Voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly chose Democrat Maura Healey as the next governor of Massachusetts, entrusting the two-term attorney general whose election marks a litany of historic firsts to succeed popular Republican Gov. Charlie Baker as the state continues to find its footing in a post-pandemic world.
Republican Geoff Diehl was little match for Healey, who has been considered the Democrats’ odds-on favorite to become the state’s chief executive for almost the entirety of her relatively short political career and who entered the governor’s race in January after Baker opted not to seek reelection.
With about 28 percent of the votes counted at 10:45 p.m., Healey was leading Diehl 63 percent to 35 percent. The Associated Press had called the race in favor of Healey more than two hours earlier.
“To those who voted for me and to those who didn’t, I want you to know I’ll be a governor for everyone and I’ll work with anyone who’s up for making a difference in this state,” Healey said shortly after 9:30 p.m. Tuesday as she claimed victory. “I want you to know: I understand what you feel, I understand where you are, and I’m going to do everything in my power to help you.”
In addition to being the first woman and first openly gay person elected governor in Massachusetts, Healey on Tuesday became the first sitting Massachusetts attorney general elected to the corner office since AG became an elected, not appointed, office more than a century ago. She is just the third Democrat elected governor of the Bay State over the last 40 years, and the victory also made Healey the first out lesbian to be elected governor in any state in America.
“In the face of so much hate and intolerance sweeping our nation, her win is a sign — especially to LGBTQ kids in desperate need of hope — that LGBTQ people have a place in American society and can become respected public leaders,” Annise Parker, president and CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund, said. “We are confident that under Maura’s leadership, Massachusetts will reach new heights as one of the most inclusive states in the country.”
Though historic, there was little suspense or drama on the gubernatorial campaign trail this fall. Fittingly, there was little suspense Tuesday night: the AP called the race for Healey as soon as the polls closed at 8 p.m., even before any results had been reported.
Alongside Healey on the victorious Democratic ticket is Lieutenant Governor-elect Kim Driscoll. The women-in-politics organization EMILY’s List said that Healey and Driscoll “comprise the first all-woman gubernatorial leadership team in American history.” Or, as Boston Mayor Michelle Wu called them Tuesday night, “the country’s first ever governor and lieutenant governor women power duo.” A pair of women was also elected Tuesday night to lead Arkansas.
The mayor of Salem since 2006, Driscoll got into the lieutenant governor’s race in January promising a “new focus from Beacon Hill” on the needs of cities of towns.
After leaning on the support he enjoys from former President Donald Trump in a Republican Party primary against Wrentham businessman Chris Doughty, Diehl focused his general election campaign against Healey around the broad theme of freedom — economic freedom through tax relief, energy independence 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.
Representatives of Diehl’s campaign took issue with the AP’s early call of the Massachusetts governor’s race and the candidate told his supporters just before 11 p.m. that the gap was too much to overcome and that he had called Healey to congratulate her on her victory.
“Despite the outcome, I’m proud of the race we ran and we highlighted issues that are important for people across the entire state. You know it: education, health care, energy, the economy. For a long time, Massachusetts has been a leader in these fields, but we’ve become complacent and too dependent on the directives from Washington, D.C.,” Diehl said. “So Leah [Allen] and I talked about restoring freedom through states’ rights and we’ve been passionate about giving you back control from a government that has become so big that it controls virtually every aspect of our lives.”
Healey is expected to be sworn in as the 73rd governor of Massachusetts on Thursday, Jan. 5 at noon. She and Driscoll are planning to meet with Baker and Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito on Wednesday.
What Can Bay Staters Expect?
In her victory speech from the Fairmont Copley Plaza — the same hotel where Healey capped off a speedy ascension into state politics with her 2014 election as attorney general — Healey on Tuesday night said that she and Driscoll were elected with “a mandate to act.”
