BRADLEY PROFILE Complex issues lure Bradley to look at bureaucratic maze
BOX; Rep. Fran Bradley
Career highlights: 12-year representative; chair of the Health Policy and Finance Committee; twice named Legislator of the Year by Arc Minnesota; authored "Unlock the waiting list" legislation that funded services for the developmentally disabled; also authored the Mental Health Act of 2001 that called on the commissioner of health to make suicide prevention an important state public health goal.
What's next: "I fully intend to stay very actively involved in health care reform. I think, right now, the health care cost crisis is our No. 1 health care issue."
By Matthew Stolle
Before his election to the state Legislature in 1994, Rep. Fran Bradley knew only as much about the state's health care system as your average consumer.
Within a decade, he would rise to become a noted expert in the field, becoming chair of the House's powerful health and human services committee and thrusting himself into the debate over how to contain skyrocketing health care costs.
"When Fran Bradley speaks and makes a decision on something in his area of expertise, members follow," said GOP House Speaker Steve Sviggum. "Filling those shoes is going to be darn near impossible."
Bradley, 64, said he was drawn to the field for several reasons. Former Gov. Al Quie once had advised him that to be an effective legislator, you needed to develop a specialty and become an expert in it.
The bureaucratic maze that is the state's health care and human services system intrigued the retired IBM engineer's mind. The area, moreover, didn't frighten him as it did other Republican legislators, he said. And it seemed a natural for a legislator with Mayo Clinic in his back yard.
"I knew it would be fascinating. I knew there were complexities. I knew the public assistance side was so multi-dimensional, and I kind of get a kick out of complex problems," he said. "It was good place to jump in."
What he discovered about the state's health care, welfare and social insurance programs were that they were a hodgepodge -- "wasteful, disoriented, overlapping, arcane." He saw it as an opportunity for transformation and improvement.
Highs and lows
Bradley, a Republican, cites a number of accomplishments from his 12-year legislative career. He joined the Legislature at a time when society's answer for taking caring of its elderly was putting them into nursing homes. Over the next 12 years, the state would move to diversify its one-stop approach into new areas such as home care, assisted living and adult foster care, he said.
Bradley said he also witnessed how a good intention applied by a rigid bureaucracy could go terribly awry.
One case was the state's decision to prohibit the use of bed rails in nursing homes early in his political career, because people had become tangled in the bed rails and died.
As a result of the bed-rail ban, the elderly were falling out of bed and, in some cases, dying. Bradley, who successfully fought for flexibility in deciding how bed rails should be used, said it was an example of how a heavy-handed bureaucracy can mandate a single solution for a multitude of situations.
Bradley said another piece of legislation he was proud to carry was the "unlock the waiting list" bill, an initiative to fund and open up slots in group homes and in-home care for the developmentally disabled. Up until then, as many as 5,000 people had been waiting for slots, Bradley said.
"In terms of affecting things, that touched an awful lot of lives," said Bradley, who during his legislative career received many honors for his advocacy of the developmental disabled.
Yet even his most ardent supporters admit that Bradley has something of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde reputation with the public. To advocates of the developmentally disabled, Bradley is viewed as a savior. But to those who advocate for the poor, Bradley is seen as being far less compassionate.
That perception is largely built on Bradley's willingness to carry legislation that called for kicking tens of thousands of what the state defines as the working poor off of MinnesotaCare, a state health insurance program. Bradley supported the legislation when the Legislature was grappling with serial deficits, including $4.5 billion in 2003.
And because of Gov. Tim Pawlenty's no new taxes pledge and determination to hold K-12 education "harmless," the burden of those cuts fell largely on Bradley's area.
"I know for him the budget deficit was one of the hardest things he had to contend with. They were hard times for him," said Sen. Dave Senjem, a Republican from Rochester said of Bradley.
In interviews today, Bradley doesn't betray the slightest hint of having second thoughts about supporting those reductions and carrying the governor's agenda. Even with the cuts, the state's generosity in its public assistance programs remains unrivaled nationally, he says.
"I thought there was enough validity in bringing (those issues) to the table," Bradley said. "When you're basically No. 1 in the nation in per-capita spending on public assistance health care programs, it really was time to look at" those programs in terms of efficiency and savings.
But it gave Democrats a big issue in the 2004 election. The state DFL showered his district with pamphlets portraying Bradley as heartless. The strategy almost worked. Bradley, who consistently had been re-elected by large margins, barely defeated DFL candidate Kim Norton.
Bradley says his growing familial responsibilities were the deciding factor in not running again. The six-term representative has a severely disabled brother and grandson and an ailing grandmother. On the House floor, during Bradley's farewell speech, Bradley momentarily choked up when he recalled that legislative business had prevented him from attending his brother's recent surgery.
Bradley said he will miss the sense of being thrust in the middle of important events.
Recently, he talked about the satisfaction of passing a bill that could bring long-term benefits to the elderly. Even when negotiations became difficult and a breakthrough seemed out of reach, the sides continued to negotiate.
"We were talking with each other, understanding each others' points of view. I love it. That's great stuff," he said.