Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey spoke to members of the Tufts, Medford and Somerville communities Monday about state and national politics and critical issues facing Massachusetts and the United States at Distler Performance Hall in the Perry and Marty Granoff Music Center. Healey spoke as part of the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life’s Distinguished Speaker Series.
John Richard Skuse Professor of Political Science Jeffrey Berry moderated the event, which also featured student questions for Healey. Mayor of Medford Stephanie Burke and State Rep. Paul Donato, of the 35th Middlesex District in the Massachusetts House of Representatives, were in attendance, along with roughly 90 students.
University President Anthony Monaco opened the event by emphasizing the importance of recognizing Massachusetts officials and their work in protecting constituents and safeguarding their rights.
“We must not overlook the importance of local and state officials like Mayor Burke, Representative Donato and Attorney General Healey, who work hard to strengthen our communities,” he said.
To begin the discussion, Healey was first asked about the relationship between sports and politics. Healey was co-captain of the basketball team in her undergraduate years at Harvard University and, after she graduated, a professional player in Austria for two years. She said that sports taught her teamwork and discipline — traits that have been crucial to her success as a lawyer and attorney general.
“A lot of the work that I do in my office involves the concept of teamwork … [sports] also teaches you about discipline. You treat the campaign like a season, meeting people and hustling around the state,” Healey said. “Ultimately, I think it was the experience I had in sports that helped me compete successfully.”
Berry asked about her litigation strategy in investigating manufacturers of drugs that contribute to the opioid crisis. Healey placed blame squarely on the pharmaceutical companies.
“They are responsible for laying down the circumstances of what has become the nation’s most devastating public health crisis and epidemic that we have seen for a long time,” Healey said. “We have to make sure we are putting measures in place to make sure this never happens again.”
Healey’s office fights against the opioid crisis through the Project Here initiative, which makes substance use prevention education available to every public middle school in the state, according to Healey.
Healey said there was a need for reform in the criminal justice system.
“We need to address racial and socioeconomic disparities that exist around and throughout the system,” Healey said. “We should make our criminal justice system fair.”
She then spoke about the importance of being civically engaged and described different ways of being politically active. Healey noted it is important to vote and be involved in elections to influence the policies that are being created.
“You don’t have to be the person running but you can be somebody who runs a campaign, knocks doors, volunteers … I believe deeply that for far too long in this country, people have focused on the presidential race which absolutely is important,” Healey said. “But you know what’s also important? Who sits on your school committee.”
Tim Leong, a first-year, asked about President Donald Trump’s acts intended to extend presidential power. Healey responded by acknowledging the significant role of state governments in limiting executive overreach.
“There is a battle between the state and the federal [governments],” Healey said. “If we don’t sue Betsy DeVos when she wants to let debt collectors and predatory loan servicers back into the education business, who will? If we’re not there to stop the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] that seeks to roll back important regulations that protect our air, who will?”
Healey told the Daily in an interview about her views on how the president has “undermined” democratic institutions in the United States.
“We have a president who thinks he is above the law and has also done many things to undermine the institutions that serve our democracy by undermining the free press, an independent judiciary and those who serve in government,” she said.
Another audience member asked Healey about the issue of voter suppression and its presence in politics today.
“You’ve seen blatant efforts by the legislature to suppress the vote … closing down polls and changing polling locations,” Healey said. “It needs to be fought legally and we’ve been in some of those battles.”
Healey ended the discussion with an acknowledgment of young people’s ability to create change.
“Yes, we’ve been in court and yes, we’ve been successful in defending our strong gun laws … but the impact of students walking out or going to commercial outlets is also creating change in our society,” Healey said. “In this country, we need people like you who will lead the country with the teamwork and spirit of getting things done.”