Dennis Smith: Competence and Dignity

Written by:
April 14th, 2008

During the mid 1990s, I met Dennis Smith. He was working for Senator (William) Roth of Delaware, who at the time was Chairman of the Finance Committee. He was quiet and thoughtful, always considerate despite the considerable stature he had as a senior Congressional staff leader.

I was among a small group of Governors from both parties who were deeply involved in welfare and Medicaid reform. Dennis often represented Senator Roth and worked with our staff to actually draft the legislation. We succeeded with welfare reform; it has been a wild success. We didn’t get to the finish line on Medicaid reform however.

In 2001-2002, I was still Governor and still working on Medicaid reform. I had an idea that we could extend a basic policy of health insurance to more people if we modified the benefits for certain Medicaid populations to look more like regular insurance policies. Secretary Tommy Thompson brought Dennis Smith to the table. It has worked just as we thought it would. Tens of thousands more Utahns have had health insurance as a result. Governors all over America could report similar stories.

Roll forward to 2005; I was asked by President Bush to become Secretary of Health and Human Services. To my delight, Dennis Smith was willing to stay on as the head of Medicaid. For the last three and a half years we have worked together and accomplished a great deal; among other things, finally succeeding in the reforms we started working on together ten years earlier.

Dennis told me last week it was time for him to conclude public service and move to another chapter in his life. There is a much longer and more elaborate list of things Dennis Smith has accomplished in public service. I list what I did, mostly to credential myself as being in a position to say the following.

In more than a decade of working together, I know few who equal Dennis Smith’s competence. I know even fewer who match his dignity. I have never once witnessed Dennis lose his patience or his temper. I never once observed Dennis treat anyone”regardless of whether he agreed with his or her political philosophy or not”with anything other than respect and dignity. And truly unique in Washington, I have never seen him seek the limelight for his numerous accomplishments. He is a noble and dedicated public servant.

Dennis Smith, HHS photo by Chris Smith

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