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Adrian Walker

A pledge forgotten

By Adrian Walker
Globe Columnist / March 17, 2009
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Deval Patrick has neatly adapted to the culture of the State House, the one he said he planned to overhaul.

That's the only conclusion to be drawn from his decision to give state Senator Marian Walsh a $175,000 job to help run a state bonding authority.

Walsh, a veteran lawmaker from West Roxbury who has been out of favor with leadership for several years, is supposedly being assigned to usher in a new era of transparency at the state Health and Education Facilities Authority. Given that Walsh declined to speak to the Globe about her new job last week, it seems fair to say the transparency movement is off to a rocky start.

This is a job that has been vacant for 12 years, which is pretty much the definition of a nonessential job.

This deal was cut by Walsh's longtime Svengali, political consultant Michael Goldman. Any doubt about that was put to rest long ago.

Last June, the Globe reported on a detailed memo from Goldman to Patrick's chief of staff, outlining a plan to install Walsh as chairwoman of the agency, replacing the incumbent, Benson Caswell.

Under Goldman's vision, the governor would pack the agency's board with members who "share the governor's values." These highly principled souls would then remove Caswell and replace him with Walsh.

That plan fell apart after becoming public, partly because Caswell would have been due a huge payout if he were removed before the end of his term. So the backup plan is going into effect, installing Walsh in a long-vacant deputy's job with the understanding that she is really in charge.

Walsh, unlike Caswell, has no experience in the bond business. Her qualifications, supposedly, are that she chaired the taxation and banking committees in the Senate. To be fair, she has been an effective and occasionally brave lawmaker. But, like most politicians, this would-be reformer has, in fact, never run anything. The closest she has come is an administrative job in the Suffolk district attorney's office, years ago. She wouldn't be a finalist in a real search.

Patrick administration officials stress that HEFA is self-funded, and that her years there will not boost her state pension. That doesn't change the fact that she is being handed a $99,000 raise for a job lots of other people are probably more qualified to do.

But Walsh supported Patrick in 2006 when nearly all of the Legislature was committed elsewhere. Apparently his gratitude knows no bounds.

It is no secret that Walsh has been trying to bail out of the Senate ever since her bid to become its president was rebuffed. Somehow, actually leaving government doesn't seem to have ever occurred to her.

Patrick must have long since regretted his pledge not to hire any legislators, since he abandoned it. I have no problem with that - frankly, it was a silly, pandering pledge. There is no reason why legislators should be automatically disqualified from the executive branch. But this is ridiculous. At a time of rising fees, tolls, and taxes and constant complaints of poverty from the State House, you don't suddenly stick your pal into a job at $175,000 a year.

Over the weekend, I heard a lot of people express surprise that Patrick seems so "tone-deaf" about how something like this would be received. But this is not just a perception problem, it is a reality problem. The idea that fixing the way we do our bond business is the most pressing problem facing state government, and that Marian Walsh is just the person to fix it, would be laughable if it weren't so depressing.

But we should know by now what politicians mean when they talk about reform: nothing. Taking care of the people who took care of you is the essence of political business as usual. Reform is for suckers.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at walker@globe.com.

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