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It’s a Trump-era tale of a governor who got on the wrong side of the state’s pro-Trump base, only in Massachusetts it’s a little more complicated. Unlike in many other states, Northeastern Republican governors like Baker and Vermont’s Phil Scott have posted sky-high approval ratings in their states precisely because they rejected the former president and kept a distance from the national party. Now, in a party where loyalty to Trump has emerged as a key litmus test, a vocal contingent of Massachusetts Republicans are questioning whether there’s still a place for Baker in the GOP, despite his record of electoral success.

“The party seems to be on a suicide mission at this point,” former state GOP Chair Jennifer Nassour said. “What the Republican Party in Massachusetts is trying to do right now … is hand the corner office over to the Democrats.”

Despite its reputation as a Democratic stronghold, Massachusetts has elected Republican governors on a fairly regular basis over the past 60 years. Baker shares many of their political traits — politically moderate, fiscally conservative and socially more liberal.

He’s made clear that he’s no fan of the former president: Baker has said that he left his ballot for president blank both times Trump was on the ticket, and wasn’t shy about criticizing the president over the federal response to the pandemic, his post-election machinations or his actions surrounding the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot.

That’s made the governor popular among Democrats, but it’s created long-simmering tensions between the Baker-led moderate wing of the state party and a pro-Trump conservative faction helmed by Chair Jim Lyons, who often signs off phone calls by saying “Let’s make Massachusetts great again.”

“[Baker is] a great candidate for Massachusetts,” Republican strategist Wendy Wakeman, a Lyons ally, said of the governor. “But he’s not necessarily the best voice for the base.”

Lyons was once a Baker ally and went to bat for him when the governor was running for reelection in 2018. Then a state legislator, Lyons served as a bridge to conservatives by hosting fundraisers and appearing prominently in Baker’s convention video that year.

He lost his own reelection bid that fall to a progressive Democrat but won the state party chair role at the start of 2019 — and that’s when insiders say the trouble began.

Fundraising disagreements between Lyons and members of Baker’s team grew into a long-running, public feud that Lyons escalated last winter by asking the FBI and four other state and federal agencies to investigate the state party’s financial operations under his predecessors — including Baker allies.

That rift, Republican sources say, was compounded by internal turmoil on the state committee and longstanding ideological differences between Baker and Lyons that were fanned by Trump. Lyons, who originally backed Ted Cruz for president in 2016, has embraced Trump’s style and partisan rhetoric, arguing that it’s the key to energizing the small Republican base in Massachusetts.

Baker, by contrast, has frequently repudiated Trump, leading some pro-Trump members of the state party to call for a censure of Baker for supporting the then-president’s second impeachment. Others have bristled at what they viewed as Baker’s overly restrictive pandemic regulations, particularly when it came to business closures, with some going so far as to back lawsuits challenging the governor’s emergency powers.

Looking ahead to 2022, some Republicans have talked about raising the bar for the delegate-vote percentage candidates need at next year’s convention to qualify for the primary ballot, which could, the thinking goes, make things more difficult for Baker.

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“There is a hardcore group out there that will vote for anybody but him in a primary situation,” state committeewoman Amy Carnevale said.

One potential alternative has already surfaced: Geoff Diehl, a Lyons ally and former state lawmaker who’s eyeing a gubernatorial bid as a potential political comeback after a failed challenge to Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren in 2018.

Lyons and his allies insist they’re not trying to subvert Baker — they say they’re just doing what’s best for the future of a party they believe has been overly focused on keeping the governor’s office at the expense of growing its small base down-ballot. Some in GOP circles even view Lyons as a whistleblower who’s bringing much-needed reform to a party that’s badly outnumbered outside of the governor’s office and losing viability.

“Charlie Baker is a good man,” Lyons said. He’s just “politically not where the Republican Party is here and nationally.”

