They shared doughnuts, swapped endorsements, and snapped selfies together on the campaign trail. Though Maura Healey and Andrea Campbell tackled the election as a team, they will now be in positions — as governor and attorney general — that could put them at odds.
Despite their closeness, Campbell says her rapport with the governor-elect won’t stop her from acting as a check on the state’s chief executive.
“We do have a great relationship,” Campbell told the Globe during her campaign. “But the role of attorney general is not accountable to the governor, or to the Legislature. You’re accountable to the people . . . and that won’t change [with me] as the next attorney general.”
The relationship between attorney general and governor is a complex yet vital one in state government. The attorney general is often called on to defend the governor’s policies in court. And yet, as Massachusetts’ top law enforcement officer, the attorney general must also hold the governor and other state agencies accountable if they violate state laws and regulations, striking a balance between representing the state and defending the rights of the people.
Ideologically, Campbell and Healey share many of the same values, and experts agree that their comfort and ease around one another could be an asset when partnering on major issues such as housing or transit. But legal scholars were quick to note that a strong attorney general should not hesitate to curb or redirect the plans of a zealous governor.
“The AG is generally representing the state and the governor when they’re in court, but sometimes that means the AG has to say . . . ‘No, the statute doesn’t give you that authority,’ or ‘That would be unconstitutional,’” said former assistant attorney general and Harvard lecturer Peter Brann. “We want them to get along . . . but there’s bound to be some tension whenever the lawyer has to tell the client, ‘You can’t do that.’”
Healey is also stepping into the gubernatorial seat fresh from two terms as attorney general, placing Campbell in the unique position of having to seek advice about her new role from the incoming governor. While Brann said it might be tempting for an AG-turned-governor to exert undue influence on a successor, others noted that having a governor who understands the legal parameters of the attorney general’s office can be advantageous.
“Even when you’re in the same party . . . there are some times when you differ either on an approach or the substantive issue,” said Martha Coakley, who served as attorney general during the tenure of former Democratic governor Deval Patrick from 2007 to 2015. “Governor Healey is going to be acutely aware from having been AG that sometimes the roles diverge.”
James Tierney, former Maine attorney general and legal adviser to attorneys general across the country, said the office is “constitutionally designed to be both a counselor and a limit on executive power,” and said he expects Campbell to quickly set her own agenda after seeking “initial counseling and guidance” from Healey and other former attorneys general.
Tierney pointed to states such as Florida as a cautionary tale, where he said Attorney General Ashley Moody has, in his opinion, “basically folded her tent and does what [Governor Ron] DeSantis wants.”
DeSantis’ recent controversial moves have included the suspension of a state attorney because of his stance on transgender and reproductive rights, and the decision — widely considered a “political stunt” — to fly a planeload of Venezuelan migrants to Martha’s Vineyard.
“The friendship cannot go so far as to [outweigh] things that the attorney general thinks exceed the governor’s power,” Tierney added.
Both Campbell and Healey have expressed enthusiasm about working together as part of a historic slate of elected female state officials, while stressing a commitment to focusing on their distinct roles and responsibilities.
“I really look forward to working with [Campbell] particularly around issues related to human rights and civil rights, reproductive justice, to name a few,” Healey said in a recent one-on-one interview with the Globe. “I am sure that from time to time, we may have differences of views and opinions, but that’s the appropriate and necessary functioning of government.”
Those differences may arise once Healey unveils her policy agenda in greater detail. Campbell has proudly branded herself a progressive, whereas to many political watchers, Healey’s vision appears to be decidedly moderate. Some already are anticipating a potential clash between the incoming governor and Boston Mayor Michelle Wu, who like Campbell, has boldly embraced progressive ideals — but Campbell enjoys a far more personal relationship with Healey than Wu does, which could open a door to compromise instead of conflict.
A Campbell spokesperson said she was not available for an interview for this story, but confirmed that the incoming attorney general is hoping to partner with Healey on creating equal access to resources including employment opportunities and public transportation.
”While the governor is pushing for more effective, high-quality, accessible transportation and closing the transit deserts and really investing in that infrastructure, the attorney general can be looking at the MBTA to see who gets the contracts,” Campbell told the Globe during her campaign. “Are they meeting their diversity goals for these construction projects? Their goals for women- and people-of-color-owned businesses?”
But as each woman begins building her team and gearing up for their inauguration, experts say, the days of high-fives and doughnut runs will have no choice but to give way to the work ahead — and the occasional disagreements that accompany it.
“The campaign is over now . . . [so] they’ll be able to consult and chat, but I think each will be very cognizant of the different roles they have to serve,” Coakley said. “Like good lawyers, if they can agree and work it out, they will. And if not, they’ll do what their constitutional oaths require them to do.”