A battle over control of the state Republican party has led to claims that its leader has discriminated against Asian American voters trying to fill a vacant political position.
In a letter to national party officials, more than two dozen Vietnamese-American Republicans alleged that Massachusetts Republican Party Chairman Jim Lyons led a "callous and underhanded scheme to discriminate" against Asian-American voters trying to reorganize ward committees in order to fill two open seats representing Dorchester and South Boston on the Republican State Committee, the 82-member panel that governs the party's activities.
"Chairman Lyons is demanding that, in order to reorganize, all of our members must 'prove' their identities through carefully coordinated, back-to-back Zoom meetings under the MassGOP's watchful eye," the letter said, going on to say that many in the Vietnamese GOP community are elderly, do not have access to a computer or face language barriers.
Lyons told GBH News that new ward committees organized in anticipation of a special caucus to fill the two state committee seats, including wards in Dorchester's Veitnamese neighborhoods, were formed incorrectly. He rejects claims that he has discriminated against Asian Americans.
"My focus is just the opposite: to increase the number of Asian Americans in our party," Lyons told GBH News. "And that's exactly what we're trying to do,"
The winners of the two open seats could help tip the balance in a fight over control of the Republican Party in Massachusetts as it anticipates a contentious 2022 nominating convention.
Multiple state GOP committee members said that conservatives aligned with Lyons could use their majority on the state committee to increase the threshold of support a candidate needs to access the party's primary ballot for governor. During Gov. Charlie Baker's last run in 2018, the percentage of convention support needed for ballot access was 15%, but a rules change by conservatives could increase that threshold in 2022.
That could potentially force Baker, a moderate, out of the running for his own party's nomination.
In a March 29 letter to members of the newly established ward committee, Lyons wrote that "a formal review of the formation of wards 6, 7, 13, 15, 16 and 17 were found to have been formed incorrectly for a variety of reasons, invaliding them, including and not limited to failure to notify the regional chair, individuals living in the wrong district, unenrolled individuals, individuals registered as Democrats and individuals submitting inconsistent signatures."
Peabody Republican state committee woman Jaclyn Corriveau, a second generation Chinese and Vietnamese American, questioned the ethics behind Lyons' decision to reject the newly organized Boston wards and said that similar bylaws were waived in her race.
"These are predominantly Asian American and predominantly Vietnamese American neighborhoods and wards." Corriveau told GBH News. "It raises some questions. And as an Asian American, it definitely raises some questions with me."
"We are not changing any rules for the caucus," Lyons said in response to Corriveau. "The same rules in place for Peabody will be in place when we hold the caucus for the first Suffolk district."
There are only two candidates formally running for the two open state committee spots. Jeanna Tamas and Timothy Smyth, both of South Boston, are running as a ticket and support Baker.
"It's one of the reasons why we believe [Lyons is] trying to dissolve the wards right now — so that he has more time before he announces our special caucus for our election," Tamas said. "Because I think he's definitely looking for two other candidates to run against us."
Tamas and Smyth told GBH News that Lyons was supportive of their run until the pair expressed support for keeping Baker and other moderate elected officials on the party's governing board. After that conversation and falling out, Smyth said, Lyons reviewed the newly reorganized boards and called for the Zoom meetings.
"With the convention coming up, the goal of some people in this party, including the chairman, I believe, is to keep Gov. Baker off of the primary ballot to clear the way for Geoff Diehl," Corriveau said.