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Globe Editorial

Patrick, Kirwan offer glimpse into Beacon Hill’s compliancy

May 31, 2011

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THE DARK side of political compromise was on display last week when Governor Patrick and his former budget chief, Leslie Kirwan, testified in the federal corruption case of former House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, who is charged with using his political office to win a contract worth millions of dollars for Canadian software maker Cognos in exchange for kickbacks. Patrick and Kirwan came across as political enablers.

Kirwan testified that, back in 2007, she didn’t think the Cognos contract was a good deal for the Commonwealth. Yet she approved it anyway. An e-mail gives insight into her mindset at the time; referring to DiMasi, she expressed hope that “the big guy down the hall is happy.’’ Patrick testified that DiMasi leaned on him repeatedly about the software. The governor told his staff he would support it “if we could do it within the rules.’’ Patrick, at the time, was stumbling through his first term in the corner office and was in need of powerful allies in the Legislature.

There is no reason to believe that the governor or Kirwan had any inkling that DiMasi might be benefiting personally from the deal. But each came away from the stand looking like a party to business as usual on Beacon Hill, where the public can be cheated with the wink of an eye, or in an obscure budget amendment. Would it have been too much to ask of the governor or the secretary of administration and finance to dig a little when the most powerful member of the Legislature appeared to be twisting himself into knots for a questionable $15 million contract?

Even if Patrick and Kirwan were too obliging, that in no way exculpates DiMasi if he used his vast informal power for private gain. Still, this is more than a corruption trial to determine the guilt or innocence of DiMasi and a couple of his cronies. It’s a deep look at a political culture intentionally designed to make it hard for outsiders to distinguish a kickback from a referral fee. It’s a look into a toady culture where former state representative Robert Coughlin deemed it an “honor’’ to do the speaker’s dirty work. It’s a lesson on the habits and conditioning of the denizens of Beacon Hill. It’s grotesque.

Governor Patrick is prone to lecture people about slipping into cynicism about state government. But a little healthy skepticism on his part, and on Kirwan’s, would have gone a long way toward solving that problem.