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Massachusetts state GOP chair battling party members over anti-gay email

BOSTON — In a state where Republicans struggle against lopsided odds, Massachusetts GOP Party Chair Jim Lyons has found himself in a scorched political battle — not with Democrats, but with members of his own party, including the state’s top Republican, Gov. Charlie Baker.

The latest dust-up came when Lyons, a former state lawmaker, refused to sanction a GOP official for saying in an email that she was “sickened” that a gay Republican congressional candidate had adopted two children with his partner.

The internecine brouhaha erupted after the May 15 email from GOP committeewoman Deborah Martell was made public. In the email, Martell said of Republican congressional candidate Jeffrey Sossa-Paquette: “I heard he was a ‘married’ homosexual man, who adopted children. I was sickened to hear this.”

The comments drew swift condemnation, including from inside the party. Baker called them “disgusting and unacceptable.”

“I’ve been a Republican here in the commonwealth of Massachusetts for 40 years. I’ve run statewide three times. And I’ve gotten to know the nature and views of the vast majority of the Republican Party in Massachusetts and people of Massachusetts. And those comments, those ideas, do not represent the views of Republican Party or people in Massachusetts, period,” Baker said last week in response to Martell’s e-mail.

“If you want to be in public life, it’s important you appreciate that you are part of a big fabric," he added, “Bigotry has no place in the commonwealth.”

Martell didn’t respond to an email seeking comment. Sossa-Paquette has said he won’t tolerate any bigotry coming out of his party.

Baker wasn’t alone in calling for Martell to step down.

Nearly every elected Republican in the state Legislature — including 29 of 30 House Republicans — has also called for Martell’s removal from the 80-member state committee.

“These comments are totally unacceptable because they are divisive and offensive,” GOP state Sens. Patrick O’Connor and Senator Ryan Fattman said in a statement. “Anyone who would make such statements is not suited to serve in a position of leadership in the Massachusetts Republican Party.”

The conservative Lyons, however, refused to pressure Martell to resign, saying he was standing up for free speech and religious freedom and was opposed to what he labeled “cancel culture.”

“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,” he said in a written statement. “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.”

Lyons said he hoped that “both individuals involved in this controversy can and will unite behind our shared values” and respect the fact that "not everybody holds the same views, as each individual’s faith affects and shapes their beliefs.”

“We as Republicans must not act as the far-left wants us to,” he added.

There’s not a lot of love lost between Lyons and Baker. In the wake of the controversy, Lyons backed off a plan to exclude Baker and other elected Republicans from the state party’s executive committee.

The increasingly bitter infighting comes as the party struggles for political relevance in a state where every statewide office — other than the governor's and lieutenant governor's — is held by Democrats.

Democrats also claim both U.S. Senate and every congressional seat and overwhelming majorities in both the Massachusetts House and Senate. Republicans make up less than 10 percent of the state's electorate.

The one bright spot in recent decades for Massachusetts Republicans has been the governor’s office. Those Republicans who have successfully won the top seat have largely been seen as more moderate compared to the national party as a whole.

Baker famously distanced himself from former President Donald Trump, refusing to vote for him in 2016 and 2020. During his first unsuccessful bid for governor in 2010, Baker ran on a ticket with an openly gay member of the Legislature, fellow Republican Richard Tisei.

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