Earlier this month, a bit of history was made in Massachusetts when the Republican candidate for Governor, Charlie Baker, asked State Senator Richard Tisei to join him on the ticket. Tisei is gay, and though Massachusetts might just be the most liberal state in the country, choosing a gay man to run as the Lieutenant Governor on the GOP ticket is a pretty big to do. Lest the world forget, the last Republican governor from Massachusetts was Mitt Romney, not entirely a champion for LGBT equality.
In many respects, it might seem as if the GOP is trying to live up to that buzz word, "big tent," indicating that there is some room in Republican politics for LGBT people to serve. That is, until you search around the interwebs and find out that conservatives are already organizing to get Tisei dumped from the ticket. Could it be a second coming of Scozzafava?
Possibly. One of the leading right-wing blogs in Massachusetts promoted the efforts to "Dump Tisei," and a few GOP activists are grumbling that making the Republican Party more liberal is the wrong direction for the state. It all begs the question: Is there room in the Republican Party for LGBT politicians? Or does the very premise automatically create backlash and disgust?
The site, Dump Tisei, blasts the State Senator for his support of marriage equality, as well as his past endorsements from the Massachusetts Teachers Association. They view Tisei as a threat to the very existence of the Republican Party, and are urging folks to sign a petition calling for his removal from the ticket.
It's anonymous Internet sniping at its worst, but it could make a difference. Rob Eno, the creator of conservative blog Red Mass Group, confirmed that a number of GOP folks are worred that Tisei's candidacy is controversial. And it's not hard to picture right-wing groups staying silent on this, particularly Mass Resistance, the devilishly anti-gay organization that is so extreme, they've been classified as an official hate group.
For the Republican Party, Tisei's candidacy has national implications. While groups of gay Republicans are working it to lend their sponsorship the Conservative Political Action Conference in 2010, their efforts will be totally moot if party officials can't stomach an openly LGBT Republican running in Massachusetts. Either the party is a big tent, or it continues to issue a litmus test on its members' sexual orientation. The choice is theirs.
Of course, the larger question will be whether Tisei's politics are right for the state of Massachusetts. If you ask Jeff Epperly at Bay Windows, the answer is that while Tisei might be breaking glass ceilings, he's not the right guy to be leading the Bay State.
"This state remains one of the main bulwarks against right-wing GOP incursions on our issues, especially same-sex marriage," Epperly writes. "We cannot afford to give an inch on our civil rights, and one late-to-the-party gay Republican cannot change that simple fact."
That's some pretty harsh criticism, and maybe it's well deserved. Tisei did just come out days before getting the ask to run as Baker's Lieutenant Governor. And the history of the GOP when it comes to LGBT rights is enough to make anyone concerned with equality a little squeamish.But at the end of the day, Tisei's place on the Republican ticket is forcing all sorts of folks to ask themselves some really good "Come to Jesus" questions. Can the Republican Party champion an openly gay nominee without a mutiny? And can your average, every day LGBT person bring themselves to vote for a member of a party that for so long has trampled on LGBT rights?