A “Once In A Generation Event” For The MA GOP

When members of the Massachusetts Republican State Committee (MRSC) gathered together on Thursday, January 31, 2013, to elect a new chairman (or chairwoman), most of them had already made up their minds on who they’d elect.

On one side stood Quincy City Councilor Kirsten Hughes, the perceived “establishment” candidate who was the former deputy finance chairwoman for the equally former US Senator Scott Brown (R-MA). The longtime Republican activist & lawyer also distinguished herself by doing moonlight work as a singer & once had aspirations of being an actress.

On the other side stood State Committeeman Rick Green, the perceived anti-establishment candidate from Pepperell whose support cut across all factions within the Bay State Republican Party. The multi-lingual entrepreneur (he speaks German & Mandarin Chinese) was quickly embraced by many self-professed grassroots organizations (such as the Massachusetts Republican Assembly) who yearned for a Republican leader who shared their worldview of politics.

The MRSC took no chances on an unpredictable election that was expected to be close (in sharp contrast to past chairmanship campaigns where the perceived Establishment candidate usually won against token opposition). The meeting was held inside the swank Apollo Ballroom of the Verve Crowne Plaza in Natick (MA). Four (4) of Natick’s finest were hired by the MRSC to ensure that political passions wouldn’t get out of hand to the point where the bad publicity of an intra-party riot would make the “Stupid Party” (Republicans) appear even more stupid in the eyes of the public.

A half dozen young people stood in the cold holding red, white & blue Hughes signs (notable for being minimalistic in its design) outside the hotel’s front entrance while another half dozen (somewhat older) folks holding bold, Celtic-colored “I’m With Grassroots Green For Chairman” signs greeted guests as they ventured into the hotels’ main lobby. Both candidates held pre-election soirees. The one thrown by Hughes was located near the front of the front lobby while Green’s open-bar festivities were tucked away in a room adjacent to the Apollo Ballroom. Anyone not on the Green guest list (such as yours truly) was denied entrance into the room by Green supporters stationed at the door.

All 80 MRSC members checked themselves in at a table placed before the ballroom entrance where they picked up their name tags. Each member also received a small boxed gift provided to them by Republican National Committeeman Ron Kaufman who, along with Republican National Committeewoman Kerry Healey, attended the meeting.

Also in attendance were elected officials such as House of Representatives Minority Leader Brad Jones (R-North Reading), Representatives Don Wong (R-Saugus), F. Jay Barrows (R-Mansfield), George Peterson (R-Grafton), Jim Lyons (R-Andover), Kevin Kuros (R-Uxbridge), Kimberly Ferguson (R-Holden), Paul Frost (R-Auburn), Ryan Fattman (R-Sutton), State Senate Minority leader Bruce Tarr (R-Gloucester), & Senator Bob Hedlund (R-Weymouth). Rounding out the list of notable people were luminaries such as former congressman Peter Torkildsen, Tuesday Associate consultant & Boston Herald Lone Republican columnist Holly Robichaud, Rabid Republican blogger “Iron Mike” Farquhar, Natural Rights & Compact President Rich Howell, Coalition For Marriage & Family director Chanel Prunier, & Massachusetts Family Institute president Kris Mineau. It was standing room only with over 300 people in attendance (most of whom were sequestered inside the roped-off area of the ballroom located at its entrance).

The meeting started 20 minutes late. After the opening prayer and pledge of allegiance, outgoing chairman Robert Maginn gave his farewell speech. Asserting that he wasn’t “going to disappear,” Maginn announced that he was going to form an issues-oriented super PAC & asked those assembled to “reach out” to him in making the group successful (though he pointedly discouraged “paid staffers” from present & future GOP campaigns to contact his new organization).

The family of the late State Committeeman Bill Nickerson was on hand to receive a five thousand dollar scholarship grant from Maginn on behalf of his charitable foundation. Derek Nickerson briefly spoke on behalf of his family as he thanked Maginn in particular & the committee in general for kindnesses rendered to the Nickerson family following the death of his father. Acting on behalf of the MRSC, Vice-Chairwoman Jeanne Kangas presented to Maginn a silver pewter bowl (made by the Boston Pewter company) & thanked him for his service to the Massachusetts Republican Party.

When it came time to vote in the new chairman, Kangas announced that an agreement had been struck by both Green & Hughes to create a “deputy chair” position for the losing candidate in the hopes to ensure party unity after the election for chairman was over. Kangas pleaded with her fellow members not to allow differences within the party to overshadow those areas of agreement on which they ALL shared common differences with their Democrat rivals.

Paper ballots were used & Maginn stated that the “intent of the voter” would be the fundamental yardstick to be used should any problems arose in tabulating the vote. State Committeewoman Sheila Richardson took the opportunity to thank Maginn for being neutral in the MRSC chairman’s race & just as quickly denounced Healey & Kaufman for their respective endorsement of Hughes. The floor was open for new nominations but none were offered. Once the floor was closed to new candidates, the MRSC membership & their guests quickly settled down to hear Green & Hughes speak.

