BOSTON – Gov. Charlie Baker will headline a fundraising event for Andover state Rep. Jim Lyons, which has drawn criticism from Democrats and liberal groups who point out that the Republican conservative has bucked the governor on transgender protections, abortion and LGBT rights.
Baker, also a Republican, will deliver the keynote speech at Lyon's fundraiser at the Lanam Club in Andover on Aug. 27, his campaign said.
Lyons, who is running for a fifth term representing the 18th Essex District, frequently criticizes the Legislature's Democratic leadership and opposes same-sex marriage, transgender protections and abortion rights — policies that Baker has embraced. Baker is running for a second term.
Jay Gonzalez, one of two Democrats vying for the party's nod to challenge Baker in the elections Nov. 6, called his support for Lyons "reprehensible."
"Lyons’ hateful rhetoric and backwards thinking do not represent who we are," said Gonzalez, a Cambridge Democrat, in a statement. "By actively supporting Lyons’ campaign — and the campaigns of other Republican candidates with similar views — Gov. Baker is working against LGBTQ and women’s rights."
Andover attorney Tram Nguyen, a Democrat challenging Lyons in November, said Baker's support for Lyons suggests he's pandering to conservatives.
"As a governor that is holding himself out to be a moderate Republican who is pro-choice and supports LGBTQ rights, I find it troubling that he is embracing such a far-right legislator," Nguyen said. "Lyons' views are so extreme that he can't even get fellow Republicans in the Legislature to support him."
Lyons is leading efforts to repeal a law banning discrimination against transgender people in public spaces, which Baker signed two years ago, she noted.
Local Democrats, including 3rd Congressional District candidates Sen. Barbara L'Italien, D-Andover, and Alexandra Chandler of Haverhill — the first openly transgender candidate to run for Congress in the state — are organizing a protest outside the event.
Lyons brushed off the criticism and said he welcomes Baker’s support, stressing his work with the governor on opioid addiction and other major issues.
"I'm very proud of the work I've done with Governor Baker on the opioid epidemic, increasing local aid and supporting law enforcement," he said Thursday.
Baker campaign spokesman Terry MacCormack defended the governor's support for Lyons, saying that while the two might not agree on thorny social issues, they "share a personal commitment to combating the opioid epidemic."
"The governor has long supported marriage equality and women's health, does not expect that everyone he works with on Beacon Hill will share his position on every issue, and believes in working past political differences to deliver the best results for the people of Massachusetts," MacCormack said in a statement.
Baker, who officially kicked off his re-election campaign last weekend with his running mate, Republican Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito of Shrewsbury, faces a heated primary challenge from Republican Scott Lively, a vocal, anti-gay pastor who has called the incumbent governor's GOP credentials into question.
"Baker knows that has he problems with the more conservative wing of the party," said Arline Isaacson, a political consultant and co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus. "But I'm not sure why he's worried because I think most conservatives are going to end up voting for Baker anyways."
She pointed out that Baker has supported dozens of LGBTQ initiatives over the past four years, which is why his support for Lyons is "so painful."
Deborah Shields, executive director of MassEquality, said she was "deeply disappointed and confused" by Baker's efforts to raise campaign money for Lyons.
She suggested the move will erode his support among the LGBTQ community.
"Jim Lyons is opposed to just about every law that stands for equality and fairness," she said. "It's shocking that Baker would come out and support him."
Christian Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for the North of Boston Media Group's newspapers and websites.