After I lavished praise yesterday on King County Executive Ron Sims’ leadership skills, The Seattle Times reminds me today that leadership comes in different forms:
Gov. Christine Gregoire’s strong suit is getting feuding interests in a heated political fight together until they reach agreement. The latest example is her notable leadership on medical-malpractice law. […] Gregoire’s hard-nosed negotiating skills prove once again to be one of her most successful leadership traits.
While I’m a huge fan of Sims’ willingness to step up to the bully pulpit, take a stance (however unpopular,) and lead, Gov. Gregoire deserves a ton of credit for the quiet, methodical way she gets things done. The Times notes her accomplishments as the lead negotiator on the multibillion dollar tobacco lawsuit as Attorney General, and on the Hanford cleanup settlement as state ecology director. Just as impressive was the way she brokered a bipartisan deal last year on the transportation improvement package, even as the state GOP worked tirelessly to undermine her authority with their muck-strewn election contest lawsuit.
This compromise medical malpractice legislation — coming in the immediate wake of bitter, dueling initiatives — is yet another example of Gov. Gregoire’s talent at “herding cats”… a talent that has made her an extraordinarily effective governor. It is particularly impressive considering the classically partisan nature of this epic conflict between trial lawyers and the insurance industry.
The Republicans have never simply approached medical malpractice as an opportunity to enact good policy (though I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that that is at least part of their goal.) Indeed, some GOP leaders sounded downright disappointed at news of a compromise.
Senate Republican Leader Mike Hewitt of Walla Walla later said the measure fell so far short of a solution for the “med-mal” problem that it was really “mini-mal.” Hewitt’s caucus has long supported caps on damages.
Of course they do. That’s because trial lawyers generally give to Democrats, whereas the insurance industry on the other side of the table generally gives to Republicans. To the GOP, the enduring appeal of tort reform — just like so-called “right to work” legislation and its resulting blow to organized labor — has always been the opportunity to defund the Democratic Party. (Just take a look at the electoral shift in Texas for an example of how successful that strategy can be.)
That Gov. Gregoire was able to broker a deal in this context makes her feat all the more impressive. That’s leadership for you.