by Brian Kennedy
National Director for the Massachusetts Republican Assembly
Throughout this article I will be using “Merrimac Street,” the street containing the Massachusetts Republican Party Headquarters, as shorthand for Republican Party leadership.
For most of the country, the political story of 2016 was the election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence to the presidency and vice presidency of the United States. In Massachusetts, our most relevant day was instead on March 1st, the day of the U.S. Presidential Primary. On that day, the Massachusetts Republican Party lost a state rep. seat it could have retained had Merrimac Street not spent the prior three months focusing political capital where it was least important: maintaining a bare majority of the Republican State Committee theoretically aligned with Governor Charlie Baker and the existing MassGOP chair, Kirsten Hughes.
On that date, March 1st, and the weeks preceding, there were more get-out-the-vote robocalls and mailers done for the State Committee in the overlapping parts of that district than there were to defend that hard-won rep. seat. Fast forward to today. On Merrimac Street, they are crowing about a one-seat pickup during a presidential election year. In reality, Massachusetts Republicans gained zero seats in 2016. In reality, the wave elections that propelled the Republican Party to prominence everywhere else in the country never hit Massachusetts, and that is because our existing Party chair does not want our Party to grow and has demonstrated this time and time again.
A full chronology of the Hughes’ record is an article in its own right, so let’s start with 2014 by briefly mentioning that Hughes and her allies cost the GOP $410,000 for cheating Mark Fisher out of ballot access at the 2014 convention. Eventually, that year we acted as a united Party behind a successfully elected Charlie Baker. Governor Baker was elected in 2014 in part through the strength of Tank the Gas Tax as a rallying issue. Tank the Gas Tax scored 40,000 votes more than the governor, and was one of the key survey questions asked through the Mass Victory (the MassGOP’s voter contact program) operations that year. Steve Aylward was the chairman of that successful effort to abolish the tax, which would have perpetually increased without the need for a legislative vote each year.
Steve Aylward’s “reward” for this would come near the end of 2015 when a person who was last registered as a Democrat from New York ran against Aylward for Republican State Committee with the endorsement of Governor Baker as well as tens of thousands of dollars in calls and mailings. Governor Baker had endorsed an entire slate of candidates for Republican State Committee, and to no one’s surprise in every instance where a race was contested, the endorsed candidate was a Hughes’ loyalist, a Baker administration employee, or a nobody out of nowhere who was trying to take out a long-time Republican reformer like Steve Aylward. Hughes and Baker even established a political action committee, FFNM PAC – funnelling over a million dollars into these races – which does not require Office of Campaign and Political Finance (OCPF) reporting as it is a political Party committee.
The result was borne out when the Party voted for a new national committeewoman, State Representative Keiko Orrall, that Hughes favored. After spending millions of dollars to influence the State Committee – losing a state rep. seat and failing to challenge another open seat in the process – Hughes election vote was … 41-38, the same margin as her original election. What a way to waste over a million dollars of political effort – lose an actual legislative seat to get your preference for an internal Party position.
Hughes behavior after the primary is no better. Donald Trump won the Massachusetts primary overwhelmingly, which for a competent political Party would mean welcoming Trump supporters into the local ward and town committees. In Hughes’ own Quincy, Trump activists were turned away from local ward committees. Indeed, even as Trump secured the Republican Party nomination, the #NeverTrump contingent of Hughes and Governor Baker remained prominent.
In another embarrassing instance, at a Victory Office opening in late August in Hyannis, the MassGOP did not even have Trump signs and literature available for supporters to take home – instead, they had to get Trump-related materials through the Make Massachusetts Great Again Super PAC, which was organized by Holly Robichaud and Steve Aylward. All of this is in the context of Governor Baker’s repeated public rejections of the GOP’s presidential nominee.
Hughes claims that support for Trump was present during the race, but the only email blast even mentioning the presidential ticket was after his November 8th election night victory. Actions speak louder than words.
Hughes’ record gets worse when we move from the top of the ticket to down-ticket. Ron Beaty, who was successfully elected to Barnstable County Commissioner, had requested access to the GOP’s voter database multiple times. In the last correspondence he received, he was denied access with the simple phrase: “Do Not Fulfill,” from MassGOP Political Director Chris Lane. Ron Beaty won his race anyway. Was this payback because Beaty himself ran for State Committee without the governor’s endorsement? We can’t know, but it’s a good guess.
Let’s also talk about Hughes’ promises: Her original platform for Party chair included enhancing the position and prominence of women within the GOP. Yet during her tenure, the MassGOP Executive Committee could not even work with the bylaws of the Massachusetts Federation of Republican Women (MFRW) to reach a resolution that allowed the group to remain in effect in this state after 70 years of continuous activism in Massachusetts. Many of the women in the MFRW were the backbone of Women For Baker, so their organization’s destruction is in fact counterproductive for Hughes’ own allies.
One last black mark bears mentioning: When Matthew Sisk disgraced the Party this year by throwing his July 3rd bash at National Committeeman Ron Kaufmann’s house utilizing DCR resources, she quickly rushed to his defense privately and undermined efforts within his own district to censure him. Not even bad press for Republicans will deter Hughes in protecting her friends over improving the Party brand.
Hughes contends she has grown the Party with nine legislative seats, but in reality most of the Republican gains were in 2010 and we have been mostly maintaining that presence. The nine seats she boasts in four years could easily have been 11 had she not spent 2015-16 prioritizing who votes for her on the State Committee instead of who votes for the people in the Legislature. It bears repeating that she cost the party at least $410,000 in settling the Fisher lawsuit; that money could have been used better. It bears repeating under her tenure that our down-ballot candidates get political games played with them before they can even access basic Party resources.
She will not discuss these matters, much less debate them. If the Trump election shows anything, it is that insular, unaccountable establishments (of either Party) should not get a free ride to re-election without discussing the people’s concerns.
Which brings me to my conclusion: The political reality is that, despite several glowing articles about Governor Baker’s overwhelming popularity, both of the ballot initiatives he supported went down in defeat – the one he most publicly supported trending closely to Trump’s final result. Since 2014, Party registration has been stagnant at best. Merrimac Street has never really proffered a theory for growing the Party, but by inference we can assume it was making Governor Baker the Party’s most visible face and hoping that in itself would attract new Republicans by osmosis.
But political parties do not grow by osmosis. They do not grow because one elected Republican figure, a senator or governor, maintains a popularity rating above 50%. The “Growth by Popular Osmosis” strategy has been failing Massachusetts Republicans since the Weld administration. The votes have been cast repeatedly and the evidence remains the same.
There are only 80 people who can vote for the next GOP Party chair, the duly elected members of the Republican State Committee. At least two of them must be brave enough to switch their votes. I urge anyone reading, especially those who strongly supported Donald Trump from the beginning, to go to massgop.com, contact the State Committee members there, and ask them, politely but firmly, to change the direction of the Republican Party away from Hughes.
Her record makes it clear. Kirsten Hughes is unfit to remain as Party chair. It is preferable that she resign, but again I see no indication she intends to even debate her record, much less be held accountable to it. It is time to Drain the Swamp on Merrimac Street. ♦
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by Brian Kennedy