John Laird: From the fury of a campaign, to the real need to govern

By John Laird, Columbian Editorial Page Editor

Published:

 

Rick Scott, David Madore and Bill Turlay are learning there's a big difference between complaining and actually governing. Each man used a raucous condemnation of Big Government to win elections to their respective offices of Florida governor, Clark County commissioner and Vancouver city councilor. But after taking office, each has discovered that, while squawking might work in campaigns, it doesn't accomplish much when the real work begins.

Scott was a vicious critic of the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare") when he ran for Florida governor and won in 2010. He's the former CEO of the largest health care company in the nation, Columbia/HCA, which was fined more than $600 million for Medicare billing practices. After taking office, Scott no longer could ignore the facts about health care reform, specifically the changes in Medicaid.

In February, Scott stunned his supporters by changing his tune on Medicaid expansion: "Our options are either having Floridians pay to fund this program in other states while denying health care to our citizens, or using federal funding to help some of the poorest in our state with the Medicaid program," he said. "I concluded that for the three years the federal government is committed to paying 100 percent of the cost of new people in Medicaid, I cannot, in good conscience, deny the uninsured access to care."

It was time to govern. (Scott's embrace of Medicaid expansion is still being argued in the Florida Legislature.)

Behold the governor's evolution from bomb-throwing campaigner to solutions-oriented public servant. Scott likely had seen a Georgetown University study that said Medicaid expansion would save Floridians $300 million in 2014. The Florida Hospital Association reported that 56,000 jobs would be created by the change. By now, according to USA Today, eight Republican governors have seen the light; seven more are considering doing the same thing.

In like manner at the county commissioner level, Madore, the successful businessman, is noticing the differences between campaigning on a government-is-the-problem platform … and actually serving constituents. In his first meeting as county commissioner, he was the lone negative vote against keeping development impact fees low for another year. Madore wondered if the fees might be reduced even more. He asked his cohorts to delay the vote for a week to learn more about the fees. But County Commissioner Tom Mielke said, "To a developer, time is money … (Waiting) sends a bad message to those who want to move forward." It was time to govern.

That same day, at a C-Tran Board of Directors meeting, Madore wanted more time to study an agreement with TriMet and Portland Streetcar to integrate fare collection technologies among the agencies. The C-Tran board decided it was time to govern, and approved the plan.

Budgets must be balanced

At the city level, Turlay found himself in a tough spot last November, having campaigned on an anti-tax platform, but as a city councilor facing huge budget problems, he became part of a unanimous council approval of a 1 percent property tax levy increase. How dare he renege on his campaign promises?

Because it was time to govern.

"I want to tell you that on this side of the table, it looks different," Turlay said. "We need money to provide police and fire." But a tax increase? Turlay? Of all people! "I'm dead set against it, but I've got no other choice," he explained, clearly anguished.

Two lessons here. First, the next time someone castigates a public servant as a traitor or a liar simply because he changed his mind and chose to govern instead of just squawk, let's remember that things change after politicians are sworn in.

Second, and more importantly, when campaigning candidates serenade us with anti-this and anti-that rhapsodies, let's hold off on the swooning and the standing ovations until we see how they perform after taking office.