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A “Natural Fit”?

Attorney General candidate Maura Healey runs on a record of civil rights work.

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

In September, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley announced her intention to run for governor, putting an end to months of speculation about her political plans. And just a couple of weeks later, Maura Healey was in Coakley’s office, to let her then-boss know she was leaving the AG’s office to run for the seat Coakley would be vacating.

“I couldn’t think of a job that gives me more of an opportunity to help people and help the public. It’s as simple as that,” Healey said recently of her decision to run for attorney general. Before leaving in October to launch her own campaign, Healey had spent six and a half years in the AG’s office, including time heading its public advocacy and civil rights sections. So the job—which Healey describes as “running a 500-person law firm that sets legal policy for the state”—was a “natural fit,” she said.

Healey is competing for the Democratic nomination with Warren Tolman, who brings his own formidable resume to the race, including time as a state representative and then a state senator, representing Watertown. The two will face off in a party primary on Sept. 9. That primary could settle the election; while Republican John Miller, an attorney from Winchester, has announced his candidacy as well, the Boston Globe has reported that Miller has struggled to collect the necessary number of nomination signatures to make the ballot. (Municipal elections officials must certify candidates’ nomination papers by May 27.)

As Healey campaigns around the state, she emphasizes her experience as one of Coakley’s top deputies, overseeing a number of high-profile cases, including the state’s challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act. “I’m a newcomer to politics but not a newcomer to the job,” as Healey puts it.

 

Healey met with the Advocate at a Northampton coffee shop a couple of weeks ago to discuss her campaign. After the interview, she’d be heading to Holyoke, to tour a health center and collect an endorsement from Mayor Alex Morse. Later that day, she’d return to Northampton to be endorsed formally by that city’s mayor, Mayor David Narkewicz (over coffee, she and her campaign aides chuckled appreciatively over constituents’ nickname for their mayor: DNark), and Hampshire County Sheriff Robert Garvey. Three days earlier, Healey had been in Northampton to march in the Pride parade, alongside state Senate Majority Leader Stan Rosenberg (D-Amherst) and Northwest District Attorney David Sullivan, also supporters. Franklin County Sheriff Christopher Donelan has endorsed Healey as well.

Healey attributes her strong support in the Valley to her progressive positions and her track record in the AG’s office on civil rights issues, including marriage equality, LGBT rights, anti-bullying work and protections against predatory lending practices. In her time in the office, Healey helped secure a settlement from Apple to provide full access to iTunes for blind people and oversaw the creation of the state’s HomeCorps program, which helps distressed homeowners avoid foreclosure and is funded by another settlement the office won from national mortgage providers. If she’s elected, Healey would be the first openly gay attorney general in the nation, a fact that resonates with many in the Valley’s sizeable population of gay voters (and their allies). And, she noted with a smile, she’s also a basketball player—she played a couple of years of professional ball in Europe between finishing her undergraduate degree at Harvard and entering law school at Northeastern—which is appreciated in Springfield, the birthplace of the game.

Healey’s resume also includes time as a prosecutor in Middlesex County and in private practice at one of Boston’s top firms, WilmerHale (formerly Hale and Dorr). But it’s her experience in the AG’s office that, understandably, she stresses on the campaign trail. The job of attorney general, she said, “touches every aspect of a person’s life here in this state,” from the rates they pay for insurance and utilities to the environmental conditions in their communities to their rights as workers, consumers and citizens.

On many issues, Healey and her Democratic rival, Tolman, share similar positions: both support reproductive rights, marriage equality, expanded protections from LGBTQ people, stricter gun controls, and an approach to addressing substance abuse that includes more access to treatment. But they do differ on one major issue, one that has become an increasing contentious matter in Massachusetts politics in recent months: casino gambling.

Last month, Healey announced that she opposes casino development in Massachusetts and thinks the matter should be put before voters in the November election. “I oppose casinos because I believe they hurt people and they hurt communities, and they don’t yield what they purport to promise in terms of economic gains, in terms of families and communities,” she told the Advocate at the time. “We’ve seen the impact on communities that have welcomed in casinos. We’ve seen the lost jobs, the lost homes, the lost livelihoods, bankruptcies, foreclosures, addictions, crime. As somebody who has stood up against these issues, I think it’s important to stand up to them here.” (See “In Good Conscience,” April 23, 2014, www.valleyAdvocate.com.)

Tolman, in contrast, does not support repeal. In a statement his campaign sent to the Advocate after Healey’s announcement, the candidate said, “I support the Legislature’s decision to allow individual towns and cities like Springfield and Plainville to decide if they want a casino in their back yard. The people in these communities want the jobs and economic development that will be created.” Tolman also vowed to serve as a watchdog for consumers and taxpayers if casinos do come to the commonwealth.

Earlier this month, the Boston Globe reported that Tolman was listed as director of business development for a company called Fast Strike Games, which, according to the Globe, “specializes in interactive games for state lotteries” and “promotes technology aimed at making betting more appealing to young people.” Shortly after that report, Tolman told the media that he’d since divested from the company and “never received a nickel for it.”

Healey responded with a statement of her own, saying, in part, “Voters have had enough of this Beacon Hill insider game and furious back-peddling [sic] among those with deep ties and conflicts with this predatory industry. I’ve made a clear case against casinos, I support repeal and the people’s right to vote on it and I will be an independent enforcer and regulator if casinos open here.”

