Rick Green, chief executive of 1A Auto Parts, beamed with pride as he showed off his massive distribution center in Littleton — one of four giant warehouses his company operates around the country to serve do-it-yourself auto mechanics.
Forklifts beeped. Workers plucked parts off of racks so they could be shipped to customers around the country.
Headlights. Brake pads. Fenders. You name it.
1A Auto Parts has come a long way since Green and his younger brother started the company in a Pepperell garage 22 years ago. Today, the online retailer says it has more than 500 employees and hundreds of millions of dollars in annual sales.
And as the company has grown, Green has become one of the biggest engines behind the conservative wing of the Massachusetts Republican party, creating a challenge for the state’s more moderate Republican governor, Charlie Baker.
The 50-year-old founded an advocacy group, Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, which has regularly attacked progressive politicians and policies. It also challenged Baker’s emergency orders during the pandemic and helped oust Baker’s top climate change aide in February.
Green has also made his own venture into politics. He unsuccessfully ran for Congress as a Republican against Lori Trahan in 2018.
Still, Green and his company have become potent political funders behind the scenes.
State political finance records show Green and other 1A employees have contributed $88,000 to Republican candidates and the state party over the last decade.
Green makes no apologies for encouraging his workers to open their wallets, no matter who they support. Green also notes that all of his employees know where he stands, because he ran for Congress.
“What I would say is I encourage — I want [people] to get involved,” he said. “So if you believe passionately [in] something different than I do, I will try my best to convince you of what I believe. But at the same time, I would say, you know what? You should go get involved even if it’s on the other side of the aisle.”
And Green’s political philosophy dovetails with his business in other ways.
For nearly every part, the company offers a video to show customers how to make their own repairs.
“We don’t just sell auto parts,” Green said. “We sell empowerment. We’re enabling folks who otherwise wouldn’t even consider to do the repair to do it themselves.”
And just like teaching drivers about auto repairs through his business, Green believes he can help inform voters through his politics.
“Empowering individuals, making sure folks understand that the Republican Party is about free enterprise,” he said.
But like many conservative Republicans, Green has reservations about the state’s top Republican in Massachusetts, Charlie Baker.
“I do think that we need to do more to empower individuals,” Green said. “I just don’t think Charlie’s gone in that direction.”
Baker has long been one of the most popular governors overall, in part due to his high approval ratings from independents and many Democrats. But a poll last year found Republican primary voters gave Trump better ratings than Baker.
And Green has one replacement part you can’t order from his on-line catalog: A potential replacement for Baker.
Green recently hired former state representative Geoff Diehl as 1A Auto’s director of business development. And many conservatives would love to see Diehl challenge Baker in the Republican primary next year, should Baker decide to seek another term.
“If he decides to run, will he have my support? He absolutely will,” Green said. “That’s his decision.”
Diehl unsuccessfully challenged Sen. Elizabeth Warren in 2018. And Diehl hasn’t said whether he will run for governor.
But he recently launched a series of YouTube videos showing him driving around the state talking to people in a Ford Bronco, echoing former U.S. Sen. Scott Brown’s memorable campaign effort in a GMC pickup truck. It’s not clear who is funding Diehl’s video campaign.
When asked by WBUR if he has decided whether he will run for Governor, Diehl texted that he’s “not quite there yet.” Diehl said he does not have a timeframe in making a decision.
“So if you believe passionately [in] something different than I do, I will try my best to convince you of what I believe. But at the same time, I would say, you know what? You should go get involved even if it’s on the other side of the aisle.”
But longtime Republican political consultant Rob Gray doubts Green’s support will be enough to unseat Baker.
“Well, Green has certainly funded groups that have opposed parts of the Baker agenda,” he said. “Green ran against Baker’s pick for party chairmen. I don’t think that Charlie Baker has to be concerned about it because he’s the governor. He has plenty of power. He has huge popularity. If he runs for reelection, I believe he’ll get reelected whether Rick Green wants him to or not.”
And Democrats have long complained about Green’s nonprofit, the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance.
Though the group says it advocates for transparency in state government, Democrats note Mass Fiscal won’t reveal its own donors.
Gus Bickford, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party, called Mass Fiscal “an organization that is cloaked in secrecy.”
“Rick Green has a bad track record in that area,” Bickford said.
Green has long had his own complaints about fundraising that generally benefits Democrats. His company waged an unsuccessful court battle a few years ago, arguing it was unconstitutional for Massachusetts to ban private businesses from making campaign donations, while allowing unions to make such contributions.
The state’s Supreme Judicial Court dismissed the case and the U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear the appeal.
Except for Baker, the state’s Republican party hasn’t had much more success at the ballot box. Democrats have super-majorities in both houses of the state Legislature. And every member of the state’s Congressional delegation is a Democrat.
But Green plans to keep fighting to change that. He said he’s intrigued by the fact that people have called it “mission impossible.”
“If it was easy, I wouldn’t be interested,” he said.
Green says he thinks he just needs to relay the right message to get more Republicans elected in Massachusetts.