The Election is Over. Now what?

After every election, there are winners and losers. This morning millions of Americans awoke feeling either elated or despondent. Those feelings are natural and appropriate, but they must quickly give way to other feelings. What do I mean? Simply this: regardless of who won the elections, the challenges facing our state and nation didn't go away last night. For all the candidates elected yesterday, the hard-fought campaigns were the easy part. The hard part will be governing during one of America's most turbulent periods.

We spent most of 2010 vigorously exercising our right to speak freely, and yesterday we exercised our right to vote. Now it's time to govern. Together. Nikki Haley understands this, and so does Vincent Sheheen. In her victory speech last night, Haley said, "No matter how you voted, I plan to get to work for you." Even though many in our industry supported her opponent, we must acknowledge that Nikki Haley will be our next governor and do everything we can to help her lead South Carolina forward. Political campaigns can and should force people to take sides; they are in essence a competition of ideas. But once the governing begins, competition is a destructive force. Stalemates in government produce inaction, and our state can't afford to remain in neutral. We must move ahead. The health care industry in general and hospitals in particular are critical components of South Carolina's economy, and we must participate in the process of governing. So where do we go from here?

First of all, we should offer our congratulations to Nikki Haley and let her know we stand ready to work with her. She won a tough campaign, and she will be our state's chief executive for at least four years, probably eight. (Yesterday's election reinforced how hard it is to be elected governor as a Democrat in South Carolina, and it's almost unheard of for a party to run a candidate against a sitting president or governor. Taken together, those things suggest Nikki Haley will likely be our state's governor for two terms unless she decides not to run for re-election.)

Second, we should say thanks to Vincent Sheheen for the unprecedented efforts he made to understand and support hospitals during this campaign. Many industries and professional groups wish candidates for statewide office better understood their issues; Vincent Sheheen is the first gubernatorial candidate I've ever seen reach out to hospitals in so earnest a fashion. He will remain an influential state senator, and he will be a great friend to South Carolina's hospitals.

Third, we as hospital leaders should not apologize or second guess ourselves for supporting a candidate in this year's race. It's never an easy decision whether to publicly support a candidate for office, and there are clearly times when it's smart to stay on the sidelines. But the South Carolina Hospital Association and Hospital Association Political Action Committee Boards wisely concluded this was not such a year. In Washington and in South Carolina, our industry has been in the crosshairs. We could not afford the luxury of passive neutrality, for our elected officials have been (and still are) debating the manner in which hospitals will carry out their collective and individual missions. We owe it to our communities to engage in this debate. To use a baseball analogy, we decided we would rather strike out swinging than watch the pitches go by and hope for a walk. As I've heard hospital leaders say on multiple occasions, "Hope is not a strategy." We didn't hope; we fought for our industry. There's no reason to apologize for that.

Fourth, we should compare our priorities against the stated goals of the new governor, the new state legislature, and the new Congress to determine where our priorities overlap with theirs. Those areas of overlap are where we will find traction, and we need to approach our new leaders with energy and strategies to accomplish our mutual objectives. Tort reform is an obvious example—Republicans in South Carolina and all across the nation have vowed to reform our liability system. We can find common ground there.

Fifth (and finally), we need to determine which of our priorities are in jeopardy as a result of the election and build strategies accordingly. Health care reform will come under intense fire in Washington, and Medicaid will be targeted for cuts here at home. We must have clear objectives and strategies for these and any other issues critical to hospitals.

In conclusion, I would ask you to do two things. Find a way to congratulate Nikki Haley, and find a way to say thanks to Vincent Sheheen. We will work closely with both of them in the years to come. They should know we are passionate when it comes to our patients, and we intend to work alongside our state's leaders to improve the quality and reduce the cost of health care in the Palmetto State. That's something we can all agree on.