Democrats eager to retake the Massachusetts governor's office have been fantasizing about Maura Healey seeking the job for years. Today, they got their wish: the attorney general finally jumped into the 2022 race, and instantly became the strong favorite to win her party's nomination.
But a few years ago, when Healey first ran for attorney general, she had to overcome widespread opposition from the state's Democratic political establishment to get the job. Here's a refresher on that contest, and other significant parts of Healey's biography.
She’s been a prodigious public litigator as AG.
Healey was a near-constant thorn in the side of former President Donald Trump's administration, suing nearly 100 times. Healey went to court to fight — among other issues — the travel ban targeting primarily Muslim countries, family separation at the United States–Mexico border, a push to let some employers deny health insurance coverage for contraception, multiple attempts to weaken the Affordable Care Act, multiple attempts to weaken protections involving student loans, multiple attempts to weaken regulation of environmentally damaging emissions by power plants and motor vehicles, and the attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 U.S. Census.
She’s also sparred with several other high-profile opponents during her tenure, including OxyContin manufacturer Purdue Pharma and the Sackler family, the National Rifle Association, e-cigarette manufacturer Juul, rideshare giants Uber and Lyft, and tech titans Google and Facebook.
What’s more, Healey can point to specific financial gains obtained for the state by her office in several areas, including nearly $300 million recovered for MassHealth by her office’s Medicaid Fraud Division.
While all of this should be grist for the campaign trail, the anti-Trump actions may resonate in a state where Trump lost badly in both 2016 and 2020 — especially if Geoff Diehl, the former state representative who’s already been endorsed by Trump, secures the Republican gubernatorial nomination.
She played a crucial role in the fight for marriage equality.
Beginning in 2009, when Healey headed then-Attorney General Martha Coakley’s civil rights division, she served as the lead counsel in Massachusetts v. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services. In that case, the commonwealth challenged the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which limited marriage to one man and one woman and was signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton. Basically, Healey argued that by denying benefits like Social Security to same-sex couples who’d been legally marrying in Massachusetts since 2004, the federal government was encroaching on state authority and forcing Massachusetts to discriminate against its own residents.
As Healey subsequently noted in the Boston Bar Journal, the argument was a novel use of federalist principles to defend civil rights, and the first time any state had intervened on behalf of marriage equality. It was also extremely effective. A year after the case was filed, a federal judge in Boston — who’d also heard arguments in another anti-DOMA case, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management — ruled that the federal law was unconstitutional. Three years later, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed, citing in its ruling arguments made by Healey and her colleagues.
She wasn’t favored to become AG.
Political observers these days think of Healey as an inexorable force. Before Gov. Charlie Baker said he wouldn’t seek a third term, Healey was viewed as the Democrat best situated to beat him, an assessment reenforced by multiple polls. Now that she’s made her candidacy official, she’s considered the strong favorite to win the Democratic nomination, nevermind that the other candidates have been running for months and Healey is just jumping in the race.
But back in 2014, when she first ran for attorney general, Healey started out as an afterthought.
“I remember the day when I announced,” Healey told Northeastern Law Magazine. “I had a media person working with me. It was the two of us, and I was trying to get somebody just to write a story or take my picture.”
Her eventual primary opponent, Warren Tolman, was a former state legislator and one-time gubernatorial candidate who enjoyed strong support from the Democratic establishment: his endorsers included then-Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, then-Gov. Deval Patrick and four former state attorneys general. But in the end, the race wasn’t even close. Healey crushed Tolman, 62 percent to 38 percent, buoyed by aggressive retail campaigning, enthusiastic support from LGBTQ voters and Tolman’s tone-deaf assertion that Healey was “unbecoming” when she grilled him in a pre-primary debate. In the general election, Healey routed Republican John Miller by the exact same margin, becoming the first openly gay state attorney general in U.S. history.
She’s even better at basketball than you think she is.
After Healey was elected in 2014, she and Gov.-elect Charlie Baker met up at Harvard for a friendly game of HORSE. In retrospect, the photo-op seems to have been inevitable. They both went to Harvard College! They both played basketball there! They were both newly elected!
But as Baker pointed out afterward, the showdown suggested a parallel that doesn’t really hold up. Baker spent some time on the men’s junior varsity team back in the day. Healey, though, was in a different league. At Harvard, she captained the women’s varsity team and started at point guard. She also tried out for the U.S. women’s national team as a high school student, did it again after graduating from Harvard, and played professionally in Austria for two years.
Basketball is a tough sport to play into middle age, but Healey, who is 50 years old, still has the uncanny court vision of an elite point guard.
Her experiences playing intensely competitive basketball have also shaped the way Healey views politics. As she told InStyle last year: “Truly strong women make each other better when they work as a team, when they’re not afraid to fail, when the response to an opponent or a bad call by the ref is to just fight back harder.”
Her record prosecuting public corruption will become a campaign issue in 2022.
While Healey’s legal activism has been prodigious, she’s been accused of insufficiently prosecuting wrongdoing in politics and government.
Case in point: Last year, as then-U.S. Attorney Andrew Lelling announced that then-state Rep. David Nangle was being federally prosecuted for misuse of campaign funds, he said: “If we don’t do it, it might not get done. … We have the resources to pursue these cases, and fewer or no ties to state and local government.”
That was interpreted, by some, as a dig at Healey’s unwillingness to go after her political peers. In a follow-up piece, the Boston Globe editorial board seemed to endorse Lelling’s take, stating: “somehow state and local laws and/or the officials who enforce them are not adequate to ferret out misconduct by those entrusted to do the public’s business.”
The issue hasn’t been front and center during Healey’s tenure, but it also hasn’t gone away. A recent Globe article noted that Healey’s record making public-corruption charges stick is mixed, and that she has yet to charge an elected official. As evidence that she’s not afraid to take on powerful insiders, Healey partisans can point to the prosecutions of three former State Police lieutenants for overtime abuse — and of Byron Hefner, the ex-husband of former state Senate President Stan Rosenberg, for sexual assault and other charges.
Still, as the campaign ramps up, expect Republicans — and maybe even some of Healey’s Democratic opponents — to accuse Healey of going easier on the state’s overwhelmingly Democratic political establishment than she should have.