A balancing act from front-runner Healey

Winning convention endorsement for governor, she pledges progressive leadership – but not disruptive change 

MAURA HEALEY, who launched her campaign for governor in January with a modulated message vowing to continue what’s working and change what isn’t, swept the Massachusetts Democratic Party’s convention endorsement, vowing to be a champion for those left behind or left out.

The two-term attorney general won the Democratic Party endorsement by a wide margin at Saturday’s state convention in Worcester, capturing 71 percent of the delegate vote to 29 percent for state Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, a Jamaica Plain lawmaker running to her left. Both candidates advance to the September primary ballot after clearing the party threshold of winning at least 15 percent of the delegate vote. Either candidate would be the first woman ever elected governor in the state.

“In Massachusetts, we have the best people, innovation and know-how in the world,” Healey told the convention crowd. “But too many people and too many families are stuck and hurting – unable to build a brighter future because of barriers in their way.”

She promised to address that first by focusing on the economy. “Let’s put money back in people’s pockets by cutting the costs of housing, energy, and health care,” she said.

The 51-year-old front-runner in the race hit on progressive themes in her convention speech, touting her work battling the NRA and ExxonMobil, while pledging to be unwavering in support of abortion rights and policies to take on climate change and “structural racism.”

But Healey largely stuck to broad themes over policy specifics, an approach that has guided her campaign since its January launch. Healey has notably not sought to anchor her run on a need to dramatically shift course following Republican Charlie Baker’s two terms in office.

“We’ll continue with what’s working, and fix what’s not,” Healey said her campaign announcement video, a message that seemed to offer a nod of approval to Baker’s tenure and an openness to change at the same time.

Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz, who has called for bold change in state government, addresses convention delegates. (Photo by Michael Jonas)

She’s faced criticism in the months since for being vague on her rationale for running and the issues she would push in office. Chang-Diaz, who has laid out a platform of progressive stands on everything from fare-free public transit to rent stabilization, has challenged Healey to debates, and lobbed criticisms during several candidate forums they have both taken part in. But Healey has largely tried to float above the fray, adopting a front-runner’s aversion to policy details and engaging opponents.

Chang-Diaz, 44, in her convention speech, continued to hammer at the need for sweeping change and a willingness to take on State House power brokers, themes that have fueled her underdog run.

“I am not the favorite of the Beacon Hill establishment,” Chang-Diaz said. “When you spend your career pushing for change it can make those in power uncomfortable.” Her introductory video at the convention included Martin Luther King’s warning about the “tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”

In 2019, Chang-Diaz was yanked from her position as Senate chair of the education committee after failing to broker a deal with House members on a revamp of the state’s education funding law. She wore that as a badge of honor in her convention speech, saying she stood firm on the need to take on the status quo and ensure more money for schools educating poor students, a position that ultimately prevailed in the bill that was passed.

While Chang-Diaz, who would be the state’s first Latina and first Asian American governor, emphasized the need to fight for change, even when it unsettles those in power, Healey decried the “divisiveness” and “anger” animating the current political climate, a something she said was on full display at the Republican state convention two weeks ago in Springfield. “So much hatred and vitriol,” Healey said of the GOP gathering. “With everything going on, this should be a time for people coming together.”

“This is going to be a choice between progress or partisanship,” Healey said, already looking toward the November general election. “Between delivering for people or dividing them.”

Healey comes out of the convention with an unusual mix of momentum: She is a clear favorite to win the party nomination in September and put a Democrat back in the governor’s office in November. But getting there will be depend, in part, on the support of independent voters who were strong backers of the Republican governor she’s aiming to succeed.

Healey has seemed keenly aware of that, starting with the statement she issued about Baker when he announced in December that he was not running again.

“He has been a valued partner to my office and to me,” she said. “I have deep regard and respect for the way he has led, with a commitment to doing what is right on behalf of the people of the Commonwealth.”

Supporters of Sonia Chang-Diaz cheer during her convention speech. (Photo by Michael Jonas)

Chang-Diaz struck a very different note. “For far too long, people in power have asked working families to wait for change — despite a growing affordable housing crisis, inaccessible and expensive child and health care, the existential threat of climate change, and long-standing racial injustice,” she said in reaction to Baker’s announcement. “The people of Massachusetts are ready for a new chapter with new leadership.”

Baker has remained one of the most popular governors in the country. But in a breakdown of polling numbers that puzzles national observers, his standing owes more to the high regard for him among independent voters and a swath of Democrats than to support from members of his own party, which has veered hard to the right and rejected the moderate Massachusetts Republican brand that once dominated.

In a recent Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll, by a 51-32 margin Massachusetts voters said the state was heading in the right direction versus moving on wrong track. But that margin soared to 74-15 among Democrats. It stood at 46-33 among independents. Meanwhile, Republicans by a 68-20 margin said the state was on the wrong track after more than seven years of GOP control of the governor’s office. When it comes to the state’s next governor, by a more than 2-1 margin voters said they wanted someone who would continue what’s working and fix what’s not versus a candidate vowing to deliver bold change. The question seemed to be close proxy for the Democratic primary match-up between Healey and Chang-Diaz.

The same poll had Healey defeating either Republican candidate, Geoff Diehl or Chris Doughty, by a 2-1 margin, carrying independent voters by 20 points. It showed Chang-Diaz beating either GOP candidate but by smaller margins.

Healey’s entry into the race had been widely anticipated when she announced her run in January, seven weeks after Baker declared that he would not seek a third term.

Healey not only hold commanding leads in polls of a primary match-up with Chang-Diaz and general election contest with a Republican nominee, she goes into the summer with largest campaign war chest by far. Healey had just shy of $5 million at the start of May to Chang-Diaz’s $350,000. Republican front-runner Geoff Diehl, meanwhile, is basically running on empty, with less than $15,000 on hand. His Republican rival, businessman Chris Doughty, had $530,000, most of which he donated himself. 

Healey, who would be the nation’s first openly lesbian governor, if elected, challenged the party establishment eight years ago when she upended former state senator Warren Tolman in the Democratic primary for attorney general. She went on to win two terms as AG and entered Saturday’s convention no longer as an outsider, but as the party’s putative standard-bearer.

Healey has fashioned a record as a crusading AG on a number of issues. She made a splash by repeatedly suing the Trump administration over everything from environmental regulations to for–profit universities and immigration policy.

On health care, she has thrown some roadblocks up in front of hospital mergers and raised concerns about market dominance by Mass General Brigham driving the state’s already high health care costs up even further.

But in many areas even the outlines of what a Healey administration would look like have been hard to discern.

Asked following the convention endorsement about charges from some liberals that she has shied away challenging the status quo, Healey ticked off a list of areas from her time as AG that she said show otherwise.

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

“I don’t think I’ve been accused of not pushing the status quo when I sued President Obama to challenge successfully the Defense of Marriage Act, when I took on predatory subprime lenders in the mortgage crisis who were devastating Black and brown communities, when I was the first attorney general to sue the Sacklers and take down Purdue Pharma,” she said

When asked whether she might view the race as already in the bag, Healey leaned into her pre-law life as Harvard point guard. “Look, I’m a competitor. And I’ve played enough games in my life to know not to pay attention to scores or polls or anything else,” she said. “It’s about hard work. It’s about hustle. It’s about building a team and teamwork.”