At least on Beacon Hill, businessmen could count on Charlie Baker and the continuity his administration represented — until the popular Republican governor decided not to seek a third term. He was seen as one of them, with an MBA and experience as a CEO of a large health insurance company.
While Healey may not have had the same bonafides as Baker, she has cultivated a relationship with the business community during her two terms as attorney general. She seasoned her inaugural speech with political issues that are near and dear to employers, focusing on building the state’s economic competitiveness by investing in job training, making community college free for seniors, reducing housing costs and creating a better transportation system.
Her nod to business leaders might seem counterintuitive, given her role as a regulator and enforcer, but it speaks to her leadership style, said Beth Boland, a longtime supporter who is a partner at a Boston law firm.
“Her first instinct was always to find real business, community and social solutions before looking through the prosecutor’s lens,” said Boland, who co-chaired the finance committee for Healey’s gubernatorial campaign.
Healey has shown a willingness to listen and cooperate from the start. Exhibit A: During her first year as attorney general, she had to issue regulations for the paid sick leave law that voters passed in a November 2014 vote. The law took effect the following July, and business groups expressed concern that some employers would not be able to update your payroll systems.
Healey stuck to the date, but her office introduced a safe harbor provision, which gave employers who already offer earned sick leave until January 2016 to fully comply with the new law.
“It was indicative of an open-door policy, where she received feedback, was always willing to hear it and act on it when appropriate,” said JD Chesloff, president of the Massachusetts Business Roundtable. “I always remember that example … it just set the tone for a productive and collaborative relationship with her office.”
At the same time, Healey saw herself as the “people’s lawyer” and did not hesitate to sue companies if she felt consumers had been wronged. But her most high-profile cases have mostly been with out-of-state companies such as CVS Health, ExxonMobil, Facebook, Johnson & Johnson, Purdue Pharma and Walmart.
Healey has drawn national attention for leading a charge among state attorneys general to hold pharmaceutical companies accountable for harm caused by their marketing, manufacturing and distribution of the opioids that have fueled the epidemic. Her lawsuits led to a $26 billion settlement with drug distributors, money that would have been paid out across the country, including $525 million to Massachusetts for opioid treatment and recovery programs.
As Attorney General, Healey was a well-known figure in business circles, speaking at events and working on legislation affecting employers and workers, such as equal pay. If she seemed comfortable in that environment, there’s a reason.
Meanwhile in the public sector, the Northeastern law graduate spent seven years at law firm WilmerHale (formerly Hale and Dorr), representing corporate clients across a range of sectors, including financial services, medical devices and technology.
Just before Healey was sworn in as Attorney General in January 2015, I did had lunch with her and asked whether she could cooperate with the business community. She seemingly came out of nowhere, but after winning the race, she was seen as a rising star in the Democratic Party.
Healey knew what to say and kept her word.
“I know the importance of predictability, certainty, clarity and honesty when it comes to business,” Healey told me at the time. “That’s what companies, general counsels, boards of directors and CEOs are looking for.”
Some business sectors will continue to be nervous about the Healey administration. As attorney general, Healey has made it clear that she believes the state does not need more natural gas pipelines or power plants, and should instead invest in clean fuel sources.
Healey was also tough on Mass General Brigham, the nation’s largest hospital network. In 2015, she threatened to sue the organization over a plan to buy community hospitals north and south of Boston. Then, in 2021, she wrote a letter warning that Mass. Gen. Brigham’s proposal to build three suburban surgery centers would increase health care costs. In either case, the healthcare giant would eventually withdraw those expansion plans.
Another looming point of tension in health care: whether the state will need to rein in insurance premium increases and cap rates again, as Gov. Deval Patrick did when he took office more than a decade ago.
No one expects Healey to give free rein to the business community as governor. There will be fireworks – there always are – but she’s created the best kind of relationship, one where both parties may not always see eye to eye, but they know how to work with each other.
Shirley Leung is a business columnist. She can be reached at [email protected]