Two years ago, Matt Ready and Jack Range helped organize an Occupy Port Townsend protest. They sat in a tent in front of Bank of America on that cold February day to rally the community against bank foreclosures.
Today, Ready takes a seat on the board that oversees the largest public employer in Jefferson County – Jefferson Healthcare and its clinics, a $75 million-a-year enterprise. Range was Ready's campaign chair and helped him get elected.
Ready's transition from protest organizer to major election winner came in two short years.
The 40-year-old hospital efficiency expert unseated 59-year-old incumbent board chair Dr. Marc Mauney.
A pathologist and the first doctor on the hospital board in years, Mauney is credited with helping to financially stabilize Jefferson Healthcare, creating strong reserves, improving its business plan and hiring new CEO Mike Glenn. The board Mauney led shifted to a new way of operating called policy governance, achieved national certification and improved the hospital’s financial bottom line so that today, the system is preparing to build a new $15 million emergency and speciality building without seeking a dime from taxpayers.
Mauney had won his first term by a landslide six years ago.
He has been quiet since losing to Ready, not attending a single hospital board meeting since the election. Board minutes indicate Mauney was excused. Ready said he has not spoken with Mauney since the election. Mauney has not returned Leader calls or emails.
Standing in front of the hospital recently, Ready admitted that the Occupy moment in the tent feels like it was “back in my wild 1960s, but really it was only two years ago.”
While the more conservative Mauney campaigned on his record of financially stabilizing the hospital district, Ready campaigned on a platform about financial access to health care for all, and a pledge to fight for a single-payer system. He cited international statistics that pointed to the high expense and mediocre results of the American health care system in comparison to other industrialized nations, most of which have a more socialized system. He said that a local elected hospital commissioner can be an effective voice toward national change.
Today, he says he’ll stay true to that pledge.
But it did cost him – literally.
Ready, who ended up with 5,622 votes to Mauney’s 5,141 votes, won the race, but lost his $50,000-per-year job.
Ready had to resign from his position as an performance improvement specialist at Jefferson Healthcare to serve on the board. He'll still get the same health care insurance he had as an employee, and he'll be paid $110 a day on those days he serves as a commissioner, likely about four days a month.
The run, the race
For several weeks after he announced he would seek a seat in May 2013, Ready declined to say whether he would run against Mauney or another incumbent, Jill Buhler, also up for election. On filing day, he chose to challenge Mauney because he thought Mauney needed to be replaced “to shift it philosophically in the direction I think it needs to shift.”
The race was low-key and issue-oriented for most weeks of the campaign. Both Ready and Savannah Hensel, also an Occupy participant, who filed against Buhler, talked to voters about the need for cheaper access to better health care, including the need for national reform and for an open-access system here in Jefferson County.
Mauney and Buhler argued that Jefferson Healthcare already has a practice of not turning anyone away, and that a local commissioner needs to focus on local health care rather than the national politics of health care reform.
Near the end of the race, however, Buhler's campaign chair, Tony Harriman, presented details of Ready's political postings on his blog from his days involved in the Occupy movement in this region.
Harriman publicized Ready's earlier writings that were critical of corporate control. Ready responded, in turn, that those were "creative writings" that did not reflect the breadth of his political views. He removed the postings. Voters still went with him on Election Day.
Ready won in 20 precincts, including all of Port Townsend, and in his own precinct. Mauney won in 16 precincts, none in Port Townsend, but he did win in Port Ludlow and his home precinct of Port Hadlock. Mauney also took Kala Point. The two men tied in two precincts.
The hospital board seat was also the most expensive race of 2013 in Jefferson County: Ready raised $7,597 and won; Mauney raised $10,566 and lost. Ready loaned his campaign $5,000.
“I raised money, but it was so little,” Ready said. “There's not enough money to pay me back. There's some money, but I think it will easily have cost me $5,000 and my job.”
Now that election reality has set in, the Leader sat down with Ready to talk about what he thinks will happen in 2014 and to shed some light on his thinking and what he hopes to accomplish as one of five board members.
Q. Your election win surprised you. What have you made of your election? What does this mean?
A. My election means I now get to devote my time, energy and skills to try and help our board continue to improve health care in our community. If you're asking what does my election say about our community, I think there are probably a lot of different reasons people vote the way they do. I think the major reason is enough people in our district resonated with the ideas that I was talking about and enough people were ready to support a candidate that was really committed to affordable health care.
