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The two Democrats seeking the office of attorney general have said they would take significantly different approaches to the job, with Warren Tolman saying he would stretch the powers of the office into charged public policy arenas and Maura Healey saying she would use her years of experience within the office to uphold the laws.
“We fundamentally see the role of attorney general as quite different,” Healey told the News Service after a joint appearance late Thursday on Greater Boston. She said, “Warren talks a lot about his days on Beacon Hill, but the job of attorney general is really one of chief law enforcement officer. You’re not a political figurehead. There’s a difference. And you’re not the legislator in chief or the public policymaker in chief. You’re the attorney general. You’re there to enforce the law and to be the people’s attorney, and that’s what my experience is.”
Tolman said he agreed they have completely different approaches and said Healey’s statement that she wouldn’t seek to intervene in the ongoing dispute within the Demoulas family over the fate of the Market Basket chain of supermarkets is a prime example.
“A perfect example is the Market Basket issue. You’ve got a significant negative impact on the economy. You’ve got employees that aren’t getting paid. You got one company and two people that are causing it to fall apart. I’m not going to wait for someone to call me up and say, ‘Please, Warren, would you look into this?” Tolman told the News Service. He said, “I’m going to use this office in a different way.”
In a half-hour segment, host Emily Rooney found general agreement between the two candidates on the need to implement the medical marijuana law effectively and their disappointment with the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, where an unarmed 18-year-old black man named Michael Brown was shot and killed Saturday by an unidentified member of the largely white police force – an incident that led to protests, rioting and a crackdown by local law enforcement that launched tear gas and reportedly fired rubber bullets.
“What I see now is terrible. There should be accountability. There should be transparency,” Healey said. “There was no need to withhold the name of that officer, and people are frustrated.”
“This isn’t the first time, and if we don’t act it won’t be the last,” said Tolman, referring to a recent police chokehold death in New York City. He said, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant here, and we need to make whoever’s accountable for these actions be accountable.”
Healey said she had experience training law enforcement in civil rights and Tolman said he would use his leadership skills to bring together police and community leaders.
The Republican in the race, John Miller, who did not attend the program, has run on a platform of bringing greater professionalism to the office.
On the brewing Market Basket feud, Tolman said he wouldn’t have waited weeks – as Gov. Deval Patrick did – before getting involved and pushing for an agreement, and Healey said she would make sure workers were not being mistreated, though she was wary of an AG inserting herself into the dispute.
“It’s a time for leadership. And you don’t wait. You don’t try to search the statute and say, ‘Oh, gee. Can I do this?’ No. Often the authority comes with apparent authority,” Tolman said. He said, “Whether you have the authority or not, they will listen.”
“I don’t know that we want an attorney general who’s going to show up on people’s doorsteps. Usually we do that when we have a subpoena in hand,” said Healey.
While Healey said she would not support legalization of marijuana, Tolman conditioned his stance on that subject.
“Until I’m sure that there is no negative impact there and I’m sure that’s it’s not a gateway drug, I’m not going to be one who’s going to be pushing for legalization in Massachusetts,” Tolman said. Quizzed by host Emily Rooney, Tolman said he had used marijuana. Healey told the News Service she had used marijuana, too.
When a question came up about federal prosecutors winning convictions against three former probation officials, including the former commissioner, John O’Brien, for rigging jobs for applicants favored by lawmakers, Healey took the opportunity to distance herself from Beacon Hill and imply Tolman knew what O’Brien was doing.
“I know you were in the Legislature in the 90s and personally observed some of this,” said Healey. She said, “I certainly bring an independence to this. I’ve not worked on Beacon Hill.”
“I’m proud of my record on Beacon Hill. I served eight years up there,” Tolman said. “I’m one of the most independent legislators in the last 50 years on Beacon Hill. I sued a sitting House speaker over funding for clean elections… I banned smoking in the State House over the objections of a chain-smoking Senate president.”
No lawmakers have been charged in the probation case, and Tolman told the News Service he didn’t see any of job-rigging while in the Senate and he left the Legislature the same year O’Brien became commissioner, 1998.
“No. Of course not. No. I don’t know what she’s referring to,” Tolman said. He said, “If he becomes commissioner in 1998, I don’t think he’s doing what he eventually ended up doing, in 1998. I’m gone in January 1999, and frankly from July on I’m running for lieutenant governor full-time.”
“I was just pointing out the fact that this kind of patronage, cronyism, isn’t new to Beacon Hill and it’s been going on for a while, decades, and I think we saw it on full display in this trial, recently,” said Healey, who said she was not accusing Tolman of anything.
Tolman said he could use existing powers of the attorney general that he said were created by a 1998 gun law to require manufacturers to use fingerprint trigger locks on new guns in Massachusetts to deter theft. Healey supports the concept, but said the policy should be made by the Legislature.
“I think that it’s difficult to get this legislation passed,” Tolman told the News Service when asked why he didn’t favor the legislative route. He said the Legislature had already passed a law giving the office the regulatory powers, and said to prevent accidental shootings by toddlers former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger had required gun triggers to be more difficult to pull in 1997, which was before the powers were codified in law.
“I agree with Warren that smart gun technology makes a lot of sense, and as attorney general I will work to mandate that through legislation,” said Healey.