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Maura Healey’s fuzzy line between her public life and private life

For Healey, discussing the deep import of Brandi Carlile singing ‘You and Me on the Rock,’ as she does on the ‘Love Letters’ podcast, fits the helpful bill. For some reason, telling the public where she’s traveling does not.

Governor Maura Healey, pictured with partner Joanna Lydgate, wants to be the one to draw the line between her public and private lives, and so far, she’s getting what she wants.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

On a recent “Love Letters” podcast hosted by my colleague Meredith Goldstein, Governor Maura Healey and her partner, Joanna Lydgate, talk about how they met and fell in love. They also share a playlist of their favorite music and discuss its meaning in their relationship.

That’s pretty personal. Yet Healey maintains that publicly disclosing ahead of time when she’s leaving Massachusetts — whether it’s for state or personal business — crosses a privacy line. Now she’s saying she will disclose details about state-related trips after they occur but not details of personal trips. Pressed about that, she told reporters, “My personal life is my personal life.”


I have no great desire to know Healey’s vacation plans, before or after they happen. But, as CommonWealth Beacon points out, the “Love Letters” podcast versus Healey’s nondisclosure policy sends a really mixed message. Just like the British royal family, Healey is setting up a zone of privacy that shifts very conveniently based on a calculation of what is helpful to share about her personal life and what is not. For Healey, discussing the deep import of Brandi Carlile singing “You and Me on the Rock,” as she does on the “Love Letters” podcast, fits the helpful bill. For some reason, telling the public where she’s traveling does not.

Yet the public does have a legitimate interest in Healey’s personal travels, for financial and ethical reasons. When asked about it, Healey officials told me via email that “she travels with security,” whether her travels are personal or state-related — which means they come with a taxpayer cost. Years ago, Democrats made a big deal out of the thousands of dollars spent on the travel expenses of state troopers who accompanied Republican Governor Bill Weld on political trips. According to reporting at the time, those troopers did not accompany Weld on vacations at his fishing camp in the New York Adirondacks or during other personal time. In a different era, with different security needs, the overall tab for Healey’s security is a matter of public interest.


Also, as the Massachusetts Republican Party points out, a year ago, when Healey was asked about the luxury vacations that Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was taking compliments of a wealthy Republican donor, she said “it seems time after time, [he’s] violating the most basic rules and norms and ethical obligations, or at least ethical obligations that would naturally extend to the rest of us in public.” While there is nothing to suggest that Healey’s vacations break any rules or cross any ethical lines, her lack of public disclosure shrouds them in unnecessary mystery and, as Republicans say, leaves her open to questions about transparency and accountability.

Such criticism routinely breaks down along partisan lines. In 2016, when Republican Governor Charlie Baker traveled to an island off the coast of Georgia to participate in a conference sponsored by a right-leaning think tank without telling anyone, the Massachusetts Democratic Party put out a statement saying Baker had been “caught sneaking out of state to an exclusive, conservative confab using taxpayer resources.” Baker promised not to do it again, saying, “From now on, if I leave Massachusetts, we’ll tell everybody.” Deval Patrick, a Democrat, was criticized by Republicans for embarking on too many trade missions when he was governor. Mitt Romney, a Republican, was criticized by Democrats for spending too much time away from the governor’s office while planning a presidential run.


Nothing in those travels matches the drama that revolved around the 2009 disappearance of then-Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina. During his six day absence, he did not respond to phone or text messages and he said he told his staff to tell his wife that he was “hiking on the Appalachian Trail” if she asked. It turned out that Sanford was in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with a woman with whom he was having an affair. That very private matter made national headlines. Sanford ended up divorced and censured by state lawmakers, although he went on to win a seat in Congress.

Of course Sanford represents an extreme example of a governor going off-grid. In Healey’s case, there’s no reason to doubt she’s working no matter where she is and remains in 24/7 communication with staff. Meanwhile, if you listen to Healey on the “Love Letters” podcast, she is open about the challenge of being governor and the strain it puts on a relationship: “I come home depleted,” she said. She also said that when it comes to being critiqued about her personal or professional life, “I don’t distinguish between the two.”

With that, she offers more insight into her personal life than any entry about her travel destination would provide. But she wants to be the one to draw the line between public and private, and to redraw it at will. So far, she’s getting what she wants.


Joan Vennochi is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at joan.vennochi@globe.com. Follow her @joan_vennochi.