Over the past eight months, Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey (who wants to be governor) has methodically distanced herself from her boss and fellow Republican, Governor Mitt Romney (who wants to be president). As Romney has tacked rightward, cozying up to conservatives in advance of the 2008 primaries, Healey’s message has been emphatic: I’m not like him.
In July 2005, when Romney vetoed a bill expanding access to emergency contraception, Healey said she favored the legislation and had urged the governor to sign it into law. (The legislature later overrode Romney’s veto.) In September 2005, Healey said that although she opposes marriage for gays and lesbians, she backs civil unions — unlike Romney, who’s against both. And in February, before a Massachusetts Biotechnology Council forum in Cambridge, the Healey campaign issued a statement noting that the LG supports embryonic stem-cell research; in 2005, Romney vetoed (unsuccessfully) a bill aimed at bolstering such research.
Healey’s moderate stylings reached new heights last week. When Romney indicated, through a spokeswoman, that he would have signed South Dakota’s new abortion ban — which allows for exception only to save a woman’s life — Healey termed herself “extremely pro-choice.” Then, for good measure, she rapped Catholic Charities’ push for permission to cease working with would-be adoptive parents who are gay and lesbian: such an exemption, she said, would almost certainly be illegal.
These stands still won’t make Healey the preferred candidate of Massachusetts liberals. They already have Deval Patrick, who backs full marriage rights for same-sex couples, isn’t ready to cut the income tax, and favored legislation that would have allowed children of illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities. (In contrast, Healey favors immediately cutting the income tax to five percent, a step approved by voters in 2000. And she seems intent on making her opposition to the aforementioned in-state-tuition bill — which was also backed by Attorney General Tom Reilly, Patrick’s opponent in the Democratic primary for governor — into a signature issue.)
The LG’s positions do qualify her as a moderate Republican, however, at least when it comes to cultural issues. And this, in turn, should help her woo the fiscally conservative, socially liberal suburban independents who’ve helped the Massachusetts Republican Party keep a 16-year lock on the corner office.
If voters trust her, that is.
Unfortunately for Healey, she’s establishing her own political identity at a moment when the malleability of Massachusetts Republicanism is on full display. Remember when our abortion-fighting governor was running for office four years ago? He touted the pro-choice credentials of his mother, Lenore Romney, who ran for the US Senate in 1970. Circumstances changed, and so did Romney’s beliefs. Who’s to say the same won’t happen with Kerry Healey?