LOWELL -- The two Democratic candidates for attorney general, who have divergent views about legalized gambling, clashed Monday over who would best regulate the casino industry if elected.
Maura Healey and Warren Tolman also differed in the approaches they offered to requiring smart-gun technology in the state, while outlining their visions for the AG's Office at a debate sponsored by The Sun and Middlesex Community College.
Healey, who previously oversaw two divisions in the AG's Office as an assistant attorney general, said she is opposed to casino gambling because, as a consumer advocate, she has seen how casinos can have a variety of negative impacts on individuals. She would vote to repeal the law.
If the casino law remains on the books, Healey said she would be a strong independent regulator of the industry, while she highlighted Tolman's prior investment in an online gaming company.
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Healey said Tolman only divested after his investment was recently highlighted in a Boston Globe report, and suggested their different views on gambling could be a result of their past experiences.
"In terms of skepticism, I think the candidate with the healthy skepticism, not direct involvement in the industry, is the one best suited to be the leader to protect the public interest should we see gaming in this state," Healey said.
Tolman, who would support keeping the casino law in place, recently divested in Fast Strike Games, which works on interactive games for state lotteries.
The former state representative and state senator said he was unsure why Healey kept bringing up his prior investment, and said what is more important is how the candidates would regulate the gambling industry.
Tolman said he would make sure casino companies comply with host-community and surrounding-community agreements they sign with municipalities, and he would focus on enforcing the state's consumer-protection laws.
"I will be the most aggressive attorney general in the United States to go after these entities if gambling is permitted in Massachusetts," Tolman said during the event, held in the Lower Cafeteria of MCC's downtown Lowell campus at 33 Kearney Square.
Healey said she disagreed with Attorney General Martha Coakley's decision not to put the casino-repeal initiative on the ballot, while Tolman said Monday his "preference is in close calls is to allow for people to speak out and let the people have a voice."
He also said he signed the petition to get the repeal question on the ballot.
The Supreme Judicial Court will have the final say on whether the repeal of the state's gambling law gets on the ballot. The court is expected to issue a decision in the coming weeks.
While Healey emphasized the candidates' differences on casino issues, Tolman said their approaches to implementing smart-gun technology is a distinction in how the two would approach the job of attorney general.
Tolman said when he speaks of smart-gun technology, he is primarily referring to guns that will only operate when recognized fingerprints are used. As attorney general, Tolman said he would implement regulations requiring the use of the technology.
"I believe it should be done, and when I'm attorney general, it will be done because every hour of every day, somewhere in America, a young child is rushed to the hospital as a result of a gun accident in a home," Tolman said.
Healey said she is supportive of the technology, but she supports legislation requiring it, rather than regulation.
"My view, in having had a breadth of experience with this in the Attorney General's Office, is that it is safer to do by legislation than by regulation," Healey said. "It makes it less vulnerable to legal challenge in court."
Both candidates also described the areas of the AG's Office they feel are ripe for the most improvement.
Tolman said he would work to strengthen the consumer-protection division. Consumer complaints are down in the last 10 years, said Tolman, and he attributed it to not enough people knowing they have an office they can turn to for assistance.
He also said he would support the creation of a separate division to focus on issues facing those with disabilities.
Healey touted her proposal to create a child- and youth-protection division in the office because she said the state is not doing a good enough job making sure children and families are getting the services they need.
Healey, who resigned from overseeing the AG's Public Protection & Advocacy Bureau and the Business & Labor Bureau to run for office, also said she would target for-profit schools as AG.
Both candidates said they oppose the death penalty, including for accused Boston Marathon bomber Dhzokhar Tsarnaev. They also said they support in-state tuition and driver's licenses for illegal immigrants.
The one-hour debate was moderated by MCC Community Affairs Director Mary-Jo Griffin. The three panelists asking questions were MCC student Karoline Menezes, MCC administrator Sheri Denk, and James Campanini, editor of The Sun.
The Democratic primary is Sept. 9.
Attorney John Miller of Winchester is running on the Republican side.
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