Wednesday, April 15, 2009

On Rebuilding The Party

Dear Friends,

Since late January, I have been privileged to be chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party and to work every day with activists and State Committee members who are devoted to the growth and success of our party. Together, we share a common goal of strengthening the Massachusetts Republican Party around the core principles of limited government, individual responsibility, and personal freedoms. I am writing this note after hearing and reading some of the recent discussion circulating about our Party.

Many of you have read my interview with Bay Windows and some good conservatives have expressed their concern with the tone and texture of my remarks regarding the importance of social issues in our political dialogue and debate. I welcome this discussion. Unlike the Democrats, we can have these opinions and free exchanges. As a married mother of two children, I am very aware of the importance of promoting and supporting strong families in every aspect of their lives. I do take issue with the public airing of our differences that do little but serve a narrow interest and give comfort to the liberal Democrats who are more than eager to promote an agenda outside mainstream of Massachusetts values.

My public comments in many venues express a desire to focus our party on the core principles and issues which unite all Republicans and provide a positive message to un-enrolled voters and many moderate to conservative Democrats. The strength of a majority party lies in strong agreement on what matters most to better the lives of all. For Massachusetts Republicans it is freedom from government, to keep more of our hard earned wealth, to demand reform and choices in our schools, to maintain public order and to provide for those in true need. Many of the social issues are critical to this discussion, but not at the exclusion of what unites us all.

As your chairman, I have worked to promote this agenda and keep our door open to anyone who shares our desire to make Massachusetts great again, and we will if we stand together on what unites us as Republicans and not demand loyalty tests or ideological measurements.

I look forward to working with all Republicans throughout the Commonwealth to form a winning team. We cannot afford to be delayed or sidetracked by differences. If we have them, let’s talk. I am ready to do that and move our shared values and agenda forward to all Massachusetts voters.

The discussion reminds me of past challenges the party faced, in particular, by Ray Shamie, Chairman of the Massachusetts Republican Party from 1986 to 1990. Mr. Shamie was undeniably one of the best leaders to serve our party, and if you haven't already, I recommend reading an excellent book, "Time for a Change: The Return of the Republican Party in Massachusetts.”

The book is essentially a biography of the MassGOP during much of Shamie's tenure, and it illustrates how he led the party to electoral success. In 1990, under Ray’s leadership, Republicans won 17 State Senate seats. We won nearly 50 House seats. We won the Governor’s Office. We won the Treasurer’s Office.

Simply put, Ray Shamie was a winner.

But even Shamie had his doubters. His strong conservative beliefs worried some of the party's most active members. In fact, according to the book, in 1990, “White House aide Andrew Card said he was initially concerned about the effect of Shamie’s tenure on the Party. Card said candidly he did not see any place for himself in a party run by Shamie, though he would wait and see.” Essentially, future White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card thought Shamie was too conservative.

Shamie recognized this perception and sought early to address it.

“This new Republican Party can continue to have its differences, but we must still work together,” he said.

At the time, Joe Malone said, “Shamie’s victory was a sign that a new generation had emerged in Republican politics, one more interested in winning elections than breaking out the heavy artillery for a shootout in the lifeboat.”

The book recounts Shamie's leadership at the contentious 1990 State Convention. The passage that has particular relevance today as our party seeks to halt years of decline, runs from pages 220-221, with emphasis added by me:

“The convention was designed to be a hotly contested display of unity, but the threat of internecine warfare lurked around every corner. What Party leaders feared most was a bloody floor fight over some extraneous issue that would detract from the convention’s guests of honor: the statewide candidates. The most likely source of a firefight was abortion. The Party had done its best over the preceding year to the contain the issue. Early in the campaign, Shamie had taken the statewide candidates aside and asked that they not pillory one another on the abortion issue. Whatever short-term gain the tactic might achieve during the primary, it would work against the Party as a whole in the general election by obscuring Republican strengths, said Shamie.

"Acting against his own personal convictions on the subject, Shamie fought to keep the Party neutral. Shamie had strong pro-life sentiments, but he would not allow the official Party to become ensnared in an issue that already deeply divided its members. Candidates and Party members would be free to follow their conscience without interference from the Chairman. Abortion was a deeply personal decision and it was not the place of the Party to speak on a subject for which no consensus existed among its members, said Shamie.”

I ask you to compare the above paragraph from "Time for a Change" to the following quote that has been the focus from the Bay Windows article:

"To me social issues are personal issues. Those are personal views, and we are not legislating here - at least I am not legislating anyone's personal views," said Nassour. "I have no personal agenda I'm trying to push through other than electing Republicans."

Unfortunately, I never met Ray Shamie, but from all I've read and heard from his friends and colleagues, I could do a lot worse then to try to follow his example. That said, I remain 100% committed to electing Republicans. I welcome pro-traditional marriage Republicans, as I do pro-gay marriage Republicans to the Republican Party. I welcome pro-life Republicans as well as pro-choice Republicans, to the Republican Party.

Like Ray Shamie, I recognize that our strength lies in building on the principles upon which we agree and not bickering over those where consensus is unreachable. I will never apply litmus tests to Republican candidates or officeholders, instead I will invite them to take their case to the voters and do so passionately.

I got involved with the Republican Party because I believe in limited government, individual responsibility, and personal freedom. Today, I reaffirm all those beliefs. Election Day is November 2, 2010, and there's lots of work ahead.

Yours in Victory,

Jennifer Nassour
Massachusetts Republican Party