Democrats must stand up for single-payer health care

Demonstrators rally at the state Capitol in May 2017 in support of a bill that would create a universal single-payer health care system in California.
Demonstrators rally at the state Capitol in May 2017 in support of a bill that would create a universal single-payer health care system in California. Sacramento Bee file

If the past year has taught us anything, it’s that too many voters have lost faith in key civic institutions such as the news media and political parties. If we are going to rebuild public trust, legislators need to become more partisan.


You might be surprised to hear someone like me, who has spent most of his career with nonpartisan good government groups, advocating for more partisanship. But that’s precisely what America needs right now.

Done correctly, political parties can serve as vehicles for volunteers and small donors to band together around a set of ideas – a platform. Party endorsements inexpensively inform voters of candidates’ positions on the issues, but only if endorsements go to the candidate who most closely sticks to the platform.

Unfortunately, too many voters now justifiably perceive parties as washing machines that launder special interest money to re-elect an old boys’ club of incumbents who promote their own careers. Huge campaign contributions from outside sources have undermined political parties since the 1970s by allowing candidates who disagree with their parties to use pricey marketing campaigns to communicate directly with voters. The Citizens United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court has only made things worse.

Ironically, by playing the big money game to keep pace with super PACs, the Democratic Party has driven small donors into outside groups such as while tarnishing the party’s own brand image with voters and activists. According to a recent survey, only 72 percent of California Democrats have a favorable view of their own party. Worse yet, 59 percent of Democrats say a third party is needed.

The movement of voters who have lost faith in the Democratic Party contributed to the 2016 election results and shows that “compromise” by corporate Democrats is anything but pragmatic.

The California Democratic Party says it supports single-payer health care, and all but four Democrats in the state Senate have backed it. The test now facing the party – which holds its convention next month in San Diego – is whether to endorse those dissenters, including Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento, whom I am running against. Local party delegates are set to vote Saturday.

Democrats who believe that providing Medicare-style health insurance for everyone is unrealistic should explain how Canada can do it, but California cannot, especially with a larger economy than our northern neighbor. Skeptics who don’t want to end corporate profiteering in health care should try to change the party’s platform. But if these naysayers fail to convince fellow Democrats, they should not expect the endorsement of a party whose values they do not share.

Some voters will appreciate a candidate’s independence from their party, and moderates may still win election without party backing. That’s fine, but candidates seeking support for bucking their own party should not seek the endorsement of the party they spurn. If the Democratic Party wants to rebuild itself as a grass-roots organization based upon mission instead of money, it should stick to its values in making endorsement decisions.

Derek Cressman, a government watchdog and author of two books about money in politics, is a Democrat running for the state Senate in District 6. He can be contacted at