Kerry Murphy Healey was sworn into office as the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts on January 2, 2003. She, along with Governor Mitt Romney, opted not to take a salary during her four-year term. From the outset of her time as lieutenant governor, Healey focused intensely on public safety and criminal-justice programs, in addition to serving as the liaison between the Governor’s office and the Republican Party and was the governor’s municipal liaison.
Immediately upon taking office, Romney and Healey focused on erasing an estimated $600 million budget gap for fiscal year 2003 that had been left by the previous administration. The state also faced an estimated $2 billion to $3 billion shortfall for fiscal year 2004. In mid-January 2003, the Massachusetts State Legislature approved expanded budget-cutting powers for the Romney administration. As Romney’s second-in-command, Healey was the liaison between the local government and the state house, working to reduce the burden of cuts to state aid to municipal governments. Healey was credited with creating a package of legislative proposals, called the Municipal Relief Act, that reduced expensive and burdensome state mandates, easing the pain of cuts to state aid by about $75 million. The administration closed the budget gap, and ended fiscal year 2004 with a budget surplus of $700 million. Official state figures showed that Massachusetts ended fiscal year 2005 with a $594.4 million surplus. In 2006, the surplus was officially $720.9 million according to state statistics. Additionally, the administration left the state with a “rainy day” stabilization fund with a balance of $2.1 billion. These surpluses were attained without breaking the Romney-Healey campaign promise that they would not raise taxes.
On the heels of the Municipal Relief Act, Healey headed a bipartisan commission that “revised management practices for public construction projects designed to save money, increase accountability, improve safety, and give more control to local officials.” In addition, Healey served as chair of the state's six Regional Competitiveness Councils (RCC), which coordinated and provided recommendations for economic development initiatives across the state. Throughout her time as lieutenant governor, Healey was known for her hands-on approach in addressing the concerns of cities and towns and her responsiveness to the concerns of local officials. Even with the cuts to state budget that were made to avoid a budget crisis, local aid increased by 17 percent and school assistance increased by 7 percent under Healey’s watch.
Healey’s work on criminal and domestic policy allowed her to stand out as a rising GOP star. She headed the Governor's Commission on Criminal Justice Innovation, a bipartisan, multi-agency group focused on reforming the Massachusetts criminal justice system. Additionally, Healey testified in favor of a bill that expanded the definition of crimes considered “sexually dangerous and allowed dangerous sex offenders to be locked up for life, which was called Ally’s Law in honor of Ally Zapp. Healey also recommended and worked to champion programs to supervise and support inmates transitioning back to society, including proposals for mandatory post release supervision. Over her time as lieutenant governor, Healey sought or signed laws that curbed gang violence, enhanced witness safety, expanded the rights of those wrongfully convicted, advanced technology to track sex offenders, curbed substance abuse, strengthened law enforcement’s ability to combat opioid abuse, and expanded protection from sex offenders. In an interview in 2007, Healey cited her greatest accomplishment as lieutenant governor as the work that she did to ensure the passage of Melanie’s Law, a 2005 law that strengthened penalties for drunk driving in order to keep repeat offenders off the road. The law was met with a 44% drop in repeat drunk-driving offenses in its first year. The number of fatalities as a result of drunk driving dropped 27% between 2005 and 2009.
After Governor Romney stated that he would not seek reelection, Healey was dubbed the presumptive Republican nominee for the state’s highest elected office. However, Healey faced early competition from within her own party from Republican Christy Mihos, the former owner of a chain of convenience stores. The state Republican Party tried to steer Mihos into a race against Senator Ted Kennedy, and also guaranteed him a spot on the ballot in the Republican primary for the governorship, yet Mihos opted to launch his campaign as an independent, making the general election a three-person race; Deval Patrick was the democratic nominee. Early polls showed Patrick with as much as a 25-point lead over Healey following a competitive democratic primary, despite most voters backing Healey’s support of rolling back the state income tax to five percent, denying in-state tuition rates at state colleges to undocumented immigrants, denying driver's licenses to such residents and requiring photo identification for voting.
After a series of strong debate performances, Healey was able to cut Patrick’s lead in half, to 13 points, as voters became more familiar with her stances on key issues. However, Healey was unable to overcome Patrick’s early lead and the split of conservative support caused by Mihos’ candidacy. In her concession speech, Healey stated: “I've been blessed to serve with our great governor, Governor Romney, and I will look forward to continuing to find ways that I can serve the Commonwealth and others throughout my life.”
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