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In Mass. AG Race, Candidates Square Off Over Gun Control, Experience

Democratic candidates for Massachusetts attorney general Warren Tolman, left, and Maura Healey. (Courtesy of the campaigns)

Democratic candidates for Massachusetts attorney general Warren Tolman, left, and Maura Healey. (Courtesy of the campaigns)

NEEDHAM, Mass. — With time running out before the primary, the two Democratic candidates seeking to become Massachusetts attorney general are becoming a bit more personal in their face-to-face meetings.

There aren’t many policy areas where candidates Warren Tolman and Maura Healey disagree, but their difference in style was on display at a debate recorded at the Needham studios of WCVB-TV. The station wouldn’t allow the media to broadcast audio of the debate. Both candidates spoke about why they want to be the state’s top attorney after the event.

Tolman is trying to make the case that his policy experience as a former state senator gives him an edge over Healey, who’s spent her career as a civil rights lawyer and an assistant to current Attorney General Martha Coakley.

“Inevitably, there will be issues where the attorney general will be on the wrong side of quote unquote public opinion. And you have to stand tall and you have to be a leader,” Tolman said.

But Healey insists her career has provided more relevant experience for the position and is casting her lack of political experience as a positive.

“I was a division and bureau chief in the attorney general’s office,” she said. “And that experience is very different than the experience of a Beacon Hill politician. And that’s how I come to this. I am not an insider, I am not a part of the Beacon Hill establishment. I am a person who has been fighting for people here in this state.”

One issue where there’s at least a slight disagreement between the candidates is new safe-gun technology. Tolman says he would require finger-print safety technology on all new handguns sold in the state and that he believes he could do that under his own authority as attorney general.

“There is an existing case in 1999 that’s pretty clear about the attorney general’s authority,” Tolman said. “Remember, we’re regulating an unsafe product; the most unsafe product sold today is guns.”

Healey also endorses the smart-gun technology, but says the AG must also work to stop gun trafficking and combat violence.

“His single-minded focus on a technology that I support but doesn’t deal with the problem today just isn’t my kind of leadership or what I want out of the attorney general’s office,” she said.

Both candidates say the attorney general has a role to play in the struggle over the past month for control of the family-owned Market Basket supermarket chain.

Healey says the top priority for the attorney general should be to protect the rights of workers. Tolman said he would have used the office to push for a resolution behind the scenes to end the conflict.

During the debate, Healey challenged Tolman about his former investment in a gambling company she says tries to get young people to gamble. Tolman calls the allegation that young people were involved false. He says he would make sure any gambling company operating in Massachusetts follows the law.

The winner of the Sept. 9 Democratic primary goes on to face Republican nominee John Miller in November.

The debate airs Sunday morning on WCVB-TV.

Earlier:

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