When Haley Barbour was first elected governor there, he said at the recent Heritage Foundation event, Tort Reform in the States: Protecting Consumers and Enhancing Economic Growth, Mississippi was the worst place for tort abuse. The state had been dealing with bad state Supreme Court decisions, extreme lawsuit abuse, and campaigns to stop lawsuit reform. So Barbour decided to run for governor on a platform of tort reform.
This was vital, Barbour said, to getting tort reform passed at all. According to Barbour, state tort reform can never pass without the undying effort and devotion of the governor. Governors must lead the quest for reform in this area. Those who oppose tort reform—lawsuit abusers and trial lawyers—are tough and resourceful, Barbour said. They are people who have a lot invested in the current system. In fact, the governor pointed out, many Democratic candidates receive more money from trial lawyers than they do from the DNC. Both individual citizens and a national party have reasons to oppose reforms to the tort system.
Barbour discussed his own successes with tort reform: as a result of his reforms from early on in his governorship, insurance premiums have already gone down in Mississippi by approximately 60 percent. This is a huge decrease in cost, and it makes health care infinitely more affordable for those who in the past may not have had access to it. This, Barbour said, is a result any state can look forward to in return for implementing tort reforms.
Barbour believes in making tort reform a public issue. This is, in his opinion, the only way tort reform can ever pass in a state legislature: people have to understand the issue, and they have to care about it.
Barbour suggested that policy makers bent on tort reform take the problem to their constituents. He claimed that people care about tort once they understand how it affects them—and they understand how it affects them once you begin connecting the dots between tort, health care costs, and business.
Barbour also stated that small businesses need to step up and fight for tort reform: big business has less at stake than small business, because big business is typically better equipped to fight lawsuits. Because of this, small businesses are easier to sway when it comes to tort reform, and they can play a crucial role in educating their customers and influencing their local representatives.
According to Barbour, tort reform really boils down to grassroots communication. At the most fundamental level, individual citizens need to be educated and they need to care. The only way this happens is when grassroots movements reach out to them. Barbour absolutely adheres to the belief that individual citizens need to work together and reach out to their friends to get the message out about tort reform, because without that grassroots effort, the hold of the trial lawyers and the lawsuit abusers is too influential. The people do need to rise up in this respect to make a difference.
Barbour concluded by reiterating that tort reform is a state responsibility. It is the responsibility of individual citizens, who need to group together to oppose the trial lawyers and lawsuit abusers who gain so much at everyone else’s expense. And in Governor Barbour’s experience, when individuals and policy makers band together to implement tort reform, it is definitely worth the struggle.