Tuesday, August 17, 2004

Death of a legendary colleague
Steve Thompson died early this morning as a result of an advanced cancer of the liver; he was 62. As the lobbyist for the California Nurses Association, I worked closely with Steve, who was, for the past 12 years, the Government Affairs Director of the California Medical Association.

Many of the people in the California Capitol are reeling from his death--he only discovered the cancer 5 or 6 weeks ago and it seems impossible that someone so completely and utterly vital and alive could go so fast.

Steve was a force of nature. There is no one I can think of even remotely like him on the California scene. He was Willie Brown's chief of staff when he was Speaker of the Assembly and met Willie in Mississippi during the civil rights fights; I think Willie bailed Steve out of jail.

Steve combined the energy and enthusiasm of a kid with the experience of a lifetime and the mind of a genius. Just about every time you'd run into him in the capitol, he looked like the cat that ate the canary; you just didn't want the canary to be you.

When you were on the other side of Steve on something, it wasn't a small thing to him. If you were a strong opponent for a time you felt one of you was a cartoon character nemesis, Joker or the Penguin, not just a lobbyist. The stakes were big and there was fun to be had and boy did he have it.

And it was great to be his co-conspirator. I know because I was one more than once. "Sara, come here," he'd whisper in an otherwise mundane legislative hearing. "whatcha up to?" "Not much," you'd reply. "Why? You got something?" "Oh yeah, I got something. Wait 'til you hear this..." And so it went. Next thing you knew you were flying around the Capitol or the state on the other end of his speed dial, playing out some wild scenario or another--a quick hit for adrenaline junkies.

Yeah, the doctors of California owe much of their slavish protection of MICRA (a California law which imposes ridiculous limits on compensation for medical malpractice lawsuits) to Steve. But that was the one gigantic untouchable for him as the CMA's top lobbyist. Everything else was on the table. Steve Thompson dragged that old-fashioned conservative Kaiser-controlled organization into the 21st Century, sometimes kicking and screaming, but always the better for it. He negotiated dox to back more death with dignity, stronger scrutiny of bad dox by the Medical board and revelation of medical malpractice lawsuits and more.

First and foremost, Steve was a proponent and fighter for universal health care 'til the day he died. He, more than any other single person in the state except for maybe (Senate leader pro tem) John Burton is responsible for last year's pay or play employer mandate health coverage expansion being signed into law--and now it's being forced onto the November ballot by its opponents to force the voters to reaffirm the law.

Let's pass that initiative, people, if only for Steve.

No comments: