Nearly all of the Republicans in the Massachusetts House of Representatives want their party’s chairman to take action or resign over a lack thereof regarding anti-gay remarks made by a state committee member against a Congressional candidate.
In a letter to Chairman Jim Lyons on Friday, 29 out of the 30 party members who serve in the House said Lyons should seek the resignation of committee member Deborah Martell — or step aside himself.
State Rep. Marc Lobardo, of Billerica, was the only House Republican not to sign the letter.
“If you will not assert your position as leader of this esteemed party and demand Ms. Martell’s resignation, then we call on you to resign as the Chair of the Party and allow for your replacement so that we may demonstrate to the people of the Commonwealth that within the Republican Party, Ms. Martell’s opinions are not ours and will not be tolerated,” the letter says, according to The Boston Herald.
In emails obtained by The Boston Globe and allegedly in conversation with Jeffrey Sossa-Paquette, who is running for the 2nd Congressional District seat, Martell said she was “sickened” by Sossa-Paquette’s decision to adopt two children with his husband.
Several party leaders, such as Gov. Charlie Baker and Vice Chairman Tom Mountain, swiftly denounced the remarks. Lyons remained publicly silent until he released a lengthy statement on the matter Friday.
But Lyons stopped short of outright condemning Martell’s remarks.
“Members of the Massachusetts House Republican caucus are demanding that I force a woman of deep Catholic faith to resign from the Massachusetts Republican State Committee,” Lyons said, the Globe reports. “I acknowledge that she wrote in a manner that was offensive. However, Massachusetts Republican Party bylaws are clear: freedom of speech and religious liberty are values that are unbending and uncompromising.”
Party members “must respect” those who hold “strong religious convictions” as well as individuals “whose real-life experiences happen to contrast,” he continued.
“In the end,” he added, “we must realize that the danger to our freedoms is real. We as Republicans must not act as the far-left wants us to.”
Still, on Saturday, Baker said the party’s leadership is out of touch with the “vast majority” of Republicans’ beliefs.
Baker, a moderate, did not say whether he thinks Lyons should resign, stating only that the state committee makes that decision, according to the Globe. However, he added that anyone who is “a serious member of the party organization should be denouncing” the remarks.
“Those were bigoted remarks. There’s simply no way around that,” Baker said. “Jim Lyons needs to come out and say that. They are bigoted remarks, and they don’t speak for the Republican Party.”
The flare-up from Martell’s remarks has shone a light into the fractures within the party.
Mountain, the party’s vice chairman, when asked last week if he spoke with Lyons about the situation, told a reporter Lyons never returns his calls.
State Rep. Peter Durant, the Spencer Republican behind the House effort, said the chairman missed a “golden opportunity” to bring the party together.
“We always say we want a big tent and to bring anyone into the party. Well Mr. Lyons, this was your opportunity to do that,” Durant told the Herald. “We always say if you’re gay, straight, Black, trans, Hispanic, it doesn’t matter as long as they believe in our ideals and Mr. Lyons missed the golden opportunity to do that.”
Durant told the newspaper about the party’s ideals of equality and personal freedom and the “consequences of silence” in a state where Republicans are in the minority.
Republicans also only hold three seats in the state Senate. All three senators condemned Martell’s remarks on Friday and called on party leadership to act, according to the Globe.
“We fight every chance we get to bring people into the party based on these ideals we strongly believe in, so when you get this kind of negative publicity, this just gives a black eye to everybody and makes it more of an uphill battle,” Durant said.