Healey, Diehl discuss affordability, education, abortion in last debate before election

Eli Curwin, news staff

The two candidates vying for Massachusetts governor, Democratic candidate Maura Healey and Republican candidate Geoff Diehl, went head-to-head Thursday night for the final time before the Nov. 8 election. In a debate that largely mirrored the first, both candidates made their case for governor. 

The cost of living once again took center stage as inflation, energy bills and the housing market remain at the forefront of many Massachusetts voters’ minds. 

Diehl spent the rapidly paced debate placing the responsibility of Massachusetts’ high cost of living on Healey. Still, Healey’s advocacy for renewable energy, abortion rights and cooperation at the state and federal level will likely maintain her 23-point lead

Healey, the current attorney general of Massachusetts, emphasized her plan to cut taxes for seniors, renters and low and middle income families, as well as return about $3 billion in surplus tax revenue to eligible taxpayers. Healey also went into detail about reducing housing costs by creating a secretary of housing position, investing in programs that create new housing options, rehabilitating old housing options and enforcing Chapter 40B, which permits local zoning boards to increase affordable housing developments.

“Right now, I know so many can’t afford rent, they can’t afford down payments, they can’t afford to even downsize in some instances,” Healey said. “We need housing, affordable, across a range of income levels. … I want Massachusetts to be a place where if you’re here, you can stay here. That’s the goal.”

Citing his fiscal dependability while leading the 2014 “Tank the Gas Tax” campaign, Diehl explained the importance of balancing the high-spending and left-leaning Massachusetts legislature with a prudent, conservative governor. He outlined his plan to cut taxes and increase transportation options outside of Boston.

The discussion of affordability included a heated dialogue about energy. Diehl continually turned to Healey’s rejection of oil pipelines, support of the Transportation Climate Initiative, enforced diversification of energy sources and use of federal funding as an indication of her recklessness, rather than her progressiveness.

“I am for renewable energies, of course, but you have to get from A to B in a responsible manner,” Diehl said. “I’m an Eagle Scout; I want a clean environment as well, but you’ve got to be rational in how you do it and not put a plan in place that will bankrupt every household.”

Healey argued that her rejections of pipelines and her plan to diversify energy sources will catalyze economic growth. Instead of being beholden to the global energy market, she said, Massachusetts should work to create its own renewable sources and jobs.

The candidates went on to address the cost of higher education, a contentious topic due to President Joe Biden’s student loan forgiveness initiative, which has recently been temporarily blocked by a federal judge. Healey pushed increasing support for vocational training programs, public education and adult educational programs.

Diehl criticized Biden’s plan and voiced his support for school choice, something conservative voters across the country have found wide-spread agreement on.

The debate then turned to the topic of abortion, where Diehl was pressed for his support of the recent United States Supreme Court case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and was asked about aiding out-of-state abortion efforts. In an attempt to evade the question, Diehl said the governor has little impact on the reproductive rights statutes passed by the legislature and, like the previous debate, turned to the topic of vaccine mandates. Pointing out a potential hypocrisy from pro-choice Democrats, Diehl contrasted enforced vaccine mandates with the choice to get an abortion.

“There’s women’s rights beyond abortion that are important to protect,” Diehl said, in response to a question about out-of-state abortion support. “As governor, I don’t make the decision on the Roe Act. … There is no way I am changing that law.

Healey wouldn’t let Diehl escape the question. She refuted Diehl’s argument that the governor lacks the power to impact abortion rights and explained the influential power of a governor when it comes to reproductive health.

“That is not true, the governor absolutely has a lot to do in this space. You think about a governor’s administration, what they are going to do with MassHealth, what they’re going to do with healthcare, what they are going to do across a range of agencies that directly intersect on this issue,” Healey said. 

Following a few rapid-fire questions, the candidates covered four final topics before their closing statements: the MBTA, immigration, a winter COVID-19 surge and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

On the MBTA, Healey described a need for a transportation safety chief, increasing the MBTA workforce and ensuring the transportation plan is robust. Diehl agreed with Healey on the importance of a reliable and safe MBTA but accused vaccine mandates as the root of an ailing workforce, as people who declined to get the vaccine were forced to leave their jobs.

Quickly turning to immigration, the two candidates once again found common ground in a frustration at Congress for failing to provide comprehensive immigration legislation. Diehl voiced support for a diverse Commonwealth and Healey praised the people of Martha’s Vineyard for their empathetic response to the unexpected arrival of 48 migrants. 

Healey and Diehl both rehashed their statements from the previous debate when it came to the topic of a COVID-19 surge. Healey stated her plan to follow the science and said mask and vaccine mandates would be played by ear. Diehl emphasized the importance of personal choice and civil liberties. He said people should be allowed to decide how they want to respond to expected increasing COVID-19 cases this winter.

For the final topic, greenhouse gas emission reduction, Diehl stood in support of letting the free market develop the balance between different energy sources. Healey once again pushed her plan to create a diverse energy portfolio and brought up her past lawsuits as attorney general, where she has sued fossil fuel companies.

On Friday, Diehl invited Healey to a third and final debate. Healey rejected the challenge, stating her campaign was going to spend the small time before election speaking directly to voters. With the conclusion of the last debate, voters will soon make their choice for governor, with early voting already underway and the Nov. 8 election a little more than two weeks away.