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Hot Tubs, Trial Lawyers and Republicans

May 3, 2006

One of the Right's favorite bogeymen is the trial lawyers, the ambulance chasers supposedly behind skyrocketing health care costs and bankrolling the Democratic Party. But as Bush family consigliere James Baker III showed once again on the Larry King show last night, Republicans are just fine with trial lawyers when they need one.
Baker and his daughter-in-law Nancy used the CNN setting to tell the story of the tragic death of his 7-year old granddaughter Graham, who drowned in a hot tub accident. They used the "emotional hour of heartbreak and hope" to warn parents of the dangers of unsupervised hot tubs and their often dangerous drains, which according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission have claimed the lives of 36 children. The former Secretary of State also called for passage of the "Pool and Spa Safety Act."
Jim Baker the lawyer, of course, is best known for his work for George W. Bush. His one-time associates from the firm of Baker Botts helped Bush the Younger escape penalties from the SEC for insider trading in the Harken Energy affair. And it Baker who led the successful GOP legal fight during the 2000 Florida recount which resulted in Bush's elevation to the presidency. (It does not appear that Baker helped Dubya win his 1999 lawsuit against Enterprise Rent-a-Car for a fender bender involving one of the Bush twins.)
But when it comes to tort reform, this Republican family apparently sides with the trial lawyers. As Nancy Baker told a caller:

"Yes, we did pursue litigation. There was a settlement, mediation that resulted in a settlement with one defendant and we're delighted because that has enabled us to go on and given us the opportunity to pursue this whole educational program."

If the heartbreaking story of the loss of a child to a hot tub tragedy sounds familiar, it should. After all, it was the centerpiece of the Republican attack in 2004 on Democratic vice presidential candidate and trial lawyer John Edwards. (Mississippi Republican Trent Lott famously described Edwards as "a charming guy who was a suing lawyer -- that's S-U-I-N-G lawyer.") During his 2004 debate with Dick Cheney, Edwards was forced to defend his role in a $25 million award given the family of five-year old Valerie Lakey, who was grievously injured in a faulty hot tub.
If the call for regulation and damage awards coming from high profile Republicans seems like hypocrisy, it should. But then again, what else would you expect from the Party of James Baker, George W. Bush and "Hot Tub" Tom Delay?


Jon Perr
Jon Perr is a technology marketing consultant and product strategist who writes about American politics and public policy.

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