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State House Roundup: Infidelity

Maybe it was the way legislative leaders casually crushed his big plans for the Probation Department, or the way a Fidelity executive who advises him on economic policy was quietly preparing to usher 1,100 employees across state lines.

Perhaps it was the revelation that his own transportation advisers shielded him - and the public - for weeks from the most explosive news to come out of the Big Dig since a chunk of tunnel ceiling fell and crushed a local woman to death. Or perhaps it was the way Speaker Robert DeLeo expressed how confused he was by the governor's silence on the lavish payout to a former Blue Cross executive.

The Romnification of the Patrick era oozed through the newsprint this week: A traveling governor, confounded by architectural failures in the Big Dig tunnels, a bystander to the scrapping of his major policy ideas, facing questions about whether his goals and ambitions are a little more Pennsylvania Avenue than Beacon Street.

"I like Mitt Romney," Patrick told reporters Friday when asked about the former governor's potential candidacy for president, although he noted they "don't agree on everything," particularly health care.

All that's left is for Patrick to strap on a hardhat and goggles explain the science of aluminum corrosion from the inside of the Tip O'Neill Tunnel.

Corrosion, of course, is what caused a 110-pound cylinder of metal and plastic and glass and wires to crash down on the pavement of the Big Dig tunnel on Feb. 8, a fact most Massachusetts residents learned this week in a stunning disclosure that immediately led to questions about what the governor knew (very little) and when he knew it (very late).

In fact, on the morning the lighting fixture broke loose, a sub-freezing rush hour that included a light dusting of snow, Patrick was gearing up for dinner that night with Tim Kaine, the chair of the Democratic National Committee. He announced his trade mission to Israel and England the following morning, Feb. 9. It would be 33 days, sometime between the governor's stem cell meeting in Hertfordshire and innovation forum in Cambridge - England, that is - before transportation advisers informed him that snow and deicing materials had eaten away at the supports of the lighting system.

"Knowing what I know now, I would have done this differently. At the time I was concerned about making sure we were releasing adequate information. In hindsight, I think it was a mistake," Transportation Secretary Jeff Mullan told the News Service on Thursday.

Mullan's gaffe did little to tamp down the furor that began earlier in the week when Fidelity - whose president Abigail Johnson sits on a board of business leaders that meets with Patrick at least once a month - announced plans to move nearly 1,100 jobs from Marlborough to Rhode Island, New Hampshire and beyond. The announcement stung Patrick as he tried to make the case that his foreign travels were creating a foothold for future job gains, and also, he said, because he hadn't been told in advance about the company's plans.

"From Fidelity's perspective, it's a done deal, but I want them to say that to my face," a tough-talking Patrick said Friday as he returned to the Hill and faced questions about events that had unfolded while he was away.

The governor, brimming with confidence, was unapologetic about his trip, insistent that the modern economy is based on relationship-building and innovation - the focus of his international meetings - despite questions from lawmakers and advocates who wondered whether blue-collar industries are being left behind.

The Legislature seemed content to let Patrick take heat from abroad, keeping a light schedule - even spiking a meeting with Lt. Gov. Tim Murray they said hadn't been scheduled in the first place - in order to provide proper observance of the Evacuation/St. Patrick's Day holiday. The speaker jumpstarted the week with a Tuesday morning rundown of his legislative agenda - few surprises but a clearer timetable - and the Judiciary Committee convened Wednesday to take sometimes-wrenching testimony on proposals to revamp the state parole system and sentencing laws for habitual offenders.

The Governor's Council, often maligned for its infrequent meetings, turned out to be the busiest subset of government this week, convening for three lengthy hearings on the governor's nominees to revive the Parole Board, although they postponed final votes on the nominees by two weeks.

In a rarity for the council, there was little impugning of the nominees' integrity, but some questioned whether Patrick had selected a few too many candidates naturally inclined to vote against parole.

"There's no balance here," said Councilor Charles Cipollini, one of two Republicans on the panel. "The parole board needs diversity of perspective and experience and background, and I will vote accordingly."

STORY OF THE WEEK: Corroded artery.

YOU ARE MY SUNSHINE: Yes you, Brian Dempsey, master of the all things fiscal, purveyor of none. Haverhill's Great Decider, the new chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, continued throughout National Sunshine Week to clam up about plans for the Bay State's short-term fiscal future. From all accounts, House and Senate members are preparing to advance a supplemental budget bill that could run as high as nine figures and settle policy questions on prison closures, the administration of the Trial Court and sales of surplus land. The Ways and Means Committee just wrapped up a statewide tour collecting information - much of it dire - about the state of Massachusetts's budgetary health. But Dempsey's office celebrated transparency by staying dark, declining to respond to repeated requests for answers to even the most basic questions, like: Is a short-term budget bill in the works? What might be in it? How is it paid for? Dempsey joined Speaker Robert DeLeo at a Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Tuesday but slipped out while reporters converged on DeLeo, frustrating those with specific questions about the impacts of the speaker's policy agenda, and Patrick's, on the ways and means of the state's taxpayers.

This program aired on March 18, 2011. The audio for this program is not available.

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