After two years of practicing law and teaching courses at Northeastern University and Boston College Law School, Tolman has once again decided to try his hand at politics-this time he is going to run for governor of Massachusetts. His campaign is unique and his ideas innovative; he is currently the only candidate committed to running a “clean elections” campaign.
Leadership and politics seem to run in Tolman’s blood. His father’s work with unions initially sparked his interest in politics, and from middle school onwards he was class or student body president at every school he attended. And his reason for being a politician? The response comes quickly to Tolman. “I entered government to help people improve their lot in life. I still believe in that,” he said.
On Beacon Hill, the location of the Massachusetts State House, Warren Tolman is best remembered for his victories against the tobacco industry. He sponsored a bill that required companies to disclose accurate nicotine yield ratings and additives in cigarettes and fought for the passage of a bill that increased cigarette taxes and use the differential to provide funding for uninsured children’s health care. “I was committed to doing everything I could do to beat them and winning,” said Tolman. “I knew I had done the right thing when my five-year-old son said ‘Daddy, all cowboys smoke, right?'”
The common link between Tolman’s success at Amherst and his success as a politician is his commitment to his community. Tolman lives with his wife and three children in the same town where his parents raised him. His children attend the Watertown public schools and he serves on several town committees devoted to improving social issues within the community. His finger is very much on the pulse of the town, much like it was on the pulse of Amherst. This is clear not only in his many extracurricular pursuits but also in his longlasting friendships.
In addition to being student government president at Amherst, Tolman played football and rowed crew, was a member of Theta Delta Chi (TD), and held various on-campus jobs. As an economics major who took lots of political science classes, it is no surprise that Tolman established close relationships with a professor from each of these departments: former Professor of Economics Russ Janis and Professor of Political Science and Law Austin Sarat.
“Warren was a student who had the unusual combination of intelligence, good judgement and character,” said Sarat. “Tolman was both smart and likeable. He was a pleasure to teach because you had the sense that learning mattered to him, and it was always a pleasure to talk with him during office hours.”
It was a unique opportunity for Tolman to attend Amherst College. “I was the first in my family to graduate college, the seventh of eight kids,” he said. Tolman’s Amherst pride, however, extends beyond the classroom. “I was very proud to be the president of the student body, to beat Williams my senior year, to beat Golf Coach Jack Arena in golf on a regular basis,” added Tolman.
One of Tolman’s favorite experiences from Amherst was the time he spent as a resident counselor in James Hall. “I loved it and had a great time. They were a great group of kids,” said Tolman. “It was a terrific experience. I’m still close to a lot of those kids.”
Tolman credits his professors and fellow classmates for teaching him how to think. “One of the best benefits of Amherst is that you learned to think out of the box,” said Tolman. “There was no conventional wisdom on any given matter. The students were not afraid to challenge themselves.”
Perhaps it is his ability to “think out of the box” that led Tolman to dedicate himself to a “clean election.” This means that he will follow the rules set forth by the Clean Elections Law of 1998, a statute approved in a referendum vote by 67 percent of Massachusetts voters. In saying he will run a clean election, Tolman is committing himself to a spending limit and accepting only $100 donations from Massachusetts voters. If he raises at least $300,000 in small contributions he will receive a matching state grant.
Overspending in elections is not Tolman’s only concern for placing a limit on his own fundraising. It is the apathy and cynicism of voters, particularly in the 18 to 24 year old age bracket that are most troubling for Tolman. “We need meaningful campaign finance reform. It is one of the most fundamental issues facing the United States,” said Tolman. “We spent the most on campaigns in this past election, yet turnout was the lowest since the 1900s.”
“We are lacking leadership, we need to make government matter, get young people involved. The percentage of voting 18 to 24 year olds was at a record low this November. We need to provide leadership and stand up with integrity to make Massachusetts the best place to work, live and raise a family,” added Tolman.
When Tolman was in the 18 to 24 year old age bracket, he was active politically on the Amherst campus, which he feels has also become disenchanted and disinterested with politics. “Amherst was much more political. Student interest in politics has waned,” said Tolman. He recalled the 1980 Reagan presidential campaign when Amherst students joined other five college students to attend a rally in Washington, DC as a time of activism.
With his innovative ideas, “clean election” campaign, and Amherst education, Tolman surely stands out from his opponents. Currently, the field of democratic competitors is small, but it is expected to intensify in the coming months.
“The field could grow to as many as seven or eight, with candidates of varying degrees of seriousness,” added Tolman.