Coakley, The Front-Runner: 'We're Not Ducking Regular People'

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Even as she starts drawing criticism from opponents on issues from health care to debate appearances, Attorney General Martha Coakley said her focus now and throughout her career is working for the under-represented.

"My life in public service as district attorney and now as attorney general has been essentially about evening the playing field and making life fair for people who don't always get a fair shake," Coakley said in a WBUR interview.

At the same time, Coakley has drawn criticism for taking a hard-line stance against the health care bill the House of Representatives approved over the weekend because of a provision that would not let federal insurance policies cover abortion procedures, known as the Stupak-Pitts amendment. Coakley said it is a deal-breaker and she would not approve the legislation.

"It is unacceptable to say that the only way that we can get health care reform is to now hobble further Constitutional rights of women who are guaranteed under Roe v. Wade and under our Constitution access to reproductive choice," Coakley said.

The three other Democratic candidates said that while they disagree with the amendment itself, Coakley's position would derail health care reforms.

Coakley has also drawn some criticism for skipping a candidate forum in Amherst on Sunday, citing a previous commitment. She said scheduling debates has been an issue, but she is committed to being accessible to voters. Some of her opponents have suggested that Coakley may be trying to stay ahead in the race by avoiding serious debate and avoiding campaign stops where she meets with individual voters.

"We're not ducking debates and we're not ducking regular people," Coakley said.

Earlier this month, Coakley also drew criticism from death penalty opponents for signing a friend-of-the-court brief with 18 other attorneys general that urged the Supreme Court to limit federal review of state court decisions. The case had to do with a man convicted of murder in Alabama who said his court-appointed lawyer left out evidence about his mental health. Opponents said Coakley's stance might keep new evidence about a convict's innocence out of the courts.

Coakley said her stance is not about appeals for death penalty cases but is limited to a specific issue of federal review over state rulings.

"My position is that the death penalty is not acceptable under any circumstances. You cannot dig somebody up if you've executed them. You can open a jail cell if you've made a mistake," Coakley said.

On the national policy front, Coakley said she does not support a troop increase in Afghanistan and needs to see a report card on stimulus spending before she decides whether a second round of stimulus is needed.

Click "Listen Now" to hear Coakley's conversation with WBUR's Bob Oakes.

This program aired on November 10, 2009.


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