AG candidates outline views at Suffolk forum

BOSTON, APRIL 11, 2014…..Making their individual cases for election to the state’s highest law enforcement office, Maura Healey laid out her experience working in the attorney general’s office and Warren Tolman touted his career of political leadership.

After the forum Thursday at Suffolk University, Tolman told the News Service he supports legislation allowing people to obtain pepper spray without a firearm ID card, and questioned whether Gov. Deval Patrick has authority to ban the painkiller Zohydro in the state.

“I would support it. I’m not sure the legal footing is as sound as I would like it to be, but the premise behind what he’s trying to do is absolutely, positively, unequivocally necessary,” said Tolman when asked about the governor’s decision to ban the drug, which Patrick said can lead to opiate addiction.

Asked if he supports legislation passed by the House as part of a domestic violence bill granting greater access to protective spray, the avowed gun control advocate said, “Absolutely. This is about people defending themselves.”

Healey said she hasn’t seen Patrick’s specific proposal to ban the dispensing or prescribing of Zohydro and would need to see the pepper spray legislation before commenting.

“I will tell you that as attorney general I would do everything in my power to address heroin addiction and to do everything we can to get at what really is a public health crisis across the state,” Healey said.

The attorney general’s office is representing the state in a federal lawsuit by Zohydro-maker Zogenix, and Tolman suggested the Bay State might wind up with limitations on the drug that fall short of a ban, similar to action undertaken in Vermont.

John Miller, the Republican nominee for the office, was invited and did not attend the forum, said Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service Executive Director Greg Massing. His spokesman Rick Gorka said Miller had a previously scheduled appointment.

A former bureau chief in Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office, Healey demonstrated her familiarity with the workings of the attorney general’s office, and Tolman emphasized that he would not delegate major policy decisions.

“At the end of the day, for many of us in this room, and even when it comes to Warren and me, there probably aren’t going to be that many differences in terms of policy, in terms of how we think about issues,” said Healey. “I think what’s important in this election for voters is who is best positioned to deliver, and I am here today as somebody who has had the privilege and the opportunity to serve in that office the last seven years.”

Tolman said he wanted to overhaul sentencing laws, lessening terms of imprisonment for non-violent offenses, and said he met with a district attorney, telling him he would work with him on a “reasonable” update to the state’s wiretap laws if the DA works with him on sentencing reform.

“We’ll get that done in short order because I know how to get things done on Beacon Hill and I know how to be a leader. I’ve done it before,” said Tolman, a former state senator who was the nominee for lieutenant governor in 1998 and a candidate for governor in 2002. He said, “A lot of these district attorneys are just looking for a leader to lead them. This period of being tough on crime; it doesn’t make sense . . . to try to incarcerate our way out of it.”

On the issue of privacy from government and corporations, Tolman said no law-abiding people should be in fear of having their privacy violated “period, the end,” and said private drones and license-plate scanners that are “en vogue in some municipalities” create a “slippery slope.”

“I’m appalled by what we see on the national level when we talk about the National Security Agency, and some of what we’ve seen come out of the news,” said Healey, who said Massachusetts does protect the privacy of people and she wants to “continue” that. She also said “big data” used to market to individuals can be a concern.

Dwight Golann, a panelist at the forum who worked under previous attorneys general, asked the candidates how they would maintain good relationships with lawmakers who might ask that someone receive a job interview as a favor, and what they would do with a hypothetical budget increase.

“There will be no patronage in my administration. Period, end of story,” said Healey.

“You look them in the eye, and say ‘I’d like to be helpful but I can’t,’” said Tolman, who previously worked on ethics reforms, and said he would not allow patronage either, though in certain circumstances he could grant an interview.

Healey said with extra money for the office, she would boost technology funding, amplify work around human trafficking, hire more investigators and attorneys, and increase language capacity in the office.

Given extra funds, Tolman said he would enhance consumer protection and advertise that function of the office, encourage recent college graduates to work as mediators, boost fair labor, and establish a disability division – later adding that even without additional funds, the office should be more multilingual.

“I think we can do a better job helping people with disabilities,” said Tolman, who said the disability project in the AG’s office has a staff of only a couple people.

Saying she wanted to set the record straight, Healey said when she headed up the Civil Rights Division she made disability issues a “priority” for everyone.

“I made it priority, not just of those in the disability rights project, which I essentially disbanded and instead brought it all within the realm and responsibility of those in the civil rights division,” said Healey, who said the office made a “record” number of cases on disability housing and public accommodations.

“Sometimes when everybody feels like they’re responsible for this area, no one is really responsible for it and there is a significant backlog in that division… right now,” said Tolman.

Copyright 2014 State House News Service

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