By Matt Murphy
State House News Service
BOSTON -- Two outspoken House Republicans harshly criticized the leadership of their party Thursday, calling for House Minority Leader Brad Jones to step aside and further exposing a rift within the ranks of the House GOP that cuts along ideological and institutional lines.
Nowhere has the divide between factions of elected Republicans been more acute in recent years than in the House, where a small, but vocal group of mostly conservative lawmakers routinely bucks leadership of the outnumbered GOP caucus. The members often push into the public eye issues and concerns of importance to them that are not always deemed worth the fight for party leaders.
Rep. Jim Lyons, a conservative Andover Republican, laid bare the inter-party tension on Thursday in a radio interview on WRKO where he openly criticized Jones's leadership. His feelings were echoed later in the day by Rep. Marc Lombardo, a Billerica Republican.
The critiques seemed to backstop rumblings among State House Republicans in recent months that Jones, who would likely have the votes to withstand a challenge today, could face competition next year depending on the results of the November election.
Jones's style has often been to pick issues on which he'll battle with Democrats, who outnumber Republicans in the House by more than five-to-one. By opting against trying to embarrass or challenge Democrats at every turn, Jones has calculated that Democrats may be more willing to work with him when he really wants to get something done.
"In my opinion we have to change the leadership within the Republican Party," Lyons said. "If we're ever going to make any changes on Beacon Hill and in Massachusetts it is time to have Republicans who understand that our job is to go in there and protect the taxpayers and to fight as an opposition party and be unafraid to stand for the values that we stand for and when we have leadership that wants to bend and go along with the priorities of the Democrats we're going to be nothing but a failure."
Lombardo, who often works closely with Lyons, told the News Service later in the day that he agreed with Lyons.
"I do. It's been about 12 years that Leader Jones has led the Republican caucus and like anything after 12 years things become stale and it's time for new blood," Lombardo said. "There are those who want the Republican Party to be a true opposition party and under this leadership the Republican Party is more an accessory to the Democratic Party."
Jones, in an interview with the News Service, said he believes Lyons is expressing a "distinctly minority view" among House Republicans and defended his approach of being selective when challenging Democratic leaders. He said he's confident that he still has "strong support" within the caucus to remain on as leader, but will be prepared for a challenge in January, if he wins re-election.
"You don't have to be a rocket scientist, and obviously Rep. Lyons isn't, to realize that you need some support on the Democratic side of the aisle to get issues advanced, whether they're policy or parochial. That's just a mathematical reality, as much as I may not or he may not like it to be the case," Jones said.
Jones said he has an open-door-policy to work with members, but Lyons has never come to him to express a disagreement over something that's been done or a decision that's been made.
"That is his prerogative. That is his right. But quite frankly I think it's disappointing and belies that this is a lot more about politics than it is anything else," Jones said. "It's really unfortunate because I think the party has great number of opportunities this fall up and down the ticket and I think for those who want to continue down this path it's nothing but a distraction to winning seats."
Lombardo said it was premature to speculate about who might be a good replacement for Jones, but said he would be unlikely to seek the post. Asked about Rep. Shaunna O'Connell, Lombardo said, "I'd certainly support someone like Shaunna O'Connell," but declined to say whether the two have talked about her running.
Lombardo said he supported Jones for leader in 2013 because the Reading Republican was the only option, not because he had a different opinion of his leadership.
The conversation on the radio about leadership of the party started when Lyons said he could not understand why GOP leaders allowed House Democrats to gavel through a bill on Wednesday on a voice vote to raise the minimum wage. The House had previously taken a roll call on the bill, but for procedural reasons needed to reapprove the bill in order to move the issue into a Democrat-controlled conference committee with the Senate.
Lyons said he raised the issue with House GOP leaders before the session, but was rebuffed, and he did not attempt to block the bill when it emerged for a vote on the floor. A source confirmed that Lyons raised the issue during a private caucus, but Jones was not present for the discussion.
"Why should we care that the Democrats have completely messed up the process on trying to get a vote on the minimum wage?" Lyons said on the radio. "We could have opposed the minimum wage on the procedural ground and try to at least prevent it from being put back into the conference committee, but we didn't I cannot for the life of me understand why things like that go through."
Jones, who noted that the House did take a roll call vote on the bill in April, questioned why Lyons didn't offer an amendment himself if it was of such great concern.
"If they felt that was the job, why didn't they do their job?" Jones asked. He said many Republicans had reasons for not wanting another roll call vote, including the links that could be drawn between them and Mitt Romney who recently voiced support for a minimum wage increase.
Lyons said on the radio that his lack of confidence in Jones is nothing new. He said he voted against Jones for minority leader in January 2013, but a spokesman for the leader said Lyons abstained and was the only member of the caucus to do so.
Jones, first elected minority leader in 2002, last fended off a challenge to his leadership in 2009 when he eked out a victory over then Rep. Lewis Evangelidis, who is now the Worcester County sheriff. Evangelidis had support from seven members of the then 16-member caucus, including Karyn Polito, who is now a candidate for lieutenant governor.
Jones said he feels the latest rift in the caucus in "more visceral" than the last time around.
Lyons also resurfaced a fight from last summer when House Speaker Robert DeLeo began enforcing a new rule that only designated leaders of the Democrat or Republican Party during an informal session could have access to the "can" where bills expected to surface for votes are kept during the session.
Lyons criticized Jones for refusing to stand with members of his caucus who expressed concern about the policy and even shut down sessions in protest, and accused Jones of "attacking" him for voicing his opinions and telling the media that it was "a privilege" for members to sift through bills on the rostrum. Jones noted that since the dispute neither Lyons nor Lombardo regularly show up to informal sessions to review the bills on the agenda, calling the dust up "more about histrionics and theatrics than substance."
"It is obvious as someone who has been in there four years now that we need an opposition party that's prepared to fight, prepared to take on the Democrat, prepared to promote our agenda. We don't do that," Lyons told the show's host Jeff Kuhner. "Everything is wait to see what the Democrats will do and then maybe sometimes fight them, maybe, and if not we just kind of try to make sure the trains run on time."
Rep. Viriato deMacedo, a Plymouth Republican and member of Jones's inner circle, said he strongly disagreed with Lyons and Lombardo.
"I've served with Brad and I feel very confident Brad has a strong majority of the caucus believing he has done a good job," deMacedo told the News Service. "You have to be effective and you have to work to do that. We stand up all the time. The job isn't just to say, 'No,' or to say, 'Black,' when they say, 'White.'"
DeMacedo is running for state Senate this year, and won't be around to support Jones if he does face a challenge, but said Lyons and Lombardo have failed to recognize that having the respect of the opposition doesn't make one a bad leader.
"If you are constantly fighting everything, they'll listen to nothing," deMacedo said, referring to Democratic leaders.