BOSTON — Former state Rep. Jim Lyons, a conservative Republican who lost his seat to Democrat Tram Nguyen in last November's elections, has taken the reins of the state GOP after winning a race for chairman.
Lyons, of Andover, was elected Thursday night by the Republican State Committee, edging out MassGOP Treasurer Brent Andersen, by a vote of 47 to 30, according to the party.
"Over the next two years, I look forward to working with all Republicans to build on the party's foundation and take our efforts to the next level," Lyons said in a statement.
The selection of Lyons, who opposes abortion and same-sex marriage, represents a sharp tack to the right for the party’s leadership, which had pursued a moderate agenda under its former leader, Kirsten Hughes.
Hughes, a Quincy city councilor who took over as party chairwoman in 2013, announced she was stepping down from the post after the November elections.
During Lyons' four terms representing the 18th Essex District in the House of Representatives, he was one of the sharpest critics of Democratic leadership on Beacon Hill.
He staked out sometimes controversial positions. As a lawmaker, he voted against protections for transgender individuals, opposed a bill that would have banned "conversion therapy" used by religious groups to change teens’ sexual orientation, and sought to block attempts to add a neutral “Gender X” classification on driver's licenses.
Democrats and liberal groups targeted him in the recent election, throwing money and resources behind Andover Democrat Tram Nguyen's campaign to unseat him. More than $250,000 was spent on the race, making it one of the most expensive legislative contests in the state last year.
Nguyen defeated Lyons with about 55 percent of the vote.
"Lyons' election pushes the state Republican Party further toward the policies and rhetoric of Donald Trump, and away from the best interests of people in the commonwealth," Gus Bickford, chairman of the state’s Democratic Party, said in a statement.
Gov. Charlie Baker, a moderate Republican who supported Lyons' re-election campaign, didn’t publicly back a candidate in the race to succeed Hughes.
In 2016, Baker, who supports same-sex marriage and abortion rights, backed a roster of candidates running against conservatives for seats on the party's 80-member governing body.
Many of the GOP committee candidates endorsed by Baker won or retained their seats, according to party officials.
Still, besides his own political success, Baker hasn't been able to elect many GOP candidates to the Legislature in a state where Democrats hold super-majorities in the House and Senate.
Last fall the GOP got wiped out in every statewide race, except governor, and lost three seats in the Legislature.
Conservatives, who've complained that Baker has snubbed many on the party's right, say Lyons will bring more people back to the GOP.
"We need to be big tent party where every Republican has a voice," said Marty Lamb, a GOP state committeeman from Holliston, who voted for Lyons. "Until now, that hasn't been the case."
He said Lyons has the grassroots political experience to build the party's membership and elect more Republicans to office on a state and municipal level.
"For years we've been using the model of building the party from the top down, riding on the coattails of the governor, instead of working from the ground up," he said. "It's time for a change of direction."
Jeffrey Berry, a political science professor at Tufts University, said Lyon's election shows that Baker, like former Republican Gov. Mitt Romney, hasn't been able to move the party toward a moderate platform.
"This choice tells us a lot about the base of the Republican Party in Massachusetts," he said. "It is not a reflection of Charlie Baker's politics, but rather of the national Republican Party."
Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group’s newspapers and websites. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.