STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, APRIL 16, 2014…..A newly outspoken casino opponent, attorney general candidate Maura Healey has reveled in the pushback she has received from the industry, though not long ago Healey highlighted tough regulation, as opposed to repeal, when asked if she supported the casino gambling law.
In November, voters could be asked to decide whether to continue with the law or repeal it.
State Solicitor Peter Sacks, an official in the AG’s office, last year ruled a referendum seeking to repeal the law is ineligible for the ballot, but petitioners were allowed to gather signatures and the Supreme Judicial Court is hearing arguments on the ballot access issue May 5.
Asked by Rep. Jay Kaufman at an April 1 Lexington forum whether she supports giving voters a say and whether she supports the gaming law, Healey spoke about protections against predatory lending and other potentialities and said she would be a “vigorous enforcer of those laws” while making no endorsement of a repeal.
“It’s before the SJC now. We’ll know shortly what’ll happen. As a general matter, my view is it’s good to let things go to the people, it’s good to let people vote and decide issues, particularly issues so important to their communities, and so I think we’ll just have to see what happens,” Healey said at the forum.
At that same forum, Healey’s Democratic primary opponent Warren Tolman said he liked that the law allows individual cities and towns to vote on whether to allow a casino within their borders and said he would vote against repeal.
“The people of Springfield are very, very excited and enthusiastic about having a casino and the infusion of money for economic development in their backyard,” Tolman said. “It’s not a decision I would make for my own home town of Watertown, but it’s one they’ve made.”
“Martha Coakley’s decision seems wrong-headed to me. The ballot initiative process is one of the few ways for hard-working citizens to directly express their views on policies passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor,” said John Miller, the Republican nominee for attorney general, in a statement. The statement did not say whether Miller supports a repeal.
Healey said that she has been consistent on the campaign trail, including at the Lexington forum, and that she publicized her stance in favor of a repeal this week because, “I wanted to be really clear about where I was on this issue.”
“The court’s going to make a decision. I hope they decide that this should go forward on the ballot because that’s my belief, and that’s where I’m at with this, and that’s what I said when I was at the forum in terms of letting the voters be heard on this,” Healey told the News Service. “If they make a different decision, I as attorney general will make sure that we hold casino operators’ feet to the fire on this.”
Healey ran the Public Protection & Advocacy and Business & Labor bureaus within the attorney general’s office, and Sacks did not consult with either of those bureaus while making his ballot question determination, according to the AG’s office. Healey left the AG’s office on Oct. 11, 2013, about ten days before launching her bid for elected office.
This week, Healey announced her support of the ballot question that would once again outlaw casinos and slot parlors, drawing a rebuttal from an industry lobbying group.
“Ms. Healey’s comments demonstrate an alarming lack of awareness about an industry that will create thousands of jobs paying well above the minimum wage, help small businesses grow and contribute millions of dollars to support education, public safety and infrastructure improvements,” American Gaming Association President Geoff Freeman said in a statement.
“The decision of whether the question will be on the ballot is in the hands of the SJC and the next Attorney General has no role in this decision,” Tolman said in a statement. “But if it is on the ballot I will vote against repeal. I support the Legislature’s decision to allow individual towns and cities like Springfield and Plainville to decide if they want a casino in their backyard.”
Healey has touted the pushback, issuing a statement Wednesday that said, “In campaigns, like in life, you can tell a lot by the company you keep – and the criticism you attract. So it’s with some pride that I heard the casino industry’s top lobbyists are now attacking me and my statement in opposition to casinos in Massachusetts.”
Tolman has made much of the vilification he received for his work against the interests of the tobacco industry.
The differing opinions on the gaming law repeal mark a policy split between the two Democrats, who are generally aligned, with differences in priorities and approaches. Healey said it is “a fundamental difference.”
Gubernatorial candidate Don Berwick, who has staked out liberal ground by backing a Medicare-for-all health care system, also distinguished himself from his four primary opponents by backing a repeal of the casino law. Casinos can be a potent political issue, as demonstrated by the legislative debates leading up to passage of the 2011 gaming law, and the various municipal contests approving and denying specific proposals. Republican gubernatorial nominee Charlie Baker is in favor of putting the question to voters.
The firm that provides public relations for Healey, Melwood Global, also runs publicity for Repeal the Casino Deal. Tolman signed on with the consultancy Northwind, which also represents gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley, the attorney general whose office determines the eligibility of ballot questions. Suffolk Downs, which is seeking to bring a casino to Revere is a Northwind client.
Former Attorney General Scott Harshbarger is both a supporter of Tolman and an advocate for repealing the casino law.
Copyright 2014 State House News Service