BOSTON (SHNS) – Less than one year since she launched her gubernatorial campaign in East Boston, Maura Healey on Thursday took the oath of office as the 73rd governor of Massachusetts, asking the people of the Bay State to join her in writing “the next chapter of the Massachusetts story.”
Healey took the oath of office administered by Senate President Karen Spilka at 12:32 p.m. Thursday, ascending to the state’s top job after two terms as attorney general and pledging to tackle the “barriers that are holding back our people and our state,” like the “out of control” cost of housing, the “nightmare of high costs” for everyday goods, the “unacceptable” state of transportation infrastructure, and the “climate crisis.”
“We have untold wealth in the commonwealth. But record public revenue does little good when families can’t pay the rent, buy a house, heat their homes, or pay for child care. Our health system is the envy of the world. Yet our hospitals are desperate for staff,” Healey said in her inaugural remarks. She takes office on the heels of a nearly $5 billion state surplus and nearly $3 billion in automatic tax returns to taxpayers.
She added, “Our companies are eager to expand, but they can’t find workers with the skills they need. Communities and people are yearning to grow and thrive, but they haven’t been given the tools to do it. This is — this is — the greatest state in the union. It is, but people are leaving … giving up on the Massachusetts story.”
Drawing on the theme of Massachusetts as a home for all of its residents, the Democrat who grew up in New Hampshire asked Bay Staters to help her “chart a path forward and walk it together, into the next chapter of our Massachusetts story.”
Healey, 51, had been considered the Democrats’ odds-on favorite to become the state’s chief executive for a good portion of her two terms as attorney general. She won 1,584,403 votes in the November general election, easily topping Republican Geoff Diehl in the race to succeed Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, a popular chief executive whose decision not to seek a third term further cemented Healey’s status as frontrunner in the race.
In addition to being the first woman and first openly gay person elected governor in Massachusetts, Healey’s inauguration makes her the first out lesbian governor to take office in any state in America. She was also the first sitting Massachusetts attorney general elected to the corner office since AG became an elected, not appointed, office more than a century ago and just the third Democrat elected governor of the Bay State over the last 40 years.
And along with Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll, the new governing duo represents one of two all-woman gubernatorial leadership teams in the country. Healey briefly acknowledged, but downplayed, the historic nature of her ascension to the state’s highest office and the many firsts that it represents in her inaugural speech.
“But every one of us, every one of us, is a first. You may be a first-generation immigrant choosing Massachusetts as the foundation for your American dream. You may be the first in your family to go to college, the first in your neighborhood to start a business,” Healey said. “In this state, we are all trailblazers. We are all leaders. That’s why we live in Massachusetts. Now what story will we write together?”
After a campaign during which she was criticized for being light on details, Healey made a handful of firm commitments in her inaugural address to a joint session of the House and Senate, and to the people of Massachusetts. She pledged to:
- Create a standalone secretary of housing to “work across government and support every city and town to make sure we meet our goals” within her first 100 days;
- Have her administration and finance secretary “identify unused state-owned land that we can turn into rental housing or homes within one year;”
- Expand tax deductions for renters;
- Include in her first budget proposal a “MassReconnect” program to make community college free for people 25 and older without a college degree;
- Increase funding to the state university system;
- Appoint a safety chief at the MBTA within 60 days;
- Fund the hiring of 1,000 new workers to focus on the operation of the MBTA within her first year;
- Form an interagency task force dedicated to competing for federal infrastructure money;
- Direct each agency under her administration to conduct a full equity audit;
- Double the state’s offshore wind and solar power procurement targets, and quadruple energy storage deployment;
- Electrify the state’s public vehicle fleet and put a million electric vehicles on the road by 2030; and
- Commit at least 1 percent of the state’s budget to environmental and energy agencies, triple the budget of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, and create a “green bank” to invest in resilient infrastructure and to attract new businesses to Massachusetts.
Healey worked closely with some lawmakers as attorney general. But to get done most of what she promised Thursday will require the new governor (and newest member of the so-called Big Three) to become comfortable with the power dynamics inherent in the executive-legislative relationship. There will also be an age gap among the trio: House Speaker Ronald Mariano is 76, Spilka turns 70 this month and Healey turns 52 next month.
“I’ve already called out the Legislature; I’m not afraid to stand up to powerful interests,” Healey said during her second gubernatorial debate.
While there was a lot for legislative Democrats to like in Healey’s speech, it also revealed what could be an early point of friction: While the new governor said she will propose free community college for people 25 and older, Spilka made making community college “free for all students” a central part of her session-opening speech on Wednesday.
Healey addressed tax relief in her remarks Thursday and painted it as a point of early agreement between her and the Legislature.
“I’ve already proposed a child tax credit for every child, for every family. The Legislature already put forward several worthy tax cut proposals during the last legislative session. This will mean real relief for the people who need it most. I want to work, let’s get it done,” she said.
After they agreed last summer to a tax relief and reform package that collapsed months later, Spilka and Mariano this week seemed to be on different pages when it comes to tax relief. The Senate president said she is still “committed to enacting permanent progressive tax relief,” but the speaker seemed to suggest the House would look at the issue anew, telling reporters Wednesday that he had not “thought about any of that stuff” and that the newly configured House would “look at where we are economically and we’ll make a decision.”
