Massachusetts attorney general's race: Tolman seeks more gun control, wiretap expansion

This story has been modified to clarify the candidate's position on state wiretapping law.

PITTSFIELD -- Twelve years ago, Democrat Warren Tolman ran for governor in the race eventually won by Republican Mitt Romney.

Today, Tolman is making another run for statewide office, hoping to be the next attorney general.

He is running for the party's nomination against Democrat Maura Healey. The winner will seek to replace Attorney General Martha Coakley, who is running for governor.

Asked during a recent visit to Pittsfield about the closing of North Adams Regional Hospital, Tolman said he was trying not to get in the way of the ongoing negotiations and court procedings. However, he said the hospital "isn't a manufacturing plant that develops widgets. This is health care. Health care is a necessity."

Tolman also recently met with officials at Berkshire Health Systems regarding the closure of NARH, its bankruptcy and the fallout for the area. "We want to keep the jobs; we want to keep the health care services," he said.

Tolman, 54, said that if elected he would update the wiretapping law that he said is too restrictive on police and "severely antiquated to reflect modern society," he said. "There are severe restrictions."

Among his priorities are stricter gun control laws through mandating the use of technology that would personally identify the gun owner to prevent accidents and the use of stolen guns. As an example, he pointed to smartphone technology that can read fingerprints.

Another goal is to better address sexual assaults against women on college campuses, he said.

Asked about the heroin epidemic in the state, Tolman said more must be done to treat drug addicts rather than jail them, which he said can be expensive. "If you show up at a hospital in Massachusetts with a heart attack, they find you a bed for you. If you show up with a substance abuse issue, in all likelihood they won't find a bed for you," he said.

Asked how he might address corporate malfeasance, Tolman said he would look to crack down on predatory student loan lenders through a stronger consumer protection bureau in the office.

Tolman said campaign finance reform is still needed in the state to reduce the influence of money in politics and create a "level playing field."

He also wants to see telecommunication companies make more of an effort to deliver services to rural parts of the state and Berkshire County, where some towns can't get cellphone service or high-speed Internet. Tolman said he would hold the companies accountable when they came up for regulatory oversight.

He would also raise the pay for assistant district attorneys in the state, who he said make between $37,000 to $40,000 to start, making retention difficult. "It's hard to make a career out of it," Tolman said.

After losing a Democratic primary for governor in 2002, Tolman went back to practicing law. He worked at the firm of Holland & Knight as senior counsel in corporate and real estate matters until leaving in December.

Tolman, who once worked in the AG's office while attending Amherst College, also served as a representative and senator in the Massachusetts Statehouse. He said he is proud to have once been called an "anti-smoking Nazi" by radio show host Rush Limbaugh for his legislative efforts.

To reach Nathan Mayberg:
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