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Attorney General Maura Healey, running for governor, speaks with WAMC following Western Massachusetts visit

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey
Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey

State Attorney General Maura Healey has made two visits to Western Massachusetts. In stops in Easthampton and Holyoke Friday, the Democrat toured small businesses and discussed the recovery from COVID-19. She was also at the Hope for Holyoke Peer Recovery Center to promote equity in treating opioid misuse. Healey is also running for governor.

What was the purpose of coming west on Friday?

Well, you know, the pandemic has been devastating for small businesses, including businesses in Easthampton and Holyoke and really around the state. So one of the things that my office did during the pandemic is we developed resources. And we actually gave out grants to small businesses to help them meet payroll, to help them pay rent, to help them have utilities, and other expenses. And I wanted to go back and visit some of the places that received our funding. And that was great. So I was able to spend some time in the great city of Easthampton and visit stores there. And that was just great. It was a beautiful day, of course, in Easthampton. And then I went on to Holyoke where I visited small businesses, really exciting things happening in Holyoke as well, through a separate program in my office, though, and we've supported grants that will go towards addressing the opioid epidemic, and basically substance use disorder. So I spent time at the Gandara House, fantastic program, Hope for Holyoke, providing a lot of wonderful services to people in recovery. And my office recently funded programs to help support that. So just a great day, a great day in Western Massachusetts.

Based on what you saw and heard in Western Massachusetts, how are COVID recovery operations going there? I mean, it's obviously in some places been tougher to bounce back than others.

Yeah, that's absolutely true. And it's absolutely the case that there are certain parts of the state that just don't have the benefit of some of the investment and resources. Western Mass. is one of those places. We need to address the high cost of living, we need to invest in housing, Western Mass. has certainly not been immune from the housing crisis that exists across the state, we need to invest in transit and infrastructure. We need to do a lot of work here in our state so that everybody can enjoy in this time of economic growth and prosperity. A lot of work to do still, you know, but I'm encouraged.

It was really something to visit with the small businesses today that, you know, whether it was the nail salon or the tattoo parlor, wonderful restaurants, just these places that are so resilient, that managed to find a way to survive. Sadly, some businesses weren't able to survive, but you know, that's the spirit of the Massachusetts people. It's one of resilience, communities came together. And we need to as a state, make sure that we're helping people get through the remaining days of this pandemic, and really build forward and I was excited and heartened to see that today.

I'll say on the mental health side, though, we need to do a lot more in terms of investing in mental health. I support the governor's call for more investment. Certainly, I've been a big proponent of that, disproportionately affecting our Black and Latinx community right now. We need more places like the Gandara mental health center throughout the state of Massachusetts, more and more need out there and therefore more and more of a responsibility to make those investments.

As you run statewide now, which you've done twice before, but for a different office, what's your vision For Western Massachusetts? What's your vision for places like Berkshire County where local and state officials often tell us that they feel a disconnect with Beacon Hill?

Well, you know, I began my race for attorney general back in 2014 in Western Massachusetts. Western Massachusetts is a beautiful, beautiful place with tremendous opportunity. And yes, some challenges because for far too long, there has not been an equitable distribution of resources across the state. So these are some of the conversations I’m having. Again, we need people throughout the state all residents to benefit from the human capital, the intellectual capital, the innovative companies and industries that we have here in the state and too many people have been left behind, including people in Western Massachusetts, when it comes to the fact that right now, rents are way up, houses aren't really affordable in many places. Western Mass. in need of a major infrastructure investment.

But the good news is, you know, there is money coming in, there are things that we can do. There are ways that we can expand job training programs, we can support and expand manufacturing, we can work to relieve some of the burden on the cost of living by working together, and I'm going to be a champion for Western Massachusetts, as well as other parts of the state. Western Massachusetts is certainly a place that's always been near and dear to my heart, I have an office in Western Massachusetts, we do a lot of work on a lot of different issues, from nortern Berkshire County to southern Berkshire County to Hampden, Hampshire, and Franklin, and each area a little bit different than unique, and all special.

You mentioned a couple of moments ago being in what we hope will be the waning days of this pandemic. Do you agree with Governor Baker's move to drop the mask mandate for schools at the end of this month?

I think this has been something that people have been looking for, waiting for. We all want this pandemic behind us. I hope that as we go forward, and now that it's in the hands of local control, that we do continue to balance the needs of public health and safety. There are still parts of the state where there are really low vaccination rates when it comes to our young people, particularly ages 5 to 12. We've got to pay attention to that. And we've got to work to make sure that we're increasing those vaccination rates in those communities. So obviously, I've said from the beginning, that the data should drive this, that trends should drive this. And, you know, I hope that we continue to see downward trends. I do hope we see much better vaccination rates when it comes to some of our communities where some of the vax rates for kids are still in the teens. And that's just not where we need to be. We need to do much better.

Just to be specific, though, do you think that February 28 is the right date to drop the mask mandate in schools?

I think that we’re probably trending towards a date around then or later, I mean, my preference would have been to give more time for students and teachers to return from school vacation. I have concerns about any surge associated with vacation time, because in the past we've seen rates surge, just following school vacation, so that that is my concern. But the governor has made his decision. And my hope is that local communities will take whatever steps necessary to make sure that our young people and educators are protected.

We have two Western Massachusetts state senators, Adam Hinds and Eric Lesser, both running in the field for lieutenant governor. Do you plan to make an endorsement in that race?

You know, I'm really…I admire them both. And they're friends and have been great colleagues. A lot of great people running for office. But when it comes to campaigns, I've got my hands full with my own right now.

Lastly, President Biden's polls are sagging. My question is, how do you plan to energize Democrats in the midterms, which are expected to favor Republicans, at least nationally?

I think there's tremendous enthusiasm around Democrats in the state. I think it also extends beyond Democrats. I mean, the state has a number of people who are unenrolled, in fact, and so, you know, I think if you look at what I'm going to be talking about, I'm going to have the most aggressive plan when it comes to combating the climate crisis, work to make childcare more affordable. Right now that is standing in the way, particularly of women returning to the workforce. We're going to make the investments in transit and in housing. I think it's incredibly exciting what is possible in this state, in large part because of what President Biden has put forward and the funding that's coming into the state. We've never seen funding like this in at least, you know, my lifetime. And it really gives us an opportunity if we really invest and strategically deploy those resources to do some really important things here in this state. And Democrats should be excited about that and if they need to be fired up, you know, I look no further than the fact that Corey Lewandowski, formerly with Donald Trump, is now going to be in our state as Geoff Diehl’s campaign manager, and that that certainly should get people both concerned and fired up ready to get to work.

How come? Specifically to Lewandowski, what do you mean?

I mean, I don't think I have enough time to list the ways. I think we're all familiar with the agenda that he carried out. It's harmed this country, it's contributed to the erosion of our democracy, people's faith in government, a rise and vitriol and divisiveness, a rise and hate and extremism, which by the way we see here in Massachusetts. So many problems, and he was right there as Trump's right hand man helping engage in all sorts of acts that were illegal, unconstitutional, and really hurt a lot of people in this state and across the country. Anti-immigrant, anti-choice, climate denier, you know, you name it, it's a problem, and sadly, that's the campaign represented on the Republican side right now.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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