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^ activist with spark and verve : Maura Healey addressing voters at a meet and greet in Jamaica Plain three months ago

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The 2014 election campaign has reached the point where endorsements are in order. We’ve seen all the candidates, measured their positions and their level of support among the voters, and what we have done, so have almost all the voters.

Our first endorsement is for Attorney General. There are two candidates, Republican John Miller and Democrat Maura Healey. Both have distinguished resumes, Miller as attorney in private practice, Healey as chief of the Civil Rights division in the current Attorney General’s office. But the Attorney General isn’t only a lawyer. He or she is a significant maker of public policy — overseeing non-profit organizations and trusts, protecting consumers, choosing which civil rights battles to prioritize, weighing in on criminal justice matters, reading and opining on major state contracts.

Attorney General is also a political office. The voters elect him or her. Maura Healey is spot on when she calls the ofice “the people’s lawyer.” She walks the walk, too. Few candidates for any office connect to people — all sorts of people — with anything like Healey’s verce and spark. .

Healey promises to establish in the AG’s office a division specifically charged with child protection ; and as we all know, DCF failures, and the enormity of family dysfunction among those who live in crisis, requires no less than a pro-active Attorney General on this front.

Healey vows to be a lawyer for those whose civil rights are compromised, including transgender people, immigrants, and people of color generally. It was Healey who was the lead attorney arguing, and winning, the landmark 2004 case by which Massachusetts became the first state to sanction what we now call “marriage equality.” Healey’s commitment in this area of the law is strong and certain.

Healey speaks eloquently about criminal justice reform; about remedying drug addiction by treatment first of all; and about enforcing the state’s labor and wage laws. As she says, “combatting wage theft and overtime pay violations is a core responsibility” of the office.

In contrast, John Miller takes a reticent view of the office. His campaign has focused on the health care connector disaster, epecially the incompetent manner in which the software contract was negotiated. “40 hours of lawyering could have saved us 200 million,” he has said. That is true; and the next Attorney General needs to be a lot smarter about technology contracts entered into by the Governor. But the role — “lawyering” a contract — that Miller outlines is one for a Chief of Division. The AG herself must embrace a larger role, a values role, because so much of her core responsibilities are values issues : economic fairness, civil rights, child protection, consumer protection.

Miller talks also about “keeping politics out of the (Attorney General’s) office.” I’m not sure what that means, considering that, as a statewide elected office, our Attorney General is perforce and fundamentally a political office. If on the other hand Miller means that as “AG” he will not take the politics of a matter into consideration, he badly misses the point of what the people want their “AG” to do — and is quite unrealistic about the AG’s influence plays out in actual events of state governance, where “politics” is how you get things done.

Supporters of Miller say that they don’t want an ‘activist AG.” Will, they wonder, an “activist” AG be merely a tool of public sentiment, which always changes ? Can an “activist” AG take unpopular stands if a vital principle is at stake ? The Maura Healey whom I have seen has the backbone to do that, and enjoys enough good will from Massachusetts voters that she’ll have plenty of room to take an unpopular stand without risking defeat.

But that is a caution for another day. Right now, a positivist, active “AG” is what the state needs, as its people find themselves confronted by entrenched institutional powers at large — many of them money powers — and by sentiments among some people that put other people, especially people of color or ethnicity, at risk. Maura Healey is ideally suited to be the Attorney General now needed. We are proud to endorse her.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

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