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SCOT LEHIGH

Reilly riled by Romney

TOM REILLY is a no-nonsense, straight-shooting sort, so when he has something to say, it merits serious consideration. And just now, the attorney general is sitting in his office, shaking his head about Governor Romney.

"This is a very closed administration," he says. "There is no listening going on to different points of view. There is no working with others. In most situations, it is their way or the highway."

What's more, Romney seems focused more on crafting a political impression than on getting things done, Reilly says.

What has got the AG, well, riled? It's the governor's reaction to the refusal by some bar advocates to take new cases, a pay protest that recently resulted in the pretrial release without bail of three alleged drug dealers in Hampden County. In response, Romney filed legislation to transfer the Committee for Public Counsel Services to the executive branch. The AG's office wasn't consulted; indeed, it saw the bill only after it was filed, Reilly says.

"The legislation was obviously rushed together rather quickly, and at least in my view it is a Draconian piece of legislation with little or no understanding of what is really going on here," Reilly says. Describing that as a "a totally political reaction," he continues: "Public safety is above politics, and to see it treated as just another political issue is frankly offensive to me."

This is only one of a number of instances where Reilly sees a chief executive who hasn't rolled up his sleeves and plunged into the nitty-gritty realities of governing, and who instead often seems more intent on positioning himself for national notice.

"It is a national agenda," Reilly maintains. "It is not a Massachusetts agenda. If you were focused on Massachusetts, you wouldn't be calling for tax cuts. At this point, it's frankly irresponsible. You know what's happening to our hospitals. You know what is happening to public safety."

He adds: "If you cared about this state . . . you wouldn't do it. If you did nothing else, you'd put the money in a rainy day fund. You'd build it up."

Nor would Romney be pushing to restore the death penalty before making a major effort to upgrade both the state's forensics capabilities and the state medical examiner's office, say Reilly, himself a supporter of the death penalty.

And the administration's response? "The governor takes a team approach to problem-solving," counters Shawn Feddeman, Romney's spokesman. "He believes we should all be working together and that we shouldn't be engaged in back-biting because that doesn't solve anything." Romney has held several meetings to address the issue, continues Feddeman, adding, archly, that Reilly was invited to one last Wednesday but didn't attend.

Why go, retorts Reilly, when he wasn't consulted before Romney announced his legislation? "I totally disagree with their approach," Reilly says. "I wasn't going to go to a meeting that supports that approach."

Feddeman also says that Romney has proposed more funding for the State Police crime lab and the medical examiner's office, that his death-penalty commission specifically addressed the use of the best science in capital cases, and that Romney's call for tax cuts respects the wish voters expressed by passing a 2000 ballot question to reduce the income tax to 5 percent.

But Reilly insists the contrast to other Republican governors is stark. William Weld, for example, worked with the district attorneys to come up with a crime-fighting package to battle the wave of urban violence in the early 1990s. "It wasn't about just Bill Weld," Reilly says. "It was about what was best for Massachusetts."

Later, Reilly, Paul Cellucci, and Jane Swift worked together to defend education reform and the MCAS graduation requirement in court, he says. "People listened," he says. "Everything wasn't political. Everything wasn't the short hit. Things weren't just done for the show." Is he saying that everything is done for the show in the current administration? "Absolutely."

Now, Republicans will likely suspect that Reilly, considered a top Democratic prospect for governor in 2006, is simply firing an early campaign salvo. Not so, insists the AG, who says it is too early to begin the campaign. "This has nothing to do with that. It has to do with a different approach to solving problems, getting things done, and moving this state forward."

Asked what advice he has for the well-traveled Romney, Reilly at first demurs before concluding this way: "Governing is serious business," he says. "And it is a full-time job. A full-time job."

Scot Lehigh's e-mail address is lehigh@globe.com. 

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