Q. Your single campaign message was on access to affordable health care right as Obamacare was coming on board. Some people thought that the Affordable Care Act – better known as Obamacare – solves health care problems, but you said no. Thoughts now?
A. It's [Affordable Care Act] not going to solve health care access to all. It does some good things, but health care is still going to be too expensive for some people. The Affordable Care Act is about trying to get everyone insurance, but a lot of people with insurance can't afford their deductibles, and it didn't do anything to solve that problem. It certainly didn't do anything to bring down our spiraling, out-of-control cost of health care. There's a ton of mess in our health care system that needs to be dealt with, and people are suffering because of it.
Q. You are only one person out of five on the board. So what can you really expect to change?
A. At a minimum, I can change the discussion and I can change what questions we discuss and I can affect how long we discuss them. And I'll change the record of what is said by the board, at least by one member. That's the minimum.
The question that remains to be seen is how I'll influence the other board members and how they'll influence me. But this past week [in early December], I met with three of the board members. It was a sort of get-to-know-you meeting. We touched on things they wanted to talk about. And I'm feeling optimistic that we'll have constructive dialogues and be able to find enormous amounts of common ground.
Q. There have been other commissioners who were seen as agents of change. But they quickly assimilated. Do you think you'll be able to hold true to your campaign promises and affect change?
A. I think so. It could play out a lot of ways. On the issues that aren't controversial, I know we'll be able to work together really, really well. As we get to the ones that are controversial, I think it will be easier.
Q. So you gave up this $50,000-a-year job for a job that pays $110 a meeting. Have you had any second thoughts?
A. No. I'm not currently looking [for a job]. I'm still waiting to see what direction I want to go. That could change in three months and things become clear to me. I'm comfortable. At the moment, what I'm focusing on is my really low-paying new job on the commission. I'm studying policy governance. I'm reading a book by the creator of that. And I've been studying the commission bylaws and policies. There were some interesting decisions there.
The board sets the ends and goals for the organization and sets executive limitations, and it monitors how well the organization is progressing toward those ends. So the board's dialogue should almost entirely be about ends, how well we are doing to achieve those ends. It's hard for boards to transition to policy governance. It's common for boards to need retraining to stick with it.
Q. Do you have any first-year goals? Is there something we'll see you propose in the first month?
A. They have plans for a retreat at the end of January, where the board will look at its current policies to decide if there should be any changes. So I will be extremely vocal in those discussions and I have a lot of questions. I want to understand how they see things and why they've structured the policies they have. It's a big learning dialogue stage.
Q. So what do you expect to say you accomplished by this time next year?
A. I'll want to say that I had a tremendous positive influence on the board and helped make health care affordable to the people in our community and make the board a more positive force.
I'd like to see our community statistics on access dramatically improve. I'd like for us to have our pulse on the community's health. In the last survey the health department took, 14 percent of people in Jefferson County didn't access care because they didn't think they could afford it. In a recent national survey, 29 percent of people report they delayed health care because they didn't think they could afford it. Charity care isn't the solution, and I hope I will help us to explore some new approaches to the access problem.
Q. Are you still member of Occupy Port Townsend?
A. Occupy is a movement, not an organization. It doesn't have a list of members. It is like the civil rights movement; the question is not “Are you a member of the civil rights movement?” The question is “Do you support the issues the movement is working on and do you participate in it?” I strongly agree with many of the major critiques of the Occupy Movement, such as the problem of money in politics. I continue to look for solutions, and if the timing is right, I would participate in Occupy activities again.
Q. You deleted a blog at the last minute before the election that had some writings that could be considered to have anti-establishment, even socialist, leanings. Will you blog again?
A. I probably will blog again, but I really want it thoroughly edited, and I didn't have time during the campaign to edit it. Of course, there are things I said I still agree with and there are things I probably wouldn't write again.
Q. Is this a political stepping-stone for you? Do you have other political ambitions?
A. I was shocked that a political office came up as the right thing for me to run for. I can't anticipate that happening again for a different office. I could see myself doing this again, because health care has so far to go. I could see myself running again for commissioner. I have a hard time seeing me go for a different office. This is where my expertise is and where I'm comfortable.
Q. Any other thoughts about your election?
A. Yes, I want to say Savannah Hensel [who lost to incumbent Jill Buhler] was incredibly courageous to jump in and run. I'm proud of her. I was impressed by the way she ran her campaign and I think she would have made a great commissioner. And I would obviously thank my campaign manager, Jack Range; and Savannah's campaign manager, Stacey Larsen, did an amazing job. It was fun and tough and exhausting.