USA’s first openly gay Attorney General eager to step into new role

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey Steven Senne, AP

Massachusetts Attorney General-elect Maura Healey will become the nation's first openly gay state attorney general when she takes office in January.Steven Senne, AP

Massachusetts Attorney General-elect Maura Healey will become the nation’s first openly gay state attorney general when she takes office in January.

BOSTON — Maura Healey says she wants to be an attorney general who isn’t afraid to stick her neck out — a trait that could come in handy as she faces a slew of knotty issues, from monitoring casino gambling to grappling with the growing influence of money in politics.

In an interview with the Associated Press, Healey said her experience helping lead the fight against the federal Defense of Marriage Act in Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office showed her the importance of going “against the tide and even against public opinion if you feel like it’s the right thing to do.”

Even before taking office, Healey made news by becoming the nation’s first openly gay elected attorney general.

Healey said that she’s glad the barrier has been broken but that it won’t influence her decision-making.

“To the extent that it may make some young LGBT kid out there be less afraid or not wonder about what’s going to happen to him or her, or make them feel like they can be anything they want to be, or do anything they want to do, that’s great,” she said.

There’s no shortage of pressing issues awaiting Healey — from foreclosures to student loan debt to what she portrayed as the corrosive influence of money in politics exacerbated by the U.S. Supreme Court‘s Citizens United decision.

Healey said the impact of that money has been “incredibly detrimental” by diluting the voice of voters. She said she hasn’t ruled out pursuing legislation or litigation.

“There might be,” she said. “More on that later.”

Another challenge facing Healey is the launch of casino gambling in Massachusetts.

The 2011 law that legalized casinos also created a new division within the attorney general’s office charged with battling gambling-related crimes — from public corruption and predatory lending to debt collection, human trafficking and unfair labor practices.

Healey said she’ll also be watching for increases in gambling addiction among young people.

Even though the foreclosure crisis appears to have eased, Healey said it isn’t over, and she expects to be working with homeowners who refinanced during the lending bubble and will begin to see their balloon payments kick in.

“That’s what you get to do in an office like the attorney general’s office. At the end of the day, people are coming to you with problems,” she said. “Our job is to help solve those issues.”

Healey’s win has thrust her into one role she seems less comfortable embracing.

With her success — combined with Coakley’s failed bid for governor — Healey, 43, is suddenly a top player in the Massachusetts Democratic Party. Some are already eyeing her as a future candidate for governor.

“I leave it to the political pundits and others to evaluate or assess that,” she said.

As she prepares for her new job, Healey has already met with legislative leaders and Republican Gov.-elect Charlie Baker. While she backed Coakley during the campaign, Healey hopes to have a strong working relationship with Baker.

She said the two share some concerns, including combating heroin and prescription drug addiction.

“While we may not always agree, there will be clear lines of communications,” she said.

Healey said that while part of her job is to defend the state against lawsuits, she said there are limits to when she would use that authority.

“If, for example, I believed that the state was engaged in policies or practices that were unconstitutional, that violated the law, I’d be the first to say that needs to be corrected,” she said.

Another area where Healey said she wouldn’t hesitate to go up against Beacon Hill is in responding to allegations of public corruption.

Past attorneys general who have gone too hard on the state’s political heavyweights have found it harder to make the leap to higher office.

“What’s right is right and what’s wrong is wrong, and any allegation of corruption … is something that I’m going to make sure we investigate and prosecute vigorously,” she said. “I don’t worry about the implications for me.”

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