The California Nurses Association, whose support helped Gov. Jerry Brown defeat Republican Meg Whitman in 2010, on Wednesday endorsed Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom to succeed him.
The endorsement, though not unexpected, comes unusually early – three years before the 2018 election. It is an indication of Newsom’s appeal to organized labor, and also a challenge facing one of his main rivals, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.
Villaraigosa, a former labor organizer, battled with public employee unions as mayor, including in his unsuccessful effort to gain greater control of L.A. schools.
“I think that Antonio’s crossed a line,” said RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association and National Nurses United. “Any Democrat who goes after teachers, what does that say? It’s kind of a litmus test.”
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But DeMoro said the group’s endorsement is “all about Gavin,” not his likely competitors. Newsom, who supported universal health care while mayor of San Francisco, has “been there consistently on the issues,” she said.
Joining the nurses at Wednesday’s raucous event in Los Angeles, Newsom dusted off celebratory confetti while acknowledging the early nature of the endorsement.
He said the spirited show of support, replete with nurses waving cellphone cameras affixed to long poles, made him feel “like we just won the damned thing.”
Biding his time as Brown’s lieutenant governor, Newsom said he’s had ample opportunity to read up on the classics, a favorite pastime of Brown’s. Newsom mentioned a quote from the Greek historian Plutarch about the dangers of the imbalance between the rich and the poor.
The good news, Newsom relayed to the nurses, is that they are literally about changing the course and direction of things.
“You recognize the future is not in front of you, it’s inside of you,” he said. “We have agency to turn this around.”
Newsom has announced his candidacy and started raising money, while Villaraigosa and former state Controller Steve Westly are both expected to run. Other potential Democratic candidates include Eric Garcetti, the current mayor of Los Angeles; state Treasurer John Chiang; and billionaire environmentalist Tom Steyer.
The Nurses Association played a significant role in the 2010 campaign, relentlessly portraying Whitman as “Queen Meg.” Brown, after the election, said the group “softened her up” for him. DeMoro said that for Newsom, “We’re going to do whatever we need to do.”