Fresh off his re-election defeat in November, conservative Andover Republican Jim Lyons will be the next chair of the Massachusetts Republican Party, succeeding Quincy City Councilor Kirsten Hughes who is giving up the post after six years at the helm.
Lyons bested MassGOP Treasurer Brent Andersen, who had been considered a early favorite to win the position and at one point claimed to have a majority of votes on the 80-member State Committee locked down.
Lyons defeated Andersen 47-30, according to sources and social media posts from committee members and others at the Sheraton Framingham hotel, where party leaders gathered Thursday to elect the new chair.
"I pledge to bring a new and fresh sense of unity to our Republican Party," Lyons said in victory remarks posted online by @CruzCrewSue.
Lyons was among a group of Republicans in Massachusetts who initially backed Sen. Ted Cruz for president in 2016. He takes over a party in 2019 that won the governorship for the second straight time in November, but lost ground in the state Legislature and struggled to be competitive in other statewide and federal contests.
Lyons, who lost his bid for a fifth term in the House to Democrat Tram Nguyen, was a late entrant to the MassGOP chairmanship sweepstakes, only entering the race in late December after former Rep. Geoff Diehl opted against seeking the post.
Lyons, however, was able to consolidate support among the grassroots activists on the committee, particularly after Rep. Peter Durant dropped out of the race on Sunday, making it a head-to-head contest between Lyons and Andersen.
In his victory speech, Lyons blasted the "top-down" Democratic leadership on Beacon Hill.
"[House Speaker Robert] DeLeo and the top power-brokers control every aspect of it, and who does that hurt? It hurts us," Lyons said. "And it's time that we let the Democrats know what we stand for matters and my job and my goal as your party chair is to take them on, not just on Beacon Hill but all across this great state and let me tell you, no one will have more fun doing it."
And despite being one of the most conservative members of the House, Lyons called for unity among Republicans and a dialing back of the animosity some in the right wing of the party have expressed toward the moderate Gov. Charlie Baker.
"It's probably the best kept secret on Beacon Hill but I cast more roll call votes for Gov. Charlie Baker and the Baker administration than any other legislator," Lyons said. "This may come as a surprise to some, but really it shouldn't because there are so many more things as Republicans that unite us than divide us."
Lyons and Baker have been on opposite sides of many issues, including repeal of antiquated anti-abortion laws and a bill that Baker signed protecting the rights of transgender individuals to use public accommodations that match their gender identity.
Because of those positions, Baker drew heat during his own re-election campaign for headlining a fundraiser for Lyons in his district.
Lyons also touted the progress achieved under President Trump, who Baker often distances himself from, citing deregulation, tax cuts and job growth during the president's tenure.
"We don't have to agree with everything any Republican or Republican governor says or does. We do have to state clearly that the state and the nation are better off because of the common sense policies of our Republican chief executives," Lyons said.
Baker did not get involved publicly in the contest to become the next chairman of MassGOP, but advisers close to the governor had nice to things to say Thursday night about Lyons.
Meanwhile, Democratic Party Chairman Gus Bickford called on Baker to "publicly and swiftly denounce Lyons' vision for an intolerant, discriminatory party."
"By electing Jim Lyons as Chairman, the Massachusetts Republican Party has shown itself, once again, to be profoundly out of step with the people of Massachusetts," Bickford said in a statement. "Lyons, who served as Massachusetts state chairman for Ted Cruz's presidential campaign in 2016, spent his career on Beacon Hill railing against fundamental rights and protections for women, workers, and the LGBTQ community."
Bickford also highlighted Lyons's votes against funding for Planned Parenthood and his "97% rating" from the National Rifle Association.
"Lyons' election pushes the state Republican Party further towards the policies and rhetoric of Donald Trump, and away from the best interests of people in the Commonwealth," Bickford said.
Paul Craney, a friend of Lyons' and a member of the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, said that while at the State House Lyons was Baker's "best ally" and "the Democrats worst nightmare."
"There's no one better to lead the Massachusetts Republican Party than Chairman Lyons and his very large vote total demonstrates his broad support on the committee," Craney said.