Baker, normally reticent about getting too involved in state party politics, is taking a more active role in recent weeks. Last week, he slammed party leadership for being out of touch with the “vast majority” of Republicans amid a scandal over anti-gay remarks a GOP state committeewoman made toward a gay congressional candidate. Lyons has rejected calls to make the committeewoman resign, or step down himself.

Baker also responded to recent, unsuccessful Lyons-backed machinations that would have ousted the governor and other elected Republican leaders from a state party committee that controls primary election endorsements — and therefore party resources.

“You mean the only two statewide officeholders who are elected Republicans?” Baker said in response to a POLITICO reporter’s question about the matter at a press conference last week.

“Kicking us off doesn’t make any sense,” Baker continued. “It also speaks to larger issues about just not appreciating and understanding that this is supposed to be a team sport.”

After watching the party lose seats on Beacon Hill and fundraising falter in the years since Lyons took over, some Republicans worry that Lyons — who rode the tea party wave into elected office in 2010 and regularly condemns the “radical left” — has a vendetta against Baker that could cost them the governor’s office in 2022 if Baker decides to run for a third term.

“It makes absolutely no sense that a very popular governor is being literally singled out by a failed former state representative with very little fundraising prowess and a very divided state committee,” said state Rep. Shawn Dooley, a GOP state committeeman who unsuccessfully challenged Lyons for the party chair role earlier this year and frequently criticizes Baker.

“I’m concerned that this is an incredibly dangerous game that we’re playing,” Dooley added. “And if we lose the governor’s office, we’re losing it for eight years.”

Some Republicans say the blowback against Baker is limited to the party’s far-right. They express a sense of hope — albeit waning — that the GOP’s warring factions can call a truce ahead of 2022.

“Our best shot at getting a Republican elected as governor is Charlie Baker,” Carnevale said. “I just think it’s crazy for our party to turn our backs on an incumbent Republican, especially one who’s so popular in a blue state.”


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Nevada meltdown gives Iowa hope of saving first-in-the-nation fame

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The chair of the Nevada Democratic Party, Judith Whitmer, blasted the move as an “insurgency within our own party.”

Watching the Nevada fireworks explode from halfway across the country, Iowa Democrats glimpsed a flicker of hope. As the national party considers the 2024 calendar, Iowa — in comparison to Nevada — might not look so bad anymore. And that might assist their efforts to save their cherished place in the early state pecking order.

“Putting on one of these is a mammoth undertaking,” said Dave Nagle, a former congressman and former Iowa state Democratic Party chair. “And you can’t have the organizers in open warfare with each other.”

He said, “That’s never happened in our state.”

Or as Scott Brennan, an Iowa DNC member and a former state party chair, put it, “Their internal issues certainly create challenges that make it hard to see them moving forward successfully.”

Nevada’s bid for an earlier nominating contest was never grounded in the cohesiveness of the state party. Rather, it was a response to widespread complaints within the Democratic Party about the lack of diversity in Iowa and New Hampshire, two heavily white states. The technological issues that marred the Iowa caucuses last year — so severe the Associated Press was never able to call a winner — only added to Democrats’ complaints about the state.

But Democrats in Nevada are making a run on Iowa in terms of dysfunction.

This week, leaders of the Democratic Party in Washoe County, which includes Reno, moved to undercut the state party ahead of the midterm elections, voting to run the state’s 2022 coordinated campaign out of the county instead. The extraordinary move — which included statements of support from Sisolak, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, Democratic state lawmakers, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee and the Democratic Governors Association — came after a slate of Bernie Sanders allies endorsed by the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America won control of the state party, a blow to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s vaunted organizing machine in the swing state.

Whitmer called the uprising “ill-advised and undemocratic.”

Even in the fractious world of state party politics, that’s an uncommon level of animosity to put on display — especially with Democratic National Committee members who will decide the nominating calendar as early as next year all watching.

And that’s just the Democrats.

Nevada Republicans may be in even worse shape, with state and local party officials in Las Vegas feuding over a faction of pro-Trump activists, including some with ties to the Proud Boys, trying to take over the local party in Las Vegas’ Clark County. And Republicans don’t even want to change the traditional nominating calendar at all.

