It is one of the least considered factors in any political campaign; at least when it comes to the average voter in any given state. As citizens turn out to the polls to elect their next governor, they are not just selecting a “one man or woman” band. They are choosing a new administration, with new appointees and a potentially dramatic change in policy direction. That change can be even more profound when the newly elected leader is of a different party and political persuasion than their predecessor. 

And sometimes the changes brought by those elections can result in profound losses for not just an agency or residents within a state, but an industry across the nation. Such is the result of the recent gubernatorial election in the state of Maine.

I have been told that today, January 2, 2019 is the last official working day for Maine Workers’ Compensation Board Chairman and Executive Director, Paul Sighinolfi. Maine Governor-elect Janet Mills has opted to not reappoint him to his position, instead choosing to nominate WCB General Counsel John Rohde to the position. While I do not know Mr. Rohde and cannot make judgment on his appointment, I can state unequivocally that the loss of Mr. Sighinolfi will be felt far beyond the borders of his state. 

Paul Sighinolfi has been an active leader and proponent of bettering workers’ compensation for all stakeholders in the system. He has been an active part of leadership at the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC) and was slated to be that groups Vice President for this new year. He brought Maine into the Southern Association of Workers’ Compensation Administrators (SAWCA), where he served on the Steering Committee. He was also an eager and willing participant of the 2016 National Conversation on Workers’ Compensation, providing valuable feedback and input to that process.

I have come to know Paul over the years and consider him a friend. I cannot speak to the experience of Maine employers, carriers or injured workers under his leadership, but I can speak for the influence and impact he has had beyond their state. 

I can tell you that he is an extraordinarily intelligent man; one who possesses a tremendous intellect and consumes information as easily as many of us consume water. He once told me that, after accepting the position of Chairman at the Maine WCB, he took the time to read the workers’ comp statutes in their entirety – for every state in the nation. The reason? Curiosity. He wanted to see how his state lined up. I was once invited to participate in a panel presentation that he moderated at the Maine Workers’ Comp Summit. In preparation for that panel, he sent us numerous court cases, along with the casual remarks that they were “interesting reading.” As I recall, there were about 700 pages of information for us to review. I ribbed him about it during the session, telling the audience that I had to review all that info while on a flight from Bozeman, MT to Tampa. I thanked him, because up until that point, I had never been able to sleep on a plane, but I slept like a baby on that flight.

And that points out the most endearing aspect of Paul Sighinolfi. He is very smart, but he is not presumptive. He does not put on airs. And if I had to choose one word to describe him, it would be “balance.” Paul Sighinolfi understands both sides of workers’ comp, and strikes me as a man in search of equilibrium for all stakeholders. He is a preeminent fence mender in an era where bulldozers reign supreme. For our industry, that drive and ability to find a common path is what we will miss the most. 

It is my fervent hope that he remains involved in our industry. Hopefully some smart private sector player will take advantage of his vast skill and information. I also wish the best to his successor, Mr. Rohde. He has big shoes to fill, on a stage that extends across a nation. I hope he chooses to fully assume that role.

Farewell, Chairman Sighinolfi, and thank you for your service. You will be missed.

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