Baker backs Orrall as national GOP committeewoman

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BOSTON – After his slate of endorsed candidates claimed a majority on the Republican State Committee last week, Gov. Charlie Baker appears to be using his muscle to help push out Massachusetts national committeewoman Chanel Prunier, a conservative activist from Shrewsbury.

Baker has endorsed state Rep. Keiko Orrall to take over the national committeewoman post, which will be chosen by the state committee on April 5 at its first meeting since last Tuesday’s elections.

Orrall’s husband Norman Orrall was among the 52 Baker-backed candidates for state committee seats who won last Tuesday, ostensibly giving the governor control over the 80-member body.

Dominick Ianno, a senior member of Baker’s administration who was elected to the state committee Tuesday, came out in support of Orrall on Sunday, and more public endorsements are expected. A political advisor to Baker said he expects most of the governor’s endorsed candidates on the committee to rally behind the Lakeville Republican, but indicated that Baker himself has not made any phone calls.

Orrall, of Japanese and German Irish descent, won a special election in 2011 to replace former Democratic House member Stephen Canessa.

“I know what it’s like to grow the bench of elected Republicans in Massachusetts. I held an elected position in municipal government before winning a special election in a difficult district for state representative,” she wrote in a letter posted on her campaign website.

Orrall said the state’s national committeewoman should not only understand the “importance of grassroots campaigns, but is also able to work to solve problems.” She highlighted her opposition to the PARCC standardized testing and Common Core education standards, and her willingness to fight for lower taxes as examples of her work on Beacon Hill.

“As your National Committeewoman, I will be a fresh conservative voice for our Massachusetts Republican Party, bringing diversity, energy, and enthusiasm for a unified party to beat the Democrats in November,” she wrote.

Baker’s involvement in the intraparty state committee races has drawn ridicule from conservative activists who felt that Baker was stepping outside his lane as governor. Prunier, who helped lead the fight against gay marriage in Massachusetts, fought against Baker during the state committee elections to elect more conservative grassroots Republicans to the party’s governing board.

Elected national committeewoman in 2013 to replace former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, Prunier supported Baker in 2014 even as some conservatives gravitated toward his primary challenger Mark Fisher. However, more recently she has been critical of Baker’s tenure, faulting him for not taking a more principled stand for a brand of conservatism that could help grow the Republican Party in Massachusetts.

“It’s disappointing he’s decided to throw his support behind Rep. Orrall,” Prunier said in an email. “I’m the best choice to work with both sides of the state committee, to put the March 1 elections behind us, and to ensure the Party moves forward united into the 2016 elections. Many individuals serving on the committee were targeted for defeat by the establishment team, and it’s important we all come together quickly. Pushing Rep. Orrall moves us further from that goal.”

Orrall did not return a message seeking comment.

Baker successfully ran a candidate – Lindsay Valanzola – against Prunier’s mother Ronna Prunier in the state committee race in the Worcester, Hampden, Hampshire & Middlesex District.

National committeeman Ron Kaufman, a former senior advisor to Mitt Romney and White House aide to President George H.W. Bush, is also up for re-election by the party.

House Minority Leader Brad Jones, who briefly employed Prunier on his staff in early part of the last decade, said Orrall would represent the MassGOP well on the national committee.

“I’m a big supporter of Keiko, absolutely,” Jones said. “Keiko’s a good candidate and I think she’ll do very well there.”

Written by Matt Murphy