Former state rep and state senator Warren Tolman, whose bid for state attorney general has the backing of four former AG’s, has always said he was taking candidate Maura Healey seriously, and well he should. While Tolman, who previously ran for lieutenant governor (on the ticket with Scott Harshbarger) and for governor, has been working as a consultant, lawyer and lobbyist, Healey has been in the AG’s office, as head of the civil rights division and as chief of the Business and Labor Bureau under Martha Coakley, as a public advocate dealing with issues like abortion clinic buffer zones, mortgage foreclosures, marriage equality.
Although she worked for a time in the private sector doing business litigation across many sectors with Hale & Dorr, it is her work as a public interest lawyer that has given her the greatest satisfaction. (Even while at the firm, she was pro bono staff counsel to then- Governor Jane Swift’s task force on the corrections system.) This is not to make a value judgment about private sector versus public sector. But it’s hard to deny that there’s an organic career progression for Healey that speaks to her capacity, even as a political newcomer, to fill the role of Massachusetts attorney general.
The question is: can she get there. As reflected in their first debate in Lowell, the two candidates showed they agree on many, if not most, issues. This often happens in a party primary. The casino issue is a differentiating one. On the casino referendum (now in the hands of the SJC), Tolman was slower to articulate the position that the people should have a say. And, if the referendum is cleared for the ballot, he’d vote against it because he believes casinos would yield jobs. By contrast, Healey supports the referendum and opposes casinos because, she says, she has seen the side effects of casino gambling and also questions the legitimacy of casino backers’ claims about job creation. The state’s staunchest casino opponent, former A.G. Scott Harshbarger, has endorsed Tolman despite Tolman’s support of casinos.
Expect Healey to emphasize Tolman’s role in Fast Strike Games, a company that developed a patent for online sports gambling, which would require a change in state lottery law. Tolman got in on the ground floor of the company but divested himself of his interest as the story hit the media and the campaign heated up. He notes that the company hadn’t yet made any money, nor will he get any money from his involvement. Healey insists she’d “never want to be part of an enterprise the purpose of which is to get more young people to gamble. “If he thinks that’s not a problem, then he has no business being attorney general,” she says unequivocally. As an athlete, Healey knows the dangers of sports betting. We’ll be hearing a lot more about the gambling issue as the campaign heats up.
On gun safety, Tolman’s primary approach has been in pledging to pursue a requirement that all weapons have fingerprint recognition technology, limiting usage to actual owners. Healey supports the technology but says that, to be effective and have broad support, the requirement should be pursued legislatively, not by regulatory fiat as Tolman promises. She further believes that safe gun technology is just part of what must be a comprehensive public safety strategy.
Healey has played a key leadership role on many issues in the AG’s office, which seems to give her the experience and credibility to deliver. The question is whether her supporters at the June Democratic state convention will deliver enough votes in excess of the 15 percent minimum threshold to make a splash and capture headlines. Tolman enters the fray with substantial establishment backing, along with a lot of union strength (brother Steve runs the Mass. AFL-CIO.) Healey enters the battle with real-time experience in the office she is seeking, depth of knowledge on the issues and apparently authentic passion.
Admittedly, convention performance is a story with legs for about two days… which is why, over the summer, Massachusetts Democrats and Independents should pay close attention to this race. It’s important to keep asking: who will be the more independent attorney general? Who will be willing to take the heat and stand up to the powers that be? Who will be smart and innovative? Who will be better at taking charge but also at building and empowering a team to represent the best interests of the people of the Commonwealth?
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