Democratic attorneys general see themselves as “hell of a check on the system”

BOSTON MA. – SEPTEMBER 16: AG Maura Healey discusses Purdue Pharma bankruptcy filing during a press conference on September 16, 2019 in Boston, MA. (Staff Photo By Nancy Lane/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald)
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BOSTON – Attorney General Maura Healey said Wednesday that her office, and those of her peers around the country, are where the action is.

Healey joined her counterparts from Connecticut, Maryland, New York, Pennnsylvania and Vermont for a virtual Democratic National Convention panel, hosted by the Democratic Attorneys General Association and College Democrats of America. Healey co-chairs the association with Oregon AG Ellen Rosenblum.

“I don’t think you’re going to find an office — except maybe one, that we’re hopefully going to fix in November — that is of more consequence,” Healey said. “Just so you know, the action is with state AGs. Let me tell you what we can do, OK. We’re independently elected. We don’t have to get permission from state legislatures. We don’t have to get permission from our governors. We just act and we can investigate, we can hold hearings, we can sue, and we’ve done a lot of that against Trump.”

Attorneys general can also propose legislation, hold town halls to hear directly from their constituents, and use the bully pulpit, said Healey, a Charlestown Democrat.

With 50 state attorneys general compared to hundreds of members of Congress, Healey said, AGs have “tremendous power within our jurisdiction” and can build on that when they work together across state lines.

“I don’t think that political parties have paid enough attention to, or the Democratic Party has paid enough attention to state attorneys general,” Healey said. “It’s a powerful group.”

The AGs who joined the virtual panel pointed to the U.S. Postal Service’s decision to roll back controversial operational changes as an example of their efforts to hold the Trump Administration accountable. The move came after several states joined a federal lawsuit seeking to stop the changes.

“What we’re learning is that the attorneys general are a hell of a check on the system,” Pennsylvania AG Josh Shapiro said.

Healey’s office announced Tuesday that she planned to join the lawsuit. Panel participants said they intended to see their legal challenge through, despite Postmaster General Louis DeJoy saying the changes would be put on hold until after the Nov. 3 election in which many voters are expected to cast their ballot through the mail.

“We don’t take him at his word,” Maryland AG Brian Frosh said. “We’re going to press forward. Whatever reforms and changes that are necessary to run a valid election in November, we’re going to insist be in writing and approved by a court.”

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden picked a former attorney general, Sen. Kamala Harris, as his running mate. Healey said she first got to know Harris when Harris was California attorney general and Healey was working in the office of then-Massachusetts AG Martha Coakley.

“We know Senator Harris as a steadfast, pragmatic leader who has spent her entire career fighting for the people,” Healey and Rosenblum said in a statement last week when Biden announced Harris as his vice presidential pick.

In her closing remarks, Healey encouraged young people to register to vote, get their peers involved, volunteer with campaigns and run for office themselves.

“Pick someone who you think should be in office and go for it,” Healey said. “I think that engagement is key. I have been so psyched to see so many people who worked on my campaign who are now, for example, in city council, in state legislature.”