Earlier this week, the state Republican Party chairs in all four early nominating states — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — issued a statement calling for the existing calendar to be preserved.

“I think if Nevada can’t get its s–t together, that disqualifies them,” said Michael Ceraso, a Democratic strategist who organized fundraisers for Jaime Harrison, now the DNC chair, during his unsuccessful South Carolina Senate campaign last year. “If a state can’t work together, how are they going to operate a primary?”

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At an event in Las Vegas on Friday, Sisolak signed legislation changing Nevada’s caucus system to a presidential primary and moving the contest to the first Tuesday in February, ahead of Iowa and New Hampshire. A cheer went up when Sisolak said Nevada was claiming “the first-in-the-nation presidential primary.”

Nevada — or some other state — may still unseat Iowa. The effort in Nevada has been championed by Reid, who remains influential in national party politics. Regardless of the contretemps within the state party, one prominent Democratic Party official said, “Harry Reid is still Harry Reid.”

Reid said Friday in an interview that infighting in the state party is “exaggerated,” and “the mere fact that somebody took over the state party, it happens all the time.”

“Nevada’s that kind of a state,” he said. “I’ve been to state party meetings where fist fights broke out, so we’re used to a little intrigue.”

Reid said he doubted the DNC would penalize Nevada for any of its internal machinations as it considers the 2024 calendar. In addition, the state — not political parties — will run the primary, relying less on the organizational strength of any party apparatus. Molly Forgey, a former state party staffer who now serves as spokesperson for the coordinated campaign run through Washoe County, said “the reasons we’ve expressed why we deserve to be first still remain,” including the state’s diversity and geographic foothold in the West.

Even Ray Buckley, chair of the New Hampshire Democratic Party, said Friday that “whatever internally is happening in any state party, I don’t think has a significant influence” on how the calendar is set. He said he’s confident New Hampshire will “retain our historic spot.”

His confidence is based on years of successfully defending the state’s privileged position. New Hampshire and Iowa have long fought off efforts by other states to leapfrog them. New Hampshire’s secretary of state, Bill Gardner, has said he will follow a state law that requires New Hampshire to hold its primary at least seven days before any “similar election” in another state. And Nagle said that, if necessary, Iowa will hold its caucuses ahead of the 2024 election “in July of 2023 if we have to.”

For Iowans hoping to stave off another challenge to their first-in-the-nation status, the meltdown in Nevada is not a panacea. But even if it raises just a small level of doubt about Nevada in national Democrats’ minds, it could prove helpful to Iowa’s cause.

Asked if the infighting might affect Nevada’s bid to move forward in the process, Jeff Link, an Iowa-based Democratic consultant, said, “Sure. Everything must align to make a big change.”


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Opinion | The Republican Case for Federal LGBT Rights

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For the national Republican Party, this issue gives us the chance to do some good, win back millions of voters we’ve alienated, and move on to other important areas where we still have the moral high ground.

Some Republican operatives think they’re better off continuing to fight on this front of the culture war, and plenty of Democratic operatives think the same. The partisan vote in the House reflects an unwillingness—on both sides—to negotiate. But gay and trans rights are no longer the wedge issue they were in the early aughts. Times have changed, and Republicans’ best bet now is to reach a negotiated peace with the other side.

Democrats know the current version of the Equality Act could never pass in the Senate in its current form. And it might seem that in the current environment, common ground is out of reach. But senators of both parties have no chance of portraying themselves as reasonable unless they make a good-faith effort to reach a deal. Democrats cannot clear this hurdle unless they deal fairly with Republicans like Susan Collins or Lisa Murkowski, as well as conservative Democrat Joe Manchin. As for Republicans, they need to be willing to back an alternative rather than just saying “no.”

