BOSTON (SHNS) – The 2022 race for governor in Massachusetts began to take shape Wednesday as Republican Geoff Diehl and Democrat Maura Healey sketched out their visions for the Bay State, with Diehl promising a focus on individual rights and Healey calling for teamwork and partnership to tackle big issues.
Diehl, a Trump-endorsed former state representative, won a somewhat-close GOP primary Tuesday night against Wrentham businessman Chris Doughty and faces an uphill battle against Democratic nominee Maura Healey, the state’s attorney general for the last eight years, in the Nov. 8 general election.
Joining Diehl on the Republican ticket will be former state representative Leah Cole Allen, who resigned from the House in 2015 to focus on her nursing career and then was fired from her nursing job for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Allen won a tight primary contest against fellow former state representative Kate Campanale.
Speaking outside an Elks lodge in West Roxbury on Wednesday morning, Diehl said he was working to set up at least three debates against Healey and that his general election message to voters will revolve around freedom — economic freedom through tax relief and oversight of government spending, freedom from health care-related mandates like those around COVID-19 vaccination, and freedom for parents to decide how their child is educated.
“We’re going to make sure that people know this is a campaign about two different choices: Bigger government under Maura Healey or more individual freedom under the Diehl-Allen administration,” Diehl said.
Diehl said that his first day as governor would feature him rehiring each state worker who was fired for refusing to comply with the state’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate, which he pointed to as an example of health care freedom. He also raised the subject of parental rights and said he would support an expansion of school choice beyond charter school, potentially to include an education savings account-type system in which parents would get state dollars that they could decide how to spend towards their child’s education.
“If the public schools right now are so intent on pushing curriculum that parents are very concerned about, then I think it’s time to give them more of a choice. Not just charter schools, allowing parents to use state funds to send their kids either to private school or for homeschooling materials, if that’s what they think is the best interest of their child,” he said Wednesday morning.
During Diehl’s press event Wednesday morning, MassGOP Chairman Jim Lyons repeatedly referred to Healey as a “radical” and said she “defines” the “radical policies of the left.” Both pointed to the recent state law making Massachusetts driver’s licenses available to immigrants without legal status here as an example.
During her own event in Worcester on Wednesday afternoon, Healey said that the Republicans “can call whatever names they want to call” and stressed that she and running mate Kim Driscoll, the mayor of Salem, plan to “press a message of optimism and a spirit of getting things done.”
“We are going to be a team, we are about partnership, we are about getting things done, we are about delivering for people and not dividing them, we are about putting people first and rising above the noise, the division, the partisanship, the politics,” Healey said. She added, “Our case is clear: as I say, it is about growing opportunities in this state, spurring jobs, economic development, we want to build a climate corridor that stretches all the way across this state creating so many jobs in the process and also addressing the real issues that we face when it comes to our climate crisis.”
Healey said she has already agreed to debates with Diehl and said her campaign wanted to encourage debates between Driscoll and Allen, too.
The issue of driver’s licenses for immigrants without legal status emerged as one of many glaring differences between the candidates Wednesday. A MassGOP-backed effort to repeal the new law is on track to join both Healey and Diehl on the November statewide ballot, a dynamic that the Diehl camp believes is going to help its own voter mobilization efforts.
Asked about the new law on Wednesday, Healey said she supports it and alluded to the argument supporters make that licensing more drivers regardless of their immigration status will make the state’s roads safer.
“I stand by the current law as it is and I stand by that as a matter of public safety, and that’s what I’m going to continue to talk to people about,” she said.
Another topic that’s sure to be highlighted over the next nine weeks as a point of divergence between the two candidates is reproductive rights. Even before Diehl was confirmed to be the Republican nominee, Healey used part of her acceptance speech Tuesday night to call him out as someone who will “oppose abortion rights.”
He responded Wednesday morning by saying that while he is pro-life, he also understands that the governor of Massachusetts alone cannot change the state laws that protect the right to abortion and other reproductive health care.
“Even Governor Baker vetoed the ROE Act because it contained very, very radical elements of late-term abortion that I think a lot of people feel is extreme. I want to protect life where I can, but also I understand that the Legislature makes the laws that govern this state. My job is to execute those laws,” the former state representative from Whitman said. “I am here to protect people’s health care choices, but again, the vaccine mandate went way over the line and firing people when they knew that it may have affected their underlying health as well. So, again, my job as governor will be to protect people’s rights here in Massachusetts and I’ll be doing that in every facet of the administration.”
The first 12 or so hours of the general election did, however, reveal at least one thing that the Democrat Healey and Republican Diehl agree on. Both used speeches to call for the state to quickly return excess tax collections under the 1986 law known as Chapter 62F.
“The people voted recently to give everyone in the state tax relief if the state had excess revenue. And it looks like we do, so the people should get that money back as soon as possible,” Healey said Tuesday night.
About an hour later, as Diehl gave his acceptance speech, he said that he also wants to see that money — $2.94 billion in total as estimated by the Baker administration — be returned to taxpayers quickly.
“I believe you deserve a tax break and you should get all the surplus tax money back that the state has now, but good luck ever getting a single penny back under Governor Healey, right?” Diehl said.
Though he made it a centerpiece of his Republican primary campaign, Diehl did not bring up former President Donald Trump’s endorsement Tuesday night or in his remarks Wednesday morning. Asked if he would invite Trump to come to Massachusetts to stump for him, Diehl said that his job now is “to make sure that I get out and talk to as many voters as possible and debate Maura Healey on the issues.”
“We’ll see about who wants to come to Massachusetts later,” he said.
And despite his affinity for Trump and his own conservative views, Diehl said Wednesday that he thinks he actually has more in common with the Democrats who control the Legislature than people realize.
“My time up on Beacon Hill has always been trying to work with Democrats when I was on committees to find solutions. And you probably know, anybody who’s covered Beacon Hill knows, Republicans and Democrats probably agree on about 80 percent, maybe even more, of the legislation that passes through,” Diehl said. “There’s wedge issues, of course, but my job has always been to try to listen to the people and represent their views. I’ll continue to do that as governor.”
Asked about Trump’s comment Monday that Diehl will “rule your state with an iron fist,” the candidate responded Wednesday, “I don’t think anybody in my house ever thinks I’m an iron fist kind of a guy.”