The next state attorney general will step in to lead the nationally respected office amid a host of urgent challenges: an increasingly unreliable public transit system woefully lacking in accountability; criminal justice and correction institutions in dire need of reform; and a Supreme Court intent on tying the hands of state officials’ efforts to curb gun violence and protect reproductive rights, just to name a few.
That’s on top of the rest of the attorney general’s responsibilities, which range from watchdogging the health care system to rooting out public corruption.
Democratic primary voters have a choice between three candidates who offer different, if at times overlapping, visions of how to tackle these and other issues as the Commonwealth’s top attorney. But Andrea Campbell has proven herself to be the best among the choices. She has the Globe’s enthusiastic endorsement in the Sept. 6 primary.
A Princeton-educated former Boston city councilor, Campbell’s personal experience, her track record for taking on institutions like the Boston Police and Fire Departments, and her thoughtful and innovative vision to make the attorney general’s office more responsive to and protective of residents across the entirety of Commonwealth, make her stand out. She has demonstrated carefully considered plans about not only what she would do in the office, but also how the office itself can be transformed in order to be a more effective and responsive organization in tune with the interests of the state’s residents.
One of the areas where her focus on increased transparency and accountability is most needed is the state Department of Correction, which she correctly describes as a “black hole” of opacity.
Her commitment to address misconduct within the agency — including her willingness to take the unusual position of refusing to defend the agency in court in cases where credible evidence of misconduct exists — stands out. It is the job of the attorney general to represent the state and its agencies, but it is also within its discretion to refuse to do so when justice requires and to spur reform.
Campbell’s commitment to push the agency to release more information to the public as well as to family members of those within its system is driven not just by her professional experience but also an intensely personal one: the 2012 death of her twin brother Andre while in custody awaiting trial, a tragedy she speaks about on the campaign trail. Questions she and her family have about the circumstances of his death remain unanswered. That experience not only informs the need to press for reforms but also the need to treat those who are impacted by the correction system with dignity and compassion.
Her plan to create a police accountability unit within the office’s civil rights division is bolstered by her experience as a city councilor creating the first civilian oversight system over the Boston Police Department. She has also proposed the creation of a new gun enforcement unit to address gun violence beyond the consumer protection lens that has been the focus of previous attorneys general. Particularly in the wake of the Supreme Court rolling back the state’s gun permitting laws, thinking outside the box to ensure the safety and security of Bay State residents while ensuring that communities have responsive public safety services is more necessary than ever.
And while her political opponents have suggested that her close ties to Beacon Hill — she was deputy legal counsel under former governor Deval Patrick — and Boston City Hall make her too much of an insider to serve as an effective watchdog, it is also true that having a good relationship with state and local officials is necessary for an attorney general to be most effective. This is especially true on issues like pressing for accountability from the MBTA ― something the attorney general can only do in cooperation with state lawmakers and the governor.
James R. McMahon III is running unopposed for the Republican nomination, and two other candidates will appear on the Democratic ballot. Former Assistant Attorney General Quentin Palfrey’s commitment to use his experience leading the state attorney general’s office’s health care division to bolster the office’s role as a powerful watchdog through its broad consumer protection and other powers is laudable. So is attorney Shannon Liss-Riordan’s vow to use her long experience as a “private attorney general” scoring victories in court battles against large corporations and other power holders on behalf of working people and consumers. The work she does is important, and any suggestion that the amount she gets paid for it — which is less than the average percentage for contingency fee attorneys — is somehow disqualifying is unfair.
There will be times where the next attorney general will need to use the position’s bully pulpit to take a leading role on national issues, as outgoing Attorney General Maura Healey spent considerable time doing during the Trump administration, and Campbell’s experience in the spotlight has prepared her for that. But her focus on Massachusetts communities and the need for the residents within them to have a responsive state government is well placed, and having Campbell in the top law enforcement position would be to their benefit. There’s a reason why so many former state attorneys general, including Healey herself, have endorsed Campbell: she has the skills to run the office well — and the vision to make it better.
Editorials represent the views of the Boston Globe Editorial Board. Follow us @GlobeOpinion.