On April 19 last year, longtime political activist, former elected official and Watertown resident Warren Tolman found himself 300 yards from the capture of Marathon bomber Zhokar Tsarnaev. With a helicopter roaring overhead, police on both sides of his driveway and in his backyard, Tolman listened as a swat team worked its way through his basement searching for the fleeing bomber. In the aftermath of that extraordinary event, Tolman found himself thinking a lot about our first responders and their exemplary acts of public service. He repeatedly asked himself, “Am I giving enough back (to the community)” and, if not, how could he reorder his life to do so. When incumbent Martha Coakley decided to run for governor, Tolman’s path became clear.
Every once in a while a candidate comes along who seems made for the post he or she is running for. In 2014, that candidate is Warren Tolman. After eight years in the legislature, two terms as state rep and two terms as state senator, he ran for lieutenant governor on the 1998 Democratic ticket led Scott Harshbarger. They lost to Republican Paul Cellucci and Jane Swift. In 2002, Tolman ran for the top spot, losing the nomination to Shannon O’Brien (O’Brien happened upon us talking at Peet’s Coffee and noted that this time she is backing Tolman enthusiastically. So, too, are four former attorneys general – Bellotti, Shannon, Harshbarger, and Reilly.) Since that loss to O’Brien, Tolman has been in private law practice, occasionally serving as a guest political commentator in the local media.
He is a thoughtful, earnest guy with progressive views who projects gravitas and knows his way around the system. He says being A.G. isn’t about being the best attorney or the best prosecutor but about being a leader. He is actually bringing some fresh ideas to the table.
Tolman is proposing a requirement that all new guns sold in Massachusetts be “smart guns,” that is, activated only by the owner’s fingerprint recognition. He wants to bring to colleges and universities best practices to reduce campus rapes. He is deeply concerned about the heroin crisis (123 overdoses in Taunton since January 1st, for example) and will advocate increased availability of treatment beds, be a resource for educators teaching children about drugs, and push big Pharma to use safer packaging for powerful new prescription drugs that can fall into the wrong hands. These kinds of issues would get more attention under Tolman.
In other areas, he hesitated to stake out positions. With the flawed bidding process for medical marijuana dispensaries, he noted that “we haven’t covered ourselves with glory” and “the process has to be above reproach,” but he declined to prescribe specific remedies. He implied he would have wanted more transparency with the casino bidding process, but he stopped short of taking a stand on the legality of the casino repeal referendum, now before the SJC. With respect to drivers’ licenses for illegals, he would like to find a way to increase public safety by issuing such licenses but still not reward people who don’t play by the rules. (I understand the ambiguity of this issue.)
Tolman’s position on cigarette sales is more certain; he wouldn’t try to ban a legal product but wants to recover taxes lost to “butt-legging” and regulate companies that sell e-cigarettes, which target young people in a predatory way.
In the weeks ahead, we can expect other initiatives, including in the area of elder abuse. In this, as in other areas of unmet needs, the state’s attorney general has to be a forceful advocate. Notwithstanding his unclear responses on some issues, Tolman still seems equipped for the job.
He’d ask interest groups to go public with candidate responses to their questionnaires. If they did not, he’d consider not pursuing endorsements from such groups.
Former State Rep. and now Middlesex Sheriff Peter Koutoujian would have been the most formidable opponent for Tolman in the Democratic Primary but has decided not to run and is backing Tolman. Maura Healey, a former assistant attorney general under Coakley, is running for A.G., has experience and seems to be an independent thinker, but has never run for anything, and the odds definitely favor Tolman. A totally unknown Republican, attorney John Miller, has just come into the race, but let’s be realistic!!! Candidate alignment with the GOP party platform – anti-choice, anti-marriage equality – isn’t going to help his candidacy.
The first test will be the number of delegates supporting each of the candidates at the Democratic state convention in June. (Fortunately, I no longer have to cover such “beauty pageant” events.) A strong majority of the convention is likely for Tolman, but convention results are not dispositive (and Healy is likely to make the ballot). Tolman says he is running as if he is 30 points behind. That’s smart because a recent Suffolk University/Boston Herald poll indicates a majority of the electorate is still undecided. And the public benefits when such an important position is vigorously contested.
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