MassGOP Meets in 2014: Bustling and Bedlam in the Back Bay

The Massachusetts Republican Party held its State Convention this past Saturday at Boston University’s Agannis Arena, mobilizing the party’s small, but devout, membership for the upcoming state elections.

Governor's Councilwoman Jennie Caissie energizes the convention.
Governor’s Councilwoman Jennie Caissie energizes the convention.

Roughly 2,500 delegates crammed into the Arena to hear the Party brass give energetic speeches, set goals for the future, and support candidates they want to see represent them in their fight against the Democratic Party’s tight grip on state government.

Prominent faces from years past, such as former Governor William Weld and former Senator David Locke, joined a cast of new faces to tell the stories and tales of a time past. But it wasn’t all business with no play. To keep spirits high and guests interested, participants were also treated to live entertainment, a variety of booths representing the different organizations within the party, and the opportunity to socialize with one another over a drink.

While the convention process was organized and straightforward, with most of the formal festivities, such as the appointment of convention officials and the endorsing of otherwise unopposed statewide candidates, being primarily ceremonial, there were two instances for the various camps of the Republican Party to make their presences known.

Mark Fisher addresses the convention.
Mark Fisher addresses the convention.

Charlie Baker, former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim and the Party’s 2010 nominee for governor, and Mark Fisher, a small businessman based out of Auburn were both the stars of the afternoon, as they both sought the endorsement of the convention for the gubernatorial nomination. Both candidates accepted former State Representative and candidate for Treasurer, Karyn Polito, to join their respective tickets as a running-mate, but otherwise had very different opinions on how they would govern, as well as where they would want the party to go.

Fisher, a relative unknown to the political process, represented the conservative wing of the party and saw the future success of the party to be in reaffirming its conservative message and denouncing the dangers of liberalism, starting with upholding the conservative party platform, whereas Charlie Baker represented the big tent faction of the party, and preached a message of transparency, frugality, and of a more open and diverse Republican Party.

Charlie Baker greets a supporter.
Charlie Baker greets a supporter.

The other challenge was between Hopkinton Selectman Brian Herr and Malden resident Frank Addivinola. Their race could also be viewed as representative of the big tent and small tent divide the party is currently facing. However, unlike Baker and Fisher, Herr and Addivinola never got to openly compete for convention support, as Addivinola failed to file the proper paperwork to be called and recognized by the convention. Normal convention rules dictate that if a candidate fails to achieve 15% of delegate support, they will not be allowed to appear on the primary ballot. However, in the case of Herr and Addivinola, the race for Senate is a Federal office, which is governed by separate legal guidelines for listing candidates, and while Addivinola was declared ineligible to vie for the endorsement of the convention, he is still campaigning to appear on the ballot going into the primary.

The Caution of A Conservative

Dave Kopacz, President of the Massachusetts Republican Assembly, a conservative organization within the party that fashions itself as the “Republican wing of the Republican Party” that has endorsed both Fisher and Addivinola, expressed concern over the general direction the convention had taken. “The convention overall was skewed to a favorite,” he said, referencing how the speakers were openly supporting or promoting a Baker and Polito ticket going into November, as well as more subtle instances, such as Mark Fisher is one of the few speakers to not have introduction music.

Mark Fisher appearing on the big screen during his speech.
Mark Fisher appeared on the big screen during his speech.

In a party where the leadership is advocating big tent principles and positions that would be perceived as being moderate, and sometimes even liberal, in order to remain politically competitive, conservative candidates have been cast aside as losing causes, and receive minimal support. For Kopacz, as well as the organization he’s involved with, candidates such as Fisher and Addivinola represent an opportunity for the socially conservative and Tea Party wings of the Republican Party to gather prominence, much like they have in other states across the country, and try to prove the opposite. When asked about his intentions in a situation where there would be no conservative alternative on the ballot to Charlie Baker, Kopacz said he wouldn’t put his efforts towards the Baker and Polito ticket, and would instead focus on supporting “lower tier Republican candidates” as best as he could.

Another participant waiting for the results was Scott MacDonald, a Billerica delegate who also helped manage the Young Americans for Liberty booth. “The Convention went as planned,” he said, referring to the straightforward direction and otherwise unsurprising tone of the day.

Asked if he thought Fisher would make it out of the Convention, MacDonald was unsure but said that it was possible. “There were a lot of [Fisher] votes on the floor.” he said, “so it’s hard to guess what will happen.” His delegation reflected that uncertainty, he explained, saying that the Billerica caucus went with a three-way split with a third supporting Baker, a third Fisher, and a third undecided. However, at the end of the day, MacDonald still planned to support Baker “absolutely” if he wins.

Former Governor William Weld, a significant face of Moderate Massachusetts Republicanism.
Former Governor William Weld, a significant face of Massachusetts Moderate Republicanism.

But a majority of delegates and participants were still optimistic about the day’s events. Delegate Brad Wyatt, a candidate for State Representative, and sitting school community member based out West Boylston, was one of those such delegates.

Wyatt looked forward to the future, regardless of how the convention results closed, and saw the day’s festivities, as well as its participants, as a reason to remain upbeat. “It’s so good to see so many people remain active in the Republican Party,” he said, referencing the influx of youth and unorthodox supporters that joined, courtesy of the libertarian influence brought on by Ron and Rand Paul over the last few years. “There’s a lot of youth here, and we need new energy,” Wyatt said. “And at the end of the day, the Republicans have better solutions.”

While not influenced by any wing or figure in the party, one such energetic youth was Joseph Szafarowicz, the 23-year-old Selectman and Chairman of the Charlton delegation. Never one to not speak his mind, Szafarowicz, new to the convention process, said found it to be “dull”, but found the crop of candidates that had come out of it to be the complete opposite. “Come November, I like our chances.” Szafarowicz said, adding “I like Baker a lot and think that he will do a great job in the corner office. I’m glad we were able to support Baker as much as we did [and] I think it will do well to unify the party.”

Delegates in Discord

As the night drew to a close, the convention did not go “as planned” as delegate MacDonald assumed. Much to the disappointment of many in the Baker camp, the nomination process ran into a wall during the tallying of the votes. Fisher performed stronger than expected, retaining a small, but steady, stream of support in most districts, and besting Baker outright in the First Bristol and Plymouth district, and the Fourth Middlesex, which put him one vote shy of the requirement needed to gain ballot access. In response, the convention had to convene to analyze the results, as well as the credentials of those who voted.

Baker accepting the nomination. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Wiggs/Boston Globe staff.
Baker accepts the nomination. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Wiggs/Boston Globe staff.

The process was well-guarded, with whatever was known outside of the State Committee meeting as hearsay, but after close to an hour of analyzing the results, it was ruled that the number of blank votes cast, or votes cast for either no one in particular or names of those not nominated beforehand, would be included. Upon their inclusion, it was deemed that Fisher fell shy of meeting the requirement of reaching the ballot by six votes. As of the start of the week, the final and official tally of the convention is currently listed as Charlie Baker has amassed the support of 2,095 delegates, or 82.708%, Mark Fisher with 374 delegates, or 14.765%, and 64 delegates casting a “blank” vote.

Fisher, however, isn’t finished with the race yet. Disappointed with the convention results, he is looking to challenge the final tallies and sue the State Committee, if need be. The nature of how the results were determined has left many in the Fisher camp anxious and looking for answers, and the official Facebook page of the Mark Fisher campaign has opened up a legal fund for pursuing the results further.

While a majority of the Republican races will be uncontested, the primaries of all major parties will be conducted on September 9th, and the general election on November 4th.
All photos and quotes are original unless otherwise noted.

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