As she took the oath Thursday, the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance urged Healey to adopt broad-based tax cuts and tax eliminations as a way to deal with what the organization says will be dire consequences of the fall’s passage of a new surtax on income above $1 million.
“The days of ‘targeted tax relief’ are over. The Governor and legislative leaders need to do much more and adopt broad tax cuts and tax eliminations if they want to help Massachusetts’ competitiveness and mitigate the economic fallout associated with Question 1,” MassFiscal spokesman Paul Craney said.
Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, in his own remarks during the opening Senate session Wednesday, told Healey and Driscoll that his “prop department” had worked up a “burlap sack of tax cut suggestions” that he said he can’t wait to bring to their office “so that we can unpack it and talk about the ways that we might work together.”
After Healey’s speech Thursday, Tarr said he has had a “collegial” relationship with Healey over the last eight years and expressed hope that the Monday afternoon meetings between the governor, lieutenant governor, and legislative leaders of both parties would continue under the new administration.
“I do expect them to continue and I fervently hope that they will continue to be as inclusive as they have been during the Baker-Polito administration. You know, one of the hallmarks of today’s celebration, and certainly Governor Baker’s departure yesterday, was a discussion of inclusiveness. And it seems to me that it’s incumbent on the new governor and lieutenant governor to continue with that form of inclusiveness because it has helped us to get through some very difficult times and it will certainly help us to get through the challenges that we face in the future,” the Gloucester Republican said. “So I am very hopeful that it will continue, although I have no guarantees and we haven’t discussed it.”
Driscoll, the mayor of Salem since 2006, will be Healey’s partner in governance and will have to forge her own relationships with lawmakers as well. The longtime mayor got into the lieutenant governor’s race last January promising a “new focus from Beacon Hill” on the needs of cities of towns. She describes herself as a proud member of “the get-stuff-done wing of government” and her inaugural speech emphasized the importance of the work ahead of the new administration.
“It can’t be overstated that Massachusetts is at an important inflection point as we turn the corner on the pandemic. Our ability to support thriving communities and, as a result, have a thriving commonwealth, will require a new commitment to embracing necessary change as we transition into a new America — one where you don’t have to live in the same place you work, where long, congested commutes, expensive housing and child care shouldn’t dictate where you grow your roots, start your business, age or retire,” Driscoll said in her prepared remarks. “Simply stated, we can’t be a thriving state if we’re not meeting our housing and transportation needs, if we’re not addressing education and child care inequities, or leading the nation and frankly the world when it comes to clean energy, life sciences and advanced manufacturing.”
Healey’s Path to the Corner Office
Healey grew up the oldest of five kids in Hampton Falls, N.H., a town of about 1,500 people that she said was “mostly dairy farms and apple orchards” at the time. When she was 10, her parents split and Healey was raised mostly by her mother, a school nurse. Healey said she learned a lot about “sacrifice, hard work and looking after one another” from her mother and community members who pitched in to help the family.
In her speech Thursday, Healey said that her family’s story “is a Massachusetts story, more than three centuries in the telling.”
“My ancestors landed on a river bank in Newbury. On the journey they were borne along by dreams of greater freedom, and hope for the blessings of life. … My great-great-grandfather grew up in Newburyport. When he was 16, his father signed a permission slip so he could fight for the Union in the Civil War,” she said. Healey added, “My grandparents met on the fishing docks in a Gloucester one summer. She was in nursing school, he worked at the GE factory. Later, when I was to be born in a naval hospital in Maryland, they were very worried that I wasn’t starting life on Massachusetts soil. So my grandmother went to the woods, dug up some soil, put it in a bag, caught a plane, sneaked into the hospital room, and put the little bag under the delivery table. Massachusetts has been my home ever since. That’s a true story; crazy, but true.”
After graduating from Harvard College, where she captained the women’s basketball team, Healey played professional basketball in Europe for a few years and later earned her law degree from Northeastern University. Her basketball career, and Driscoll’s own connections to the game as a college player, is the basis of the theme for Thursday night’s inaugural ball at TD Garden.
The Healey team is using the theme “Moving the Ball Forward” for the event, which will feature a performance by musician Brandi Carlile and others.
Prior to becoming attorney general, Healey worked on civil rights cases in the office under her predecessor, Martha Coakley (who was in the gallery for Thursday’s ceremony), and helped successfully challenge the Defense of Marriage Act before the Supreme Court. In 2014, Healey made her first foray into elected politics with a run for attorney general.
The newcomer defeated the more well-known Warren Tolman in a hard-fought Democratic primary, immediately marking her as a rising star in the party. That status put her at the top of the list for many Democrats hoping to win back the governor’s office.
Healey made a name for herself as attorney general during Trump’s years in the White House as one of many Democratic prosecutors across the country who filed dozens of lawsuits against the Republican administration, ranging from the enforcement of environmental regulations to immigration policy. She also fought to protect abortion rights around the country, sued opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma and took on student loan companies that she thought were taking advantage of borrowers.