Massachusetts Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Martha Coakley said her life’s devotion to public service and preserving “fairness” and “equality” on behalf of Massachusetts residents makes her worthy to assume the governorship later this year.

Speaking during a roundtable discussion hosted by the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service at Suffolk University Law School, Coakley pointed to her prosecution of some of the state’s biggest criminals, her successful challenge of the Defense of Marriage Act and the recovery of hundreds of millions of dollars for Bay State taxpayers as the commonwealth’s chief law enforcement officer.

Gubernatorial qualities

“This is what you need in a governor, someone who will take on those fights - for fairness, for equality, for the kind of opportunity to take part in what I hope will be Massachusetts’ future,” Coakley, a Democratic candidate, said during the Rappaport Roundtable discussion.

“I got in this race because I think I can be a good governor. I know that I have to prove that to everybody and I’m out every day working - in schools, in dining rooms, in diners - and I’m talking to folks about it,” added Coakley, who unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in Massachusetts in 2010. “The thing that has energized me in this race is that people across this commonwealth feel that there’s a good future here in Massachusetts.”

Coakley, the fifth speaker in the Rappaport Roundtable series, said the next governor of Massachusetts needs to lead a state that is both “prosperous and fair” by revitalizing a slowly-rebounding economy, transforming school systems into places where every child can be safe and have opportunities to compete in the global economy, and fighting to keep health care costs down by providing for more primary care and prevention and moving away from a fee-for-service model.

Mental health issues

Coakley added the state now has the “opportunity” to reduce the stigma around mental and behavioral health by providing greater access to care. To solidify her point, an emotional Coakley referenced her younger brother Edward’s suicide as a result of suffering from depression and not taking medication out of fear of being stigmatized.

“I believe in Massachusetts with our science, with our health care, with our understanding that behavioral disorders should be treated no differently than diabetes or asthma that we can reduce that stigma, whether it’s third grade or high school students or our returning veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder,” Coakley said. “That is one of our great challenges in health care, and Massachusetts can once more lead the way in that battle.”

Minimum wage & education

Coakley also stressed the state needed to raise the minimum wage and provide earned sick time “for folks who deserve it” as ways to boost the economy. Coakley added a “more structured” and longer school day could allow for greater financial literacy, computer science, and civics learning in the classroom, while providing every child with a quality education that ultimately leads to their being successful in a global economy.

“We can and should be investing in the curriculum. I believe we need the help of the private sector to do that,” Coakley said. “Everybody in Massachusetts thinks that our people are our greatest resource. Our workforce is our greatest resource.”

In terms of addressing the state’s crowded criminal justice and prison system, Coakley said Massachusetts needs to focus on an educational system that addresses issues kids may be facing, including learning disabilities, earlier than usual to prevent potential criminal behavior later in life.

“As governor, I would make every effort in the schools to provide intervention earlier for children and … more prevention services for people before they’re arrested,” she said. “It’s time to realign that system completely.”

Child protection

Coakley also called for the creation of a separate Child Protection Division within the embattled Department of Children and Families. Along with protecting the rights of women and transgendered individuals throughout her career, Coakley said her primary focus has always been to keep children safe.

“I think, and I’ve said this, that DCF - and DSS when I first started - has terrific folks who work hard every day,” Coakley said. “I believe that that agency has a mission that makes it, in many instances, impossible to succeed.”

Coakley currently leads the packed gubernatorial race, with 56 percent of the vote in the Democratic field, according to a poll of 600 likely Massachusetts voters released last week by Suffolk University and the Boston Herald. The poll indicates Coakley leads her closest competitor, Massachusetts Treasurer Steve Grossman, by 45 points. In a matchup against Republican candidate Charlie Baker, Coakley is ahead by a 44-31 percent margin, according to the poll, which has a margin of error of +/- 4percentage points.

Asked to identify a Republican with promising ideas on the local and national levels, Coakley said she was “hard-pressed” to think of one.

Clean energy & jobs

Coakley added the state’s clean energy sector would also help spur job creation. She said she was committed to meeting the 2020 goals outlined by Gov. Deval Patrick’s Green Communities Act.

Taxes

Coakley added she would not look at changing the state’s tax structure as “the first place I would go” to generate greater revenues in Massachusetts. However, if that decision was ultimately approved by the Legislature, Coakley stressed the tax burden would have to apply to people “who can afford it.”

As governor, Coakley added she would work with and learn from advocacy groups to address homelessness in the state.

Coakley, a Medford resident, has been the state’s Attorney General since 2007. From 1999 to 2007, she served as the District Attorney for Middlesex County.

“When I graduated from law school, my dad gave me a plaque that said, ‘Sometimes the best man for the job is a woman,’ and I would like to be that, your next governor,” Coakley said.

The Rappaport Roundtable series, made possible by the support of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, gives candidates opportunities to introduce themselves and their ideas, outline their priorities and discuss pressing policy issues affecting the commonwealth today, in 2015, and beyond.