating an increasingly angry backlash."
A follow-up Globe article amplified the story: "Christopher Pinto, running in the 1st Worcester District, said he's baffled why Baker is backing someone else. 'If I saw the governor in the grocery store I'd ask him, 'Why, Charlie? I helped you get elected.' I worked my butt off on the gas tax,' said Pinto, who was part of the successful effort to repeal the automatic gas tax. 'Why is he doing this now?' "
The Massachusetts Republican Party has enjoyed a long and strong alliance with its grassroots conservative activists. These conservatives are energetic and loyal. They enthusiastically run for office. They show up at phone banks and at campaign rallies. They mobilize others to vote. And they have always been there in support of the Bay State's Republican governors, even when those governors embraced moderate to liberal views onerous to conservatives.
Massachusetts' conservative Republicans activists have been team players for decades. And now, the same state party they fought for and defended for so long is targeting them for defeat in next Tuesday's election.
Risks damaging party
Gov. Baker is pursuing a shaky strategy. If he gets his wish on March 1, and his state committee candidates win, it may be at the expense of the support, and the votes, that elected him governor in 2014.
One Baker adviser, quoted in The Globe, said the governor has endorsed state committee candidates who "share his vision of an inclusive Republican Party." But here's what Gov. Baker is missing: For the Massachusetts Republican Party to keep winning gubernatorial elections, inclusiveness must include conservatives.
Otherwise, the party is over.
Matt Kinnaman, an occasional Eagle contributor, is a candidate for Republican State Committee, and is not endorsed by Governor Baker.