^ Baker’s choice : State Representative Keiko Orrall of Lakeville

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Governor Baker had a fairly good day on March 1st. In the GOP primary, his battle to take firm control of the party’s State Committee succeeded — not completely, but sufficiently enough. He now counts on about 49 to 50 of the committee’s 80 members, to write a useful platform and to do one major piece of unfinished business : electing a new GOP National Committee-woman.

Before I discuss this fight — the end game — I ought to tell you what a GOP National Committee-woman does and why she is important:

1.the national Republican party is governed by a committee, just as is the Massachusetts GOP. Each state has two seats on that committee, a man and a woman. Their role is to raise funds for national campaigns; to write a national party platform; and to see that in their state, well-qualified candidates are found and guided for seats in Congress and the United States Senate. In addition, the two national committee members are ex-officio members of the state committee.

2.It’s an important position in the hands of a person with the commitment and the connections to do it effectively.

3.Until 2012, Massachusetts’s national committeewoman was Jody Dow, of Brookline (disclosure : I worked for Dow for many years and in many campaigns and we are still personal friends), a woman of means who was also GOP state committee-woman for Brookline and Newton, two of our state’s most politically powerful communities. There, Dow was well respected and completely in tune with the political sentiments of both municipalities. After almost thirty years of party activism, Dow decided not to run again.

4.In her place was elected one Chanel Prunier, from central Massachusetts, age 33, and of an entirely different political cast. Prunier is probably the most powerful activist in social conservative circles, with connections to anti-gay rights money and cadres. In her position as a paid operative for Massachusetts Family Institute (MFI), perhaps our state’s most potent opponent of marriage equality, women’s reproductive rights, and transgender civil rights, Prunier has access to its list of activists, which she has used to recruit and field candidates committed to the MFI agenda.

Prunier is worshipped by her supporters, a network that extends through most of the state outside the immediate Boston area. She is a tireless operative when she wants to be — a fellow warrior — and a daunting opponent; only a sitting Governor, probably, has the power to defeat her.

She has had notable success recruiting such candidates and occasional success getting them elected to the legislature. But her most significant political success, until March 1st, was to recruit candidates for our GOP state committee seats — and to see many elected — from which place the Prunier group enacted, in 2014, a party platform incorporating MFI’s agenda. This platform was given wide news coverage and seriously embarrassed Charlie Baker, whose campaign supported every right the MFI opposes.

The Prunier-dominated state committee also raised primary opponents — many of them nuisance candidates merely — to GOP legislative hopefuls who support those rights, thereby diverting candidate energy to the mere 11 percent of voters who are Republican and in one case, probably costing the party a State Senate seat (lost by 398 votes).

She also draws upon a group called “the Massachusetts Republican Assembly” (MARA), which espouses extreme right wing positions — often voiced as venomously as the Trump campaign — entirely at odds with 70 to 80 percent of Massachusetts voters. MARA has no connection whatsoever with the Republican party whose name it uses but diverted many Governor votes in the 2014 campaign to one Scott Lively. These were votes that Baker could well have used; his victory margin was less than two percent out of 2,100,000 voters cast.

Prunier’s defenders say that she has built “the grassroots” of our state’s GOP. Is it a plus to have built up opponents to the Governor, or is it a minus ? is it a plus, or a minus, to give our GOP an identity loathed by most of our voters ?

The Prunier people often talk of downsizing Massachusetts government, as if its size were the issue rather than its effectiveness. Do they realize that, if Massachusetts government were small, we would never elect GOP Governors, given that the GOP counts only 11 percent of our state’s voters ? That we elect GOP governors because the voters want a non-Democrat to keep an independent eye on a VERY LARGE state budget ?

Given Prunier’s record, as much opponent of the GOP as leader of it, and radical rather than feasible, it is no wonder that many, many Massachusetts GOP activists, including legislators, have had enough. Is it too much to say that the entire purpose of Baker’s effort to win control of the state committee was to replace Chanel Prunier ? Is it any surprise that that effort has commanded the commitment of the vast majority of our GOP leadership ?

The only problem was to agree upon a candidate. Many names were circulated; I had my own favorite. In the end, so my sources tell me, Baker himself picked the challenger : State Representative Keiko Orrall of Lakeville in Plymouth County.

No sooner had the word come late yesterday than I was informed that Orrall already had the necessary 41 votes in hand. If so, the end game is won.

All of this happened very, very quickly, and no word of it leaked, at least not to me. It was done very, very quietly — which I suppose is how it has to be done. But Prunier cannot have had any illusions that she would avoid a challenge. She cannot complain now that one has deployed itself so formidably.

Why, you may ask, does any of this inside the party kerfuffle matter to the average voter ? It matters a lot, because the platform of a party says a lot about what its activists hope to enact into laws that govern us all. We cannot have a party whose dominant activist owes first loyalty to a pressure group and not to the party she professes to lead. Especially not if the pressure group she owes first loyalty to opposes rights passionately supported by the vast majority of our state’s voters. To take that course is to ensure defeat. To stick to that course is to ensure dissension : because most Republican candidates want to win voters’ votes, not fend them off.

I know Keiko Orrall somewhat. She is no liberal; she and I disagree on many, many issues. But her first loyalty is to the state GOP, not to a pressure group. She also understands that Governor Baker is to be applauded — not criticized —  for his outreach, his tolerance, his reforms and innovations. Whatever Orrall’s views on social issues, she understands, and accepts, that people in our state prefer inclusion to division, tolerance to condemnation, of people for who they are.

On April 5th, the state committee meets to elect its national committee members. The game ends there and then.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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