Gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley says under her administration the state would see health and education reforms along with assured economic growth.
Coakley, a Medford Democrat, joined dozens of students, businesspeople and curious participants at midday on Feb. 11 to answer questions during a roundtable discussion hosted by the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service at Suffolk Law School in Boston.
One of 10 gubernatorial candidates, Coakley said her life’s work in the public sector sets her apart from others vying for the top job in the state.
"We are all learning from each other, but I got into this race because I think I can be a good governor," Coakley said. "The one difference from my point of view is that I’m the one that has dedicated a good part of my life to public service."
Coakley became Massachusetts’ attorney general in 2007 after serving as the Middlesex County district attorney since 1999.
Coakley, while discussing health care issues, got choked up when talking about her brother Edward, who committed suicide in 1996 after struggling with mental illness for several years. Coakley said her brother refused to take medication because of how he would be viewed, adding that the stigma needed to be taken out from how people characterize those suffering from behavior or mental conditions.
"At age 17, he started showing signs of depression and (being) bipolar,’" Coakley said. "He did not get better, he got worse. … In 2014, people should not go through that."
Coakley also said she wants to curb the ever-rising health care costs by providing more opportunities for primary care and prevention.
When discussing other issues including crime and the economy, Coakley circled back to the topic of education, saying the state should dedicate its efforts to a practical curriculum that fits the needs of individual students, better preparing them for the working world.
"Everybody in Massachusetts thinks our people are our greatest resource, [but] our workforce is our greatest resource," Coakley said.
Touting her record in the justice system, Coakley said one of her number one priorities has always been keeping children safe and suggested reforms within the tumultuous Department of Children and Families (DCF).
"I think the agency has a mission that makes it – in many instances – impossible to succeed," Coakley said.
Coakley currently leads the candidates with 56 percent of 600 likely voters pulling for her, according to a poll released by Suffolk University and the Boston Herald last week.
Massachusetts Treasurer Steve Grossman follows with 45 percent. Coakley leads her Republican candidate counterpart Charlie Baker by a 44 to 31 percent margin, according to the poll, which has a margin of error of 4 percentage points, plus or minus.
Coakley balked only twice while fielding questions – first, when a Suffolk Business School student asked her why she even chose to be a part of a political party, and again when asked what she would do about the impending issue of unfunded pension liabilities characterized as a "ticking time bomb."
"That’s the toughest question," Coakley said, deferring to the man who asked the question about pensions. "If you have answers I’d be happy to hear them. … I think if we get some good heads together, we can do something about it."
On the topic of taxes, Coakley said she hoped revenue could be generated without having to raise them, but if taxes were hiked, the wealthier Bay Staters should shoulder the extra financial weight.
"It’s not the first place I would go and I hope we don’t have to go there, but this market is changing," Coakley said, adding that the next governor would almost immediately be faced with a new budget. "My philosophy is that if it needs to go there, it can’t be a burden on those that can afford it the least."
Eli Sherman can be reached at 781-398-8004 or Follow him on Twitter @Eli_Sherman.