Democrat Juliette Kayyem said decriminalization of marijuana “has been important” to the criminal justice system and should be considered for other drugs to reduce the prison population and related costs, and she defended her experience with state and federal homeland security agencies by saying: “I don’t believe in luck. I believe in preparedness.”

In a question about her criminal justice policy, including how to reduce recidivism rates among heroin users, Kayyem said she supported decriminalizing marijuana and would “consider it for other drugs.” She did not specify which other drugs. She also supported increased drug courts and veterans courts to better provide drug abusers and mental health victims with services that would serve them better than prison.

Kayyem was the ninth and final speaker in the gubernatorial candidates’ speaker series organized by the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Service at Suffolk University Law School.

Noting that some Democrats may be worried about her experience with state and federal homeland security agencies, Kayyem said she is the best candidate to reduce risk and anticipate challenges to the state in the coming years.

Kayyem was Massachusetts’ first undersecretary for homeland security under Gov. Deval Patrick, beginning in 2007. In 2009, Kayyem was appointed assistant secretary for intergovernmental affairs at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, where one of her key roles was directing the command center created to respond to the BP Oil spill. She also is a former Boston Globe columnist.

Interrogation methods

Kayyem was asked about her role in drafting a 2004 report that recommended limits on coercive interrogations but did not call for the Bush administration to stop using those methods. In response she said: “I don't condone torture.”

In response to criticism of the report, she said, “I engage, you will learn that about me. I want to fix things. I am proud of my commitment to human rights and democracy while still making this state and this country safe and secure.”

"Stay the course"

Kayyem said the state does not need a “course correction” after Patrick’s eight-year tenure.

“I actually believe in government’s capacity to do good. It’s as simple as that,” she said. “I have seen it every day in my line of work. I also believe that government can always do better. There’s just no finish line, especially for a state like ours as progressive and exciting and sometimes fearless as we are.”

People and infrastructure

Kayyem emphasized that as governor she would be committed to making Massachusetts the most welcoming, connected and prepared state in terms of addressing future challenges by boosting investments in two core principles—people and infrastructure.

“Those are the two backbones of what makes Massachusetts amazing,” she said. “I have been to 44 other states—we are in a competition. We will win if we just remember it is about the people and about infrastructure.”

She said that investments in people entail not only making social services “work” or increasing the state’s minimum wage, but also providing necessary support to address the state’s education and workforce development needs; making investments in regional transportation authorities in mid-sized gateway cities; and putting forth comprehensive immigration reform.

In terms of accelerating infrastructure support, Kayyem said that as governor, one of her primary goals would be to provide broadband for all companies in the state, especially in mid-sized cities that anchor regional economies such as Lowell.

“I am the only candidate who is talking about making government work in those complex fashions, who’s thinking about my state and federal experiences as relevant to Massachusetts’ competition with 49 states,” Kayyem said. “I am not going to be the woulda, coulda, shoulda governor.”

Gun control

Kayyem said one of her first efforts as governor would be to push the one-month rule for handgun purchases, while ultimately working to promote and push for more comprehensive gun control laws in Massachusetts, especially in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., tragedy.

“We are on the right side, those of us who want gun control,” she said. “We're on the right side of history, so let’s just keep pushing.”


Kayyem said she looks forward to addressing climate change issues if elected governor--and as a mother of three who supports environmental policies that consider future generations. To address storage and transmission of renewable sources of energy, Kayyem said she is in favor of “green banks,” tax breaks for particular industries “doing good for the world” that would lure companies to Massachusetts while staying on track to make the green goals outlined by Patrick.

Kayyem expressed ideas on a wide range of issues and policies, as follows:           

  • To keep unregulated housing affordable, the key is to promote greater transportation access within the mid-sized cities (like Lowell) so residents could access cheaper housing outside urban centers            
  • Veterans in Massachusetts are an “asset” to the state, not a “moral obligation”
  • Lashed out at the state’s criminal justice system as “broken” and said she would push for significant legislative changes and opportunities for work force development and familial unification to reduce recidivism and ultimately divert $1 billion in anticipated construction of new prisons to initiatives designed to keep people out of jail
  • Does not support the repeal of the casino law
  • Supports adoption of a “shift, share and surge” philosophy to provide a more progressive tax structure; this involves shifting money from programs that are not working to programs that are, enhancing public-private partnerships, and growing the economy through investments in both people and infrastructure
  • Called for a more transparent process in regard to health care costs and providing community health centers statewide with the “respect and support they need from the governor’s office,” while also linking these centers with larger health institutions
  • Would follow Patrick’s lead on reducing student debt levels by capping tuition; supports community service and waiving debt levels for students committed to working in public school systems or serving in the military

The Rappaport Roundtable series, made possible by the support of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts, gave all nine gubernatorial candidates the opportunity to introduce themselves, make their cases to the electorate, outline their priorities and discuss pressing policy issues facing the Commonwealth today, in 2015 and beyond.