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MA. Attorney General Maura Healey discusses importance of political engagement

(Caroline O’Connor/ Daily Collegian)

Amidst a discussion of national and local issues such as opioid abuse, climate change and predatory lending practices, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey emphasized the importance of staying engaged in local politics.

Part of a Monday town hall hosted by the University of Massachusetts Democrats, Healey addressed a crowd of over 100 people in the UMass Student Union Ballroom. There, she fielded questions from audience members, touching upon a wide array of subjects that ranged from Healey’s own interpretation of assault weapons bans, to the legal protections of the rights of transgender people.

Throughout the discussion, Healey took aim at President Donald Trump, describing her legal battles against him and what she described as his illegal and unconstitutional campaign promises.

“No one’s above the law,” Healey said.

In addressing the question of why she has filed multiple lawsuits against the Trump administration, Healey recalled her experiences at the Women’s March on Jan. 21. During the March, individuals took to the streets in major cities across the nation to protest the Trump presidency. As she stood in the Boston Common, speaking to a crowd of people, Healey stated her simple message to Donald Trump: “I’ll see you in court.”

Since then, Healey has sued the president for his Muslim travel ban, his changes to environmental rules and, as of Oct. 6, for his new rules allowing companies to opt out of contraception coverage. She said that, with her lawsuits against the president, “the scoreboard reads, us: three and him: zero.”

Sonia Guglani, a junior marketing and economics double major, as well as the president of the UMass Democrats, introduced Healey at the start of the event. Citing the number of major issues that face the nation, such as tackling climate change and modernizing education, Guglani said, “It’s become easy to lose hope.”

As president of the UMass Democrats, one of Guglani’s main goals is to increase youth participation in politics, especially after the election.

“I just want people to feel like they have a place to go,” Guglani said. “I want people to feel like they can get involved and that there is hope in our democracy.”

In a similar vein, Healey touched on what she described as the feeling of a lack of power under the Trump administration. She emphasized the need to not let people like Trump defeat and distract citizens through his executive orders and tweets.

“We have to keep our eye on the ball,” Healey said.

When asked by an audience member about what citizens can do to help Healey and other political leaders at the local and state levels, Healey responded by emphasizing the importance of staying involved in local politics.

Noting the importance of mayoral and school committee races, Healey mentioned David Narkewicz, a local politician whom she supports. Narkewicz, the recently re-elected mayor of Northampton, attended the town hall. In a moment of lightheartedness, Healey pointed Narkewicz out among the crowd, noting that Narkewicz was a former “UMass Dem.”

According to Healey, other ways citizens can be of service include guiding people to facts rather than fake news and opinions, getting fellow citizens registered and out to vote and spreading the word about the elections of Healey and other like-minded politicians.

“People listen to their neighbors,” she said.

Prior to opening up the town hall to the audience, Healey discussed her work helping families and individuals with student loan debt. She also described her work fighting in cases where sub-prime auto loans have hindered buyers, as well as her work combating wage theft. In this area, Healey said she has gone after employers who did not pay their employees adequately or at all. She added that she has helped secure over $700,000 for employees who were denied their wages by their employers.

Healey also talked about the national opioid crisis, recalling her recent visit to a recovery high school where students can earn a high school diploma while recovering from alcohol and/or drug abuse. Citing her experience talking with families affected by the crisis, Healey said that she knows how devastating opioid addiction can be. To fight it, Healey said that she is combating bad prescribing practices and expanding one of the largest public health investigations.

“We need to do everything we can to help those families who are so desperately trying to find help for their loved ones,” Healey said.

During the audience Q&A session, Healey was asked by Luis Arzola, an employment/re-housing specialist at the Center for Human Development in Springfield, about the economic options and legal protections she is providing for homeless people. In her response, Healey stated that she is fighting against unlawful foreclosures through working with people facing foreclosures, or who have already been foreclosed upon, as well as fighting against banks who are engaging in predatory practices.

“What I really appreciated was when she mentioned fixing buildings that are not up to code and using them to re-house people,” Arzola said. “I also loved how she is a ‘people’s lawyer,’ how she engaged and answered the question.”

Arzola said he works with the homeless population in Springfield and helps run shelters and also divert homeless people away from shelters to actual homes. He attended the town hall with Ivette Hernandez, an adoption social worker for the Department for Children and Family, who mentioned that she has worked for the department for 20 years and has also been an activist for the past eight or nine years.

Hernandez also mentioned that “the issue of homelessness affects all of us” because it is “hurting families, neighborhoods and communities.”

“Entire cities are hurting,” she added.

Risa Hirasawa, a junior accounting major, attended the event because she is friends with Guglani. Additionally, due to not being politically active, she came in order to better understand and become aware of important political issues.

“I’m just a student. I’m busy, so this is a good opportunity to better understand not just what’s going on in the community, but nationwide as well,” Hirasawa said.

Hirasawa was not previously aware of some of the issues that Healey discussed in-depth during the town hall, including gas pipeline constructions, an anti-transgender ballot question and the sexual harassment charges of the former owners and managers at a Route 9 Diner in Hadley.

“I think it’s really important…students engaging and speaking up for themselves,” Hirasawa said. “We really do have to take initiative.”

Jackson Cote can be reached at jkcote@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @jackson_k_cote.

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