Politics

Coakley defends decision to keep casino repeal off ballot

AG Martha Coakley said she had no crystal ball on whether or not the court will decide to permit the repeal measure to go to voters.

AP/File

AG Martha Coakley said she had no crystal ball on whether or not the court will decide to permit the repeal measure to go to voters.

Attorney General Martha Coakley this morning defended her decision not to certify a ballot question that would allow voters to outlaw casino gambling in Massachusetts. Her remarks came on the same day that state’s highest court heard arguments on the matter.

In remarks at a breakfast forum in downtown Boston, Coakley anchored her reasoning in the earliest iterations of American legal thought.

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“It is clear that although the founders wanted the people to have options — other than their elected representatives in the House and the Senate — they also limited those occasions in which they did, understanding that there’s an orderly way in which business of the people does go forward,” the gubernatorial hopeful said.

Coakley’s office ruled last year the petition for the measure to repeal the state’s casino law was unconstitutional because repeal would “impair the implied contracts between” the state gaming commission and applicants for gaming licenses and illegally “take” those contract rights without compensation.

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Casino opponents asked the Supreme Judicial Court to overrule that decision. The oral arguments in the case took place this morning.

Coakley said she had no crystal ball on whether or not the court will decide to permit the repeal measure to go to voters.

“This is a question that I think is close. I think the court could agree with us, but I don’t have tea leaves on this,” she said.

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In a wide-ranging discussion, moderated by former journalist R.D. Sahl, Coakley weighed in on other issues, from health care to education reform, sticking mostly to her standard campaign talking points.

She also spoke, warily, about the legalization of marijuana for recreational use in Massachusetts.

Coakley said she recently spoke to the attorney general of Colorado, one of two states where the recreational use of marijuana is legal under state law. “They’ve had a enormous issues with it,” she said.

“As we’ve seen, sometimes the public thinks something is a good idea. It’s our job, those of us who are elected, to make sure we parse through all the consequences of that,” she said.

Coakley spoke at a forum at the University of Massachusetts Club presented by the public relations firm Denterlein; NAIOP Massachusetts, the commercial real estate development association; and AIM, Associated Industries of Massachusetts.

The attorney general is one of 11 people running for governor: five Democrats, two Republicans, a Libertarian, and three independent candidates are seeking to succeed Governor Deval Patrick, who has said he is not running for a third term.

Joshua Miller can be reached at joshua.miller@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jm_bos.
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