Attorney General Maura Healey, who has used her platform to take on Donald Trump and corporate villains like opioid manufacturer Purdue Pharma, is telling fellow Democrats she is running for governor, according to several party leaders who spoke with her about her plans.
Healey’s announcement could come as early as Thursday, according to people with knowledge of her plans. A campaign adviser declined to comment.
Should she formally announce a bid, Healey, 50, would become the only statewide official running and the presumptive front-runner. She boasts high name recognition, a national fund-raising network, and a campaign war chest of nearly $3.7 million — advantages that would make her a formidable opponent in the primary election.
Elected in 2014, Healey was the nation’s first openly gay state attorney general. If she runs and wins, she would be the first woman and first openly gay person elected Massachusetts governor.
Just two openly LGBTQ people have been elected governor in the United States: Jared Polis, who is gay, in Colorado, and Kate Brown, who is bisexual, in Oregon.
With the state’s top two elected Republicans, Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, out of the race, Democrats are bullish on their chances of taking back the governor’s office — a prize Republicans have held for most of the past three decades despite the state’s Democratic leanings. Healey’s entrance could discourage other hopefuls from entering the field, which already includes three major candidates: state Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz and Harvard professor Danielle Allen, both Democrats, and Republican Geoff Diehl, a former state representative.
Still, the contours of the contest remain uncertain.
In her two terms as attorney general, Healey has used a role sometimes seen as merely functionary to vault onto the national stage. Along with Democratic attorneys general in other states, she was involved in dozens of legal actions against the Trump administration, battling over environmental regulations, protections for student borrowers, and deportations for so-called DACA Dreamers. She has kept up her legal fights against Republicans even with a Democrat in the White House, leading a coalition of colleagues in a friend-of-the-court brief opposing the Texas abortion law that threatens Roe v. Wade.
She has also targeted corporate giants including ExxonMobil and Purdue Pharma.
With New York and other states, she pursued the oil giant, investigating whether it had covered up its knowledge about the role its products played in warming the planet.
And under her leadership, in 2018, Massachusetts was the first state to sue executives of OxyContin maker Purdue, arguing that its aggressive marketing misled physicians and patients about the risks of opioids. As part of an agreement with Massachusetts and a number of other states, the Sackler family, which founded Purdue, agreed to pay more than $4 billion for its role in the opioid crisis, but a federal judge threw out that deal in December.
While the attorney general has focused intensely on the opioid epidemic, other issues haven’t seen the same public attention or resulted in convictions. During her tenure, Healey has repeatedly chosen not to prosecute or pursue cases of potential campaign finance violations, declining at least nine times to bring a civil lawsuit or criminal charges after regulators sent her evidence of potential wrongdoing. She has won more than 20 convictions in public malfeasance or corruption cases — but almost as often, cases have quietly ended without guilty verdicts, or are dropped or dismissed, according to court records.
Still, the agency appears to have taken action in at least one case involving potential campaign finance violations by a Republican state senator and the chairman of the Massachusetts GOP. The attorney general’s office issued subpoenas this year and a grand jury was convened to hear testimony, the Globe has reported.
And during the pandemic, Healey’s office targeted two officials who were in charge of the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home, where at least 76 veterans died from COVID-19, winning a criminal indictment. But a Hampden Superior Court judge dismissed all criminal charges in November. Healey has said she is appealing.
Standing 5 foot 4, Healey is a former college basketball captain and played the sport professionally in Europe for two years. She often says her sports days taught her to take on challenging fights — a lesson she has brought to her political career. (In a 2014 matchup organized by the Globe, she won a game of “horse” against Baker, a fellow Harvard basketball alum who is 6 foot 6.)
The eldest of five children, Healey was raised in the small town of Hampton Falls, N.H. She graduated from Harvard College and Northeastern University School of Law, and worked in the attorney general’s office for seven years before campaigning to lead it. Her tenure included leading the agency’s bureaus of Public Protection and Business and Labor. She also worked as chief of the civil rights division, and led Massachusetts’ fight against the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman.
Healey also clerked for a federal judge in Massachusetts and worked as a junior partner at the law firm Wilmer Hale.
The two other major Democratic candidates have been running for months. Each has their strengths: Allen, a sterling academic resume, Chang-Díaz, the vocal support of hyperengaged progressive activists.
In a statement Wednesday, Chang-Dίaz welcomed Healey to the race.
“Our Commonwealth needs a leader who will prioritize true racial justice in our public safety systems, take urgent action on climate change, and close the wealth divide to build an economy that works for everyone,” she said. “I’m that person, but I welcome the attorney general to make her case to Bay Staters as well.”
Analysts say Healey would enter at a strong advantage, not least because her cash stockpile is far larger than those of the other major contenders.
Attorneys general who run for governor have often struggled in this state. Analysts say the position is a difficult vantage from which to run given the somewhat limited role attorneys general play in many policy areas, and the potential drawbacks of being seen as the state’s “top cop,” particularly with voters on the left agitating for further police reform.
Martha Coakley, a Democratic attorney general, lost to Baker when she sought the corner office in 2014. Scott Harshbarger, Frank Bellotti, and Tom Reilly also failed in their efforts to vault from the attorney general’s office to the governorship. The last Massachusetts attorney general to become governor was Paul Dever in the 1940s.
But Healey has some advantages of her own, including the broad portfolio of issues she’s taken on and strong allies. In 2018, when then-Boston city councilor Ayanna Pressley took on longtime incumbent representative Michael E. Capuano, Healey endorsed Pressley even as most Democratic heavyweights in the state stuck with Capuano. The gamble paid off: when Pressley toppled Capuano and made history, Healey was on the right side of the race.
A fan of Celtics great Bob Cousy and Harpoon IPAs, Healey was a political neophyte when she made her first bid for attorney general in 2014. She faced a tough Democratic primary opponent in Warren Tolman, a former state legislator and statewide candidate, who edged her out to win the party convention and had the powerful endorsements of two party heavyweights: then-Boston mayor Martin J. Walsh and then-governor Deval Patrick. But Healey ultimately bested Tolman, winning the primary with a decisive 24-point margin and proceeding to win the general election in November.
In 2018, Healey faced no Democratic opponent and sailed to reelection, winning 70 percent of the vote against Republican James R. McMahon III.