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

The Massachusetts Republican Party held it’s 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 it’s 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 which 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 being one of the few speakers to not have introduction music.

Mark Fisher appearing on the big screen during his speech.
Mark Fisher appearing 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 whom 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 of 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, irregardless of how the convention results closed and saw the day’s festivities, as well as it’s 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” like 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 preformed 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 accepting the nomination. Photo courtesy of Jonathan Wiggs/Boston Globe staff.

The process was well-guarded, with whatever known outside of the State Committee meeting as hearsay, but after close to hour of analyzing the results, it was ruled that the amount 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 having 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 in how the results were determined have 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.

Charlton Republicans caucus to send delegates to Boston

If you’ve been following the news in Massachusetts, you’ve probably heard about the current Democratic caucuses set to take place during the months of January and February. For those unfamiliar with the inner-workings of the political process, a caucus is a meeting between party brass and party activists to fill positions of responsibility, amend party platforms, and set long-term strategies. The process is dictated by Robert’s Rules of Order, the same used to conduct business at open town meetings, and is the first step in organizing for 2014.

However, this isn’t something only happening within the Democratic Party. As Massachusetts Democrats meet to prepare for 2014, so are their Republican counterparts.

The Charlton Republican Town Committee, the recognized local affiliate of the Massachusetts Republican Party, conducted their own caucus this past week. While the act of voting was open only to members of the Town Committee, registered Republicans were still invited to come out in attendance to mingle, get involved, and observe the process.

A copy of the ballots designed for the CRTC straw poll.
A sample copy of the ballots designed for the CRTC straw poll.

Alongside the official caucus was also a preference poll. Preference polls, or “straw” polls as they’re more commonly known, are informal polls used to gauge the support of a local candidate or measure. Unlike the caucus, the straw poll was open to all participants.

The voting portion of the caucus was over within 15 minutes, with the CRTC voting unanimously to send twelve delegates, including alternates and ex-officio delegates, to the March convention.

Senate hopefuls James Ehrhard and Mike Valanzola, as well as Gubernatorial hopeful Mark Fisher, were also in attendance.

Mike Valanzola addresses the CRTC.
Mike Valanzola addresses the CRTC.

James Ehrhard, a lawyer based out of the Sturbridge area, and Mike Valanzola, a Wales selectman, are facing off against each other to win the chance to run for the Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire & Middlesex District seat. Stephen Brewer (D-Barre), who’s held the seat for seven terms, is retiring in the Fall. Democratic representative Anne Gobi is also running.

James Ehrhard addresses the CRTC.
James Ehrhard addresses the CRTC.

Ehrhard and Valanzola, aware that it will be an uphill battle, are still confident with their campaigns. “I’m young and experienced [and] an able campaigner” Valanzola remarked.  “We’re only four and a half weeks in, and we’ve already had a phenomenal reception.” But, he acknowledges that there’s no room to get lazy. “There’s still a lot of work to be done.”

Ehrhard is also confident in the strength of his campaign, citing that 2014 is shaping to be a good environment for his prospects. “This is objectively a Republican year. […] We have good internal numbers. It really helps you know what you’re dealing with.” He also points to the recent gas tax as an important part of his running. “It’s symbolic of [Beacon Hill] having no regard for spending.”

Mark Fisher, a small business owner based out of Auburn, faces a different kind of battle. Whereas Ehrhard and Valanzola face off in a primary, Fisher’s fight is one that will be decided on the convention floor. Only with the support of 15% of the total convention delegates will Fisher be able to run in a primary against former Harvard Pilgrim CEO and 2010 Gubernatorial Candidate Charlie Baker.

Fisher, who is running as the “Tea Party” candidate, says he has already met with over 50 Republican Town Committees. “We’re confident we can pull it off.”

Mark Fisher speaks before the CRTC.
Mark Fisher speaks before the CRTC.

Addressing concerns that a primary run against Charlie Baker would weaken both candidates in the 2014 General

Election, Fisher claims the opposite. “I would make Charlie Baker a better candidate. He would make me a better candidate.”

As for his choice in a Lt. Governor candidate to balance the ticker, Fisher explained that Charlie Baker’s current pick, Karyn Polito, is “the choice of the people” and he would keep her. “Karyn Polito is [already] my running-mate, but not until after the primaries”.

Vice-Chairman Peter Cooper, Sr. addresses the CRTC while Chairman Joe Szafarowicz looks on.
Vice-Chairman Peter Cooper, Sr. addresses the CRTC while Chairman Joe Szafarowicz looks on.

As for the opinion of the people they were trying to woo, Vice-Chairman of the CRTC. Peter Cooper, Sr. is content with whomever comes out as the Republican standard-bearer in August, so long as there’s unity. “We need to come together. There can’t be a repeat of 2012.” he said, referencing the fight between Ron Paul and Mitt Romney delegates that broke out during the last time Republicans caucused in Massachusetts.

As for the results of the straw poll, the final numbers act as a testament to the closeness of the races, with Mike Valanzola defeating James Ehrhard 54% to 46%, and Charlie Baker defeating Mark Fisher by the same margin.

The Massachusetts Republican Party State Convention will be held on March 22nd, at Boston’s Agganis Arena.