Healey, Diehl debate has heavy focus on Trump, Biden

AG’s call for tax cuts limited to Baker’s proposals

DEMOCRAT MAURA HEALEY and Republican Geoff Diehl held their first gubernatorial debate Wednesday night, with both candidates linking the other to the policies and beliefs of their party’s leader.

Healey, the state’s attorney general and the clear frontrunner in the race according to polls, repeatedly hammered Diehl for his close ties to former president Donald Trump, who is not well liked in Massachusetts.

“Let’s be clear about who we are,” Healey said. “My opponent has said recently that he backs Donald Trump 100 percent of the time. He has said he wants Donald Trump to be president in 2024. He chaired his presidential campaign. He continues to play from the Trump playbook and wants to bring Trumpism to Massachusetts. I will continue to talk about this,  Geoff, because those are values, those are principles, those are ways that we have rejected time and time again.”

Diehl, who held a telephone rally with the former president just before the Republican primary, sought to move the discussion away from Trump.

“You’re going to hear about Donald Trump because it’s Halloween time and that’s her bogeyman,” he said of Healey. “That’s what the media likes to talk about is Donald Trump. It’s a distraction from what’s important for this race.”

But Diehl at the same time tried to tie Healey to President Biden, whom he blamed for soaring inflation, rising mortgage costs, and skyrocketing energy costs.

He accused Biden of blocking one pipeline and Healey of derailing two that could have provided badly needed energy that could be stemming the rise in electricity and heating prices now.

Diehl said Healey, like Biden, is pushing an unrealistic green agenda that cannot deliver on its goal of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050. “She’s going to bankrupt our state, bankrupt our households,” he said during the debate, which was hosted by NBC10 Boston, Telemundo Boston, and NECN.

Diehl also appeared to back away from previous claims that the 2020 election had been stolen from Trump, but he did so in back-handed fashion. “Obviously Joe Biden won the election, look how bad the economy is right now,” he said.

Asked whether the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol had changed his opinion of Trump, Diehl said the violence should not have happened. But he quickly pivoted to June 2020, when violence rocked many American cities in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. He brought up Healey’s remarks to the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, when she said: “Yes, America is burning, but that’s how forests grow.”

“That is something that is so divisive, and nobody ever seems to be talking about that,” Diehl said. “At a time when our country needed to come together and stop the rioting, she was spurring that on by saying it’s OK, that’s how democracy works in our state. That’s not how democracy works. That’s a dangerous statement.”

Healey said she, as the state’s top law enforcement official, does not condone violence. “That may have been a poor choice of words at a business breakfast where I was talking about a lot of difficult things going on in the country and the need – it was really a metaphor – for the need to come together and work on things,” she said.

Healey said she wants to make the state more affordable by cutting taxes, expanding and improving transportation services, and increasing the supply of housing.

She indicated her tax cutting would probably begin and end with what Gov. Charlie Baker and the Legislature are doing or considering now. She said she supports returning $3 billion in excess tax collections to taxpayers as soon as possible and passing legislation boosting the size of existing tax breaks for seniors and renters, increasing the state’s earned income and child and dependent tax credits, and raising the threshold on the state’s estate tax.

Baker intends to return the $3 billion in November and is urging the Legislature to pass the tax breaks this fall.

Diehl pointed out that Healey favors raising some taxes. She favors passage of Question 1, which would impose a 4 percent surcharge on income over $1 million. Diehl warned the measure would drive people with capital out of the state.

He also noted that Healey favors resurrecting Baker’s so-called Transportation Climate Initiative, which would assess new fees on wholesale gasoline sales and use the proceeds to fund climate change efforts.

Neither candidate was very knowledgeable about what to do to improve the MBTA. Diehl said he would stop hiring consultants and instead would listen to ideas from the T’s workers. “The workers know exactly what needs to be fixed,” he said.

Healey said she would appoint a safety czar, hire more workers, and make sure “we have people responsible for the capital planning as well as operations.”

The candidates were split on Question 4, which could repeal a law allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. Healey supports the existing law, while Diehl is helping lead the effort to repeal it.

Healey trumpeted her support for abortion rights, while Diehl said he would abide by the laws of the state. He declined to say whether he supports a national law banning abortion.

In the wake of the US Supreme Court’s decision in Hobbs, Healey said it is no time for nuanced positions. “Massachusetts needs a governor who will protect a woman’s freedom to make decisions for herself.  It’s as simple as that. I will. He won’t,” she said.

Diehl said the shortage of workers state government faces could be remedied in part by lifting the Baker administration’s vaccine mandate, which led to the firing of roughly 1,000 state employees who refused to comply.

Asked to give a letter grade to Baker’s performance in office, Diehl gave him a B, recognizing the difficult job he faced in dealing with a Democratic-dominated Legislature. Healey refused to give Baker a grade, saying she’s not a teacher.

“I would tell you Gov. Baker has done a really good job,” she said.