“So we’re going to ignore the noise. We’re going to focus every day on making a positive difference in people’s lives. Our job from day one will be to make our state more affordable,” the governor-elect said. “I’ll be a governor for every person struggling with higher costs. We’ll make Massachusetts more competitive and affordable so that people will come here, stay here, and grow their businesses here. We’ll cut taxes, fix road and bridges, invest in education and job training, and we’ll take on the climate crisis and create great clean energy jobs.”
On the campaign trail, Healey said that her gubernatorial administration would cut taxes — “I want to be clear with the voters: As governor, I’m going to cut taxes,” she said on Oct. 12 — put new leadership in charge of the MBTA, set a target of net-zero emissions from state operations by 2030, fully electrify public transportation by 2040, tackle “local zoning barriers” to build more housing, end state and local law enforcement involvement in federal immigration matters, and take a fresh look at the role of standardized testing in K-12 education.
She also telegraphed that she won’t veer too far from the the way that Baker has approached the job of governor, and in some cases, Healey has said outright that she’d do the same thing that the popular Republican has done.
In her first debate against Diehl, Healey said that “Governor Baker put forward a tax plan that I support,” that she “was really heartened by the Baker administration” and its response to the unexpected arrival of migrants on Martha’s Vineyard, that she has “supported many of the moves of the Baker administration and of the Legislature” around climate policy and “would have signed the same legislation that Governor Baker signed” in August. Her plan for another major COVID-19 surge, she said, would be “to continue to follow the science and the data, I think that’s what the Baker administration has done and done successfully.”
“I will tell you that Governor Baker’s done a really good job,” Healey said during a debate lightning round when she refused to give a letter grade to Baker’s performance as governor. “He’s done a really good job.”
But Healey, who has often interacted with the governor during her eight years as attorney general, won’t be working with Baker any longer. Come January, she will be one of the so-called Big Three and will have to become comfortable with the power dynamics inherent in the executive-legislative relationship. She worked closely with some lawmakers as attorney general and was endorsed by both House Speaker Ronald Mariano and Senate President Karen Spilka.
But as Diehl made the campaign case that having some Republican counterweight to the Democrats’ supermajorities in the Legislature benefits the state, Healey painted herself as willing to push back on some of her own party’s leaders.
“I’ve already called out the Legislature; I’m not afraid to stand up to powerful interests,” Healey said during her second debate with Diehl. “My interest as governor will be protecting the people.”
How Did Healey Get Here?
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.
“We always worked. I learned to drive in the field when I was 10 years old, stick shift by the time I was 11 or 12,” she said in a September speech to the Blackstone Valley Chamber of Commerce in Millbury. Healey added, “You know, waitressed my way through high school, college and law school. I say my second-favorite job to being your attorney general was not playing professional basketball, which I did get to do, it is actually as a cocktail waitress at the Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom … It’s a great place, definitely learned more there than I probably did at Harvard, for sure.”
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 was an apparent theme at Tuesday’s election party, where attendees wore buttons bearing an image of Healey and the phrase “My governor is a baller.”
Prior to becoming attorney general, Healey worked on civil rights cases in the office under her predecessor, Martha Coakley, 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.
“If she wants to be a candidate for something else in the future, she’ll be very successful,” 2014 lieutenant governor nominee Steve Kerrigan said when Healey was sworn in for her second term as attorney general.
Democratic Party Chairman Gus Bickford said the same night, “I think she has an incredible future. This party is very lucky to have her and many others, but she has an incredible future.”
“She could run for dog catcher and I’d probably be with her,” Norma Shulman, a Democratic State Committee member, said in January when Healey was preparing to announce her gubernatorial run.
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.
In running for governor as the incumbent attorney general and winning, Healey has accomplished a feat that three of her predecessors in the office — all Democrats – have tried and failed over the past 24 years. Former Attorneys General Scott Harshbarger, Tom Reilly and Martha Coakley all ran for governor and lost.
The last Massachusetts governor who had previously served as attorney general was Democrat Paul Dever, who was elected governor in 1948 eight years after giving up the AG’s job.
[Chris Lisinski contributed to this report.]