For religious conservatives, and by extension the Republicans who represent many of them, the problem with the current bill is that it appears to threaten their religious freedom and fails to adequately grapple with First Amendment concerns. They cannot support legislation that would imperil their operations, including the vital social services they provide in underserved communities around the country.

Several states have enacted laws similar to the Equality Act in recent years, but always with religious liberty protections. For instance, Rhode Island has a robust anti-discrimination law with reasonable protections for religious groups. These protections ensure that Catholic Social Services—and any other religious groups—can continue to provide valuable services in the state.

Similarly, Utah’s success in passing anti-discrimination legislation offers a path forward. Although its state government is controlled by Republicans at every level, Utah has some of the strongest protections for gay and trans people in the nation. In 2015, with the support of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and state LGBTQ leaders, Utah’s Republican legislature passed a comprehensive non-discrimination bill with reasonable protections for religious organizations.

I worked on the campaign to pass it, and found that Republicans were far more open to gay rights if a bill simply respected these protections, and Democrats were able to get behind it as well. It was a fair outcome that both sides liked. As a result, the law has enjoyed widespread support among the public. The people of Utah are tied with Vermont for the second-highest rates of support for LGBTQ non-discrimination protections.

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In Congress, instead of working toward such a deal, many Democrats grandstand and posture, insisting—wrongly—that they can pass the Equality Act as currently written. Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, for instance, has never complained about the religious exemptions in his own state’s anti-discrimination laws, yet for some reason he draws a line in the sand at the federal level, denouncing any effort to provide similar exemptions in the Equality Act. Meanwhile, most Republicans complain about these missing provisions without offering their support for a bill that included such guarantees.

Utah should serve as a blueprint for both Democrats and Republicans in the Senate. The Fairness for All Act, an alternative version of the Equality Act, draws from the popular Utah law. Senate Republicans should introduce this bill and use its language to amend the Equality Act.

Support by Republican lawmakers for these types of changes would deliver a broader win to religious conservatives as well: Perhaps surprisingly, the best and possibly only way to achieve robust religious-freedom protections nationwide is by agreeing to LGBTQ non-discrimination protections, codifying an expansion of civil rights for religion alongside protections for sex, sexual orientation and gender identity.

This move would also help Republicans gain back some of the ground they lost with voters over the past several years. Public opinion polling shows that support for LGBTQ civil rights continues to climb, particularly in more educated, suburban districts.

With public support at sky-high levels, a version of the Equality Act will pass eventually. The question is: Which version? And will Republicans take the opportunity to shape it?

Religious conservatives should seize this chance now to influence the process before the culture shifts even more decidedly against them on LGBTQ issues. By making peace on this issue, religious conservatives could get the legal protections they want while also showing themselves to be decent and reasonable people—winning them political goodwill for any future disagreements that might emerge, and allowing lawmakers to move on to pressing issues like the crushing federal debt, defeating coronavirus, unaccompanied minors at the border, human rights abuses by the Chinese Communist Party, crumbling infrastructure and energy independence.

Responsible legislation is within reach, but you can’t win if you don’t play. Reaching a settlement on these issues is better for people of faith, better for LGBTQ people, and better for the country. Republicans should sit down with Democrats and insist on a deal that works for both sides. Common ground is possible.


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Teen who recorded George Floyd’s murder awarded Pulitzer special citation

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Darnella Frazier, the teenager who recorded George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis last year, received a Pulitzer Prize special citation on Friday for her work capturing the video that launched a nationwide reckoning on racial issues and policing in America.

The video, in which she recorded then-police officer Derek Chauvin pinning Floyd to the ground with a knee on his neck, circulated widely on social media, sparking protests over police violence committed against Black Americans. Frazier was 17 years old when she recorded the video.

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The Pulitzer Prize Board honored Frazier on Friday “for courageously recording the murder of George Floyd, a video that spurred protests against police brutality around the world, highlighting the crucial role of citizens in journalists’ quest for truth and justice.” Previous winners of Pulitzer special citations and awards include Ida B. Wells, Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan.


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