Rhetoric ramps up in Mass. governor’s race


It’s open season in the open governor’s race, but despite the attacks, there’s one issue both Maura Healey and Geoff Diehl are zeroing in on: affordability.

The two candidates for Massachusetts governor: Democrat Maura Healey and Republican Geoff Diehl. Sophie Park/The New York Times, David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe

As they elect their next governor this November, Massachusetts voters have a choice between a candidate on the left pushing “radical” legislation or one who will open the door to “Trumpism” in state government.

At least that’s what the candidates say.

After polls closed in Massachusetts on Tuesday night, the rhetoric that’s become the go-to vocabulary between Democrats and Republicans nationally quickly set the parameters of politicking for Democrat Maura Healey and Republican Geoff Diehl.

In her victory speech, Healey, the current attorney general who sailed to her party’s nomination ultimately unopposed, took jabs at Diehl, the former state representative backed by former President Donald Trump, and zeroed in on Diehl’s pro-life abortion stance.

“We know he’ll put politics over progress. We know that he’ll be someone who’s out of touch with the values we stand for,” Healey told supporters.

At the time of her remarks, it was unclear whether Diehl or his opponent, Chris Doughty, would secure the Republican nomination.

But Healey told the crowd that either candidate would be equally out-of-sync with voters’ values.

“They’ll bring Trumpism to Massachusetts — and they both already said they’ll support Donald Trump in 2024,” she added. “I don’t know about you, but I am tired of the anger, the vitriol, the division. That’s not who we are. That’s not what Massachusetts is all about.”

Diehl, in his speech, fired off about Healey, arguing the progressive would usher in an era of big government and move the state further away from protecting individual liberties that he vows to uphold, if elected.

“Maura Healey as governor would lead our state in the wrong direction — down a path of higher taxes and radical legislation…,” said Diehl, who went on to call Healey “the people’s worst nightmare.” “Under her leadership, Massachusetts would be more expensive, more excessive, and more restrictive.”

Diehl expanded upon his attacks when speaking to reporters on Wednesday, through referencing remarks Healey made during the racial justice movement of 2020.

“During the riots going on across the country, when there was arson and looting and murder of people trying to protect their stores, she said that ‘America is burning but that’s how forests grow,’” Diehl said. “That was her statement as the top law enforcement official in Massachusetts — condoning that type of behavior as the way our democracy moves forward. That’s wrong. The people of Massachusetts know it, and they’re going to have a voice in November about that.”

Indeed, there are key differences between Healey and Diehl, especially on issues around reproductive rights, as Healey has underscored. Diehl has also pledged to give parents more say in their children’s classrooms and has swore to roll back the COVID-19 vaccine mandate for state employees.

But, cutting through the rhetoric and partisan-charged policy points, there is some overlap on central issues driving both campaigns, namely, on one that undoubtedly every voter has felt lately: How to make Massachusetts more affordable.

Despite Diehl’s rhetoric on his opponent upping the cost of living, Healey, since the outset of her campaign, has repeatedly emphasized the need to cut taxes and expand economic opportunity.

In June, for example, her campaign rolled out a proposal to expand the state’s child tax credit to help combat rising inflation. Under the plan, each family with a child under the age of 13 would receive a yearly check of $600 per child, as would families with dependents with disabilities over the age of 65.

It’s part of Healey’s affordability approach: Make Massachusetts a more wallet-friendly state through lowering housing, child care, education, and health care costs.

“Our campaign is about making the state more affordable, growing the economy, growing opportunity for all, and protecting reproductive freedom,” Healey told supporters on Tuesday night. “That’s what we stand for.”

In the meantime, the Legislature’s failure to pass a $4 billion tax relief and economic development bill before the end of its session last month has also become political fodder for both Healey and Diehl.

The proposal included a plan to give middle class taxpayers $250 rebates, but the measure stalled as lawmakers tried to factor how affordable the payout would be under an obscure law. The statute requires the state to pay taxpayers credits if revenues pass the growth of total wages and salaries across the state.

Revenues appear to be on track to trigger the tax cap, though the state auditor has yet to determine what the cap will be.

Over the past month, Healey has called on the Legislature to reconvene and pass the bill — and Diehl, as well, has said taxpayers deserve the payout immediately.

“It’s the people’s money, and it must be returned by the state,” Diehl told MassLive last week.

On Wednesday, MassGOP Chairman Jim Lyons, appearing with Diehl at a post-election day event, however, pinned the nation’s current inflation woes on the Biden administration and lumped in Healey with the president, a fellow Democrat, calling her “a flag waiver for that type of policy.”

Lyons went as far as to allege state Democrats — who actually crafted the $250 rebate plan — don’t want to give taxpayers money that they are entitled to receive.

“These radicals think that they know how to spend our money better,” Lyons quipped.

Diehl, on the campaign trail, has said he wants the state to scrap its vehicle excise tax and roll back the sales tax from 6.25 percent.

“If we’re on track at some point to continue to be able to bring in record tax revenue each year, or more taxes than we anticipate or need, then I’d like to see an opportunity to help reduce some of the burden on our citizens. … When you start to add up the cost of everything, there are areas where I think we can help reduce that overall cost to the individual in the state,” Diehl told Boston.com last month.

It’s possible voters will get at least a few more policy details from Diehl and Healey before election day on Nov. 8. Diehl said he planned to challenge his opponent to at least three debates.

And this much was clear Wednesday: In the Massachusetts gubernatorial race, voters can anticipate the issues will not stand alone — lest not without a healthy dose of partisan politics.

Staring down the road to November, Diehl was asked how he would win over voters in a state where only 32 percent of them backed Trump in 2020.

Diehl instead brought up the economy and pointed at Healey, who he said will have to reckon with voters’ frustration at the economic landscape under the Biden administration.

“She supported Joe Biden fully,” he said.

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