Due to the results of a coin toss, Hughes was the first candidate to speak. State Committeewoman Christine Cedrone gave a nomination speech for Hughes that triggered the first visible wave of anxiety to ripple across the ballroom (as reported by the Boston Globe) that resulted in audible gasps & groans among the guests segregated from the MRSC:

In introducing Hughes, state committeewoman Christine Cedrone emphasized that she is a “lifelong Republican” – a seeming reference to Green, who was previously unenrolled – and said pointedly, “She has also not played dirty in this campaign.”

As if to douse any flicker of animosity ignited by Cedrone’s comments, Hughes herself thanked Green for the level of energy he brought into the campaign and made it a point to emphasize party unity even if the outcome of the vote went against her. She expressed “disappointment” over the 2012 electoral results & promised to “hit the ground running” for the up-coming special elections. Hughes quickly went over the same bullet points of her plan that were posted on Red Mass Group (RMG). The essential thrust of her speech highlighted her biography in order to leverage her political background as an important asset for the party. She vowed to make the GOP brand “better & stronger”.

State Committeeman Lucas Noble used his nomination speech for Green as a personal testament to his candidate’s abilities and urged his colleagues to vote for someone who would personify a change in direction for the state GOP.

Green thanked Hughes for her “spirited campaign” and, like Hughes, he echoed the theme of party unity being important for the long-term success of the party. Green saw himself as a transformational change agent & characterized the race for the position of chair as a possible “once in a generation event” with ramifications extending well beyond what would happen in the Apollo Ballroom. He pledged to serve for six (6) years as chairman in order to provide continuity while laying down a foundation for the party that he hoped would be an enduring one. Like Hughes, Green quickly highlighted the main points of his campaign plan. He cited his success as an online entrepreneur (adding that it served as a reflection of his leadership abilities) & he pledged to build upon the technological models utilized by his predecessors. “Massachusetts is a RED state,” Green exhorted, adding that the party needed a significant attitude adjustment if it wished to be successful. “If we don’t believe (we’re a Red State), why should the voters?”

Green’s rhetoric on political “change” seemed to have made an impact on his listeners. A majority of the guests roared their approval at his closing remarks & they (along with his MRSC supporters) gave him a standing ovation.

After the speeches were over, State Committee Secretary Angela Davis called in alphabetical order the names of all 80 members. Each member took a ballot, wrote on it, & inserted it into a large cardboard box. Once the voting was over, Torkildsen, State Committee Counsel Vincent DeVito, Representative Fattman (Green’s campaign chairman) & State Committeeman Matt Sisk (representing the Hughes camp), went to a separate room to count the vote.

As the votes were being counted, the MRSC went ahead with its usual agenda items. Healey & Kaufman gave to the group a report on the party’s national prospects. Healey stated that the Republican Party had to reach out beyond its usual constituencies if it wished to remain a viable political force. She felt the Massachusetts GOP could set an example for the national party to follow & that the national party would put money behind new efforts of outreach. Kaufman predicted the upcoming election cycles would be “great years” for the GOP. He acknowledged that the 2012 results were a blow to Republicans but pointed out that the party had recently emerged from ridding itself of its debt & made tremendous investments in technology that would soon bear significant returns in the up-coming election cycles.

When the ballot counters returned, it was announced that Hughes beat Green by a vote of 39 to 38 with three (3) abstentions. State Committeeman Bill Gillmeister immediately issued a point of order & asked Maginn to confirm if one of the “abstained” ballots had been challenged. Maginn confirmed a challenge had occurred over one ballot that contained the initials “R.G.” Given Maginn’s earlier assertion about “voter intent,” the revelation about the “R.G.” vote being rejected caused an audible consternation among the guests observing the proceedings. After a brief tussle, the “R.G.” vote was accepted by the MRSC – thus precipitating a tie vote. Another round of voting then ensued.

At this point it should be noted that State Committeeman Brock Cordeiro posted an update on the controversy by stating that there were, in fact, no abstentions. State Committeewoman Patricia Doherty went into great detail about the second round of voting & there’s nothing more for me to add to her excellent account of the situation.

When it was announced that the second round of voting produced a win for Hughes (41 to 39), Green made the announcement himself as a way to facilitate party unity. But some of his state committee supporters refused to rise to their feet to give Hughes a standing ovation despite Green’s obvious pleading for them to do so. Cries of acrimony filled the air as people quickly left the ballroom once the result of the election was known. The animosity towards the process & the MRSC can be seen in blogs such as the one created by Framingham Republican Town Committee Vice Chairman Nicolas Sanchez as well as angry commentary leavened between video clips of the meeting provided by Da Tech Guy.

Is the anger justifiable? Sure. Key Hughes supporters made some bonehead moves that provided ammunition to those who hold the MRSC in contempt. But from my vantage point, I thought that Hughes & Green were genuine in their desire not to let the passions of their respective campaigns get out of control and impair party unity. I also think the “deputy chair” idea is a good one that – if faithfully undertaken – could result in the kind of symbiotic relationship that will help the GOP re-brand itself. The closeness of the race was made possible by the new blood that was injected into the MRSC during the last US Presidential Primary & that to me portends good things for the party. If the dead weight holdovers from previous eras STILL refuse to adapt to the new political environment unfolding before them, then they should resign or get voted out of office less than four (4) years from now. Hughes & Green have a tremendous opportunity to genuinely transform the party into a viable entity if they take their campaign pledges seriously. Let’s pray that they do.

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