Healey is perhaps best known for her work, during her tenure as the chief of the AG’s Civil Rights Division, on the office’s challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act. That law allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex unions performed in other states and denied those couples marriage benefits accorded by the federal government.

Healey served as lead counsel on the commonwealth’s 2009 lawsuit against the federal government, arguing that DOMA “undermined states’ efforts to recognize marriages between same-sex couples, and codified an animus towards gay and lesbian people.” In 2010, a U.S. District Court judge ruled in favor of the AG’s Office, finding that, in passing the law, Congress had violated the Constitution by usurping states’ rights. (At the same time, the court also ruled in favor of plaintiffs in a companion case brought by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, or GLAD, that argued that DOMA violated the equal protection of laws guaranteed by the Constitution.)

In early 2013, the Mass. AG’s Office also filed amicus briefs with the U.S. Supreme Court opposing DOMA and a California law that banned same-sex marriages. Last summer, that court issued two decisions, one that restored marriage equality in California and another that struck down a portion of DOMA that denied federal benefits to legally married gay couples.?As with its work on foreclosure prevention and predatory lending, Massachusetts—and, specifically, its AG’s Office—has been a leader on LGBT equality, Healey said. But there’s still work that need to be done, she added. For instance, while a 2012 law guarantees transgender people protection against discrimination in employment, housing and education, as well as protections under hate crimes law, it does not include protections against discrimination in public accommodations—an omission spurred by pushback from conservatives, who called the law the “bathroom bill” and said it would pose safety problems and make people uncomfortable.

As a result, “right now, if you’re a transgender person and you walk into this café, they can refuse you service,” Healey said. “It’s a real insult to transgender people and really, I think, an insult to those of us who believe in equality and treating people with respect.”

Healey stressed the civil rights aspect of her work in the AG’s office. “I’m so excited about where we are and where we’ve come,” she said. When the attorneys general from other states meet, she said, Massachusetts is recognized for its leadership on issues of equality. And if she’s elected, she noted, her presence would mean another first for the commonwealth: the nation’s first openly gay attorney general. “Me being in that room will change that conversation,” Healey said.

 

Healey’s platform on criminal justice issues is reform minded: “We cannot incarcerate and imprison our way to a healthier, more productive state,” she said in a campaign position paper.

Healey supports programs that would address the underlying causes of crime and, where appropriate, divert offenders from jail and prison. She wants to see an end to mandatory-minimum sentencing for non-violent drug convictions, for instance, and more drug courts and other alternative programs that can keep non-violent offenders out of prison, reducing the public cost of high incarceration rates in the process.

Healey’s plan also focuses on helping incarcerated people reintegrate successfully after their release. “That’s a plan that should start on day one of a person’s incarceration—not 60 days before they get out,” she said. She calls for more vocational and educational training for inmates; more “step-down” programs, in which state prisoners finish their sentences in county jails, where they can access treatment and other programs to help with re-entry; and more assistance finding work and housing post-incarceration. Healey also supports increasing drug addiction and mental health treatment for prisoners. “Our sheriffs are asked to do a lot. Essentially these jails have become detox units,” she said, citing the high percentage of prisoners with substance abuse problems.

On a related issue, Healey has released a plan to address Massachusetts’ heroin and prescription drug abuse problem, including a strong, multi-state monitoring system to track prescriptions; treatment rather than punishment of drug addiction; more attention on known drug “hot spots”; and better access for first responders to Narcan for the treatment of opioid overdose.

Healey told the Advocate that she does not yet have a position on the developing campaign to put a ballot question before voters to legalize marijuana in the state. As attorney general, she said, she would need to review the wording of the question. She also wants to see how things play out in Washington and Colorado, both of which recently legalized marijuana.

Garvey, the Hampshire sheriff, told the Advocate that he appreciates Healey’s approach to criminal justice, which is compatible with his own. “She’s a strong believer that non-violent offenders should not, in fact, be incarcerated at the rate and length they are,” he said. And he shares her commitment to step-down and other programs that would help prepare inmates for re-entry after their release.

Garvey called Healey “a tireless worker. She’s very, very smart, and I think she’s a new, fresh face in kind of a stale political environment,” he said. And he praised her for her position against casinos—which he said are socially and economically “disastrous” and prey on the disadvantaged people who make up a significant percentage of those who end up in his jail—and for taking a strong position on the matter. “ I give her a lot of credit,” he said. “Instead to trying to skirt the issues—as some of our candidates are, for both the governor and attorney general—and try to play what is the politically popular thing to do, which is stay in the middle so you don’t offend either side, Maura has come out strong and said, as I believe, that the people should have a vote on this.”

Morse, the Holyoke mayor, also supports Healey’s anti-casino position. “It points to her courage as a leader, that she’s willing to stand up for what she believes in,” he said.

In addition, Morse cited Healey’s work on preventing foreclosures—a problem that’s been particularly difficult in his city—and her leadership on marriage equality. “She was really the impetus for Massachusetts and Martha Coakley to go after DOMA. It really was a monumental fight that Massachusetts took on and it impacted people all across the country, and I think Maura’s to thank for that, as well as Attorney General Martha Coakley,” he said.

“What I respect about her most is she’s not a career politician,” Morse added. “She’s the most prepared candidate to take over the AG’s office on day one.”•

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