California is Clinton territory, supposedly.
Bill practically made it a second home, or at least his bank, when he was president, in the 1990s. Hillary kept her presidential campaign alive by beating Sen. Barack Obama in the California primary, in 2008.
But that was eons ago. What is old makes no sense in 2016, unless you happen to be a white-haired Democratic Socialist septuagenarian from Burlington, Vt.
As he stumps through California ahead of the June 7 primary, Bernie Sanders makes a point of telling his supporters that he has no billionaires on his side. True enough, but he has enlisted a billionaire-slayer, the California Nurses Association, which represents 90,000 registered nurses in California, and its parent, the National Nurses United, which represents another 95,000 in other states.
It was the nurses union that crowned billionaire Meg Whitman as Queen Meg in the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, and delivered the crowning blow to Whitman’s $150 million candidacy by outing her for mistreating her illegal immigrant housekeeper, Nicky Diaz Santillan.
“She was throwing me away like a piece of garbage,” Diaz said, tearfully, claiming at a press conference at attorney Gloria Allred’s Beverly Hills office that Whitman refused to help her gain residency. After the election, the union disclosed in a Department of Labor filing that it had paid Diaz’s immigration attorney $25,000.
The National Nurses United’s super PAC has spent $4.355 million to elect Sanders. Billboards line California freeways, thanks to the nurses. In red shirts and yelling, activists and leaders in the California Nurses Association are in their element when they tout Bernie Sanders.
“Bernie stole our agenda,” RoseAnn DeMoro, the union’s executive director, said, only partly in jest. “Bernie embodies all the issues.”
Sanders and the nurses union are comrades on the side of occupying Wall Street by taxing the masters of that universe, making higher education as close to free as possible and, most important, providing single-payer health care, or, as they call it, Medicare for all. The nurses never did embrace Obamacare, though Sanders finally voted for it.
Now, the union dominated by women is shunning the first woman with a legitimate shot at becoming president. In their view, Clinton is a mainstream Democrat beholden to the Wall Street cartel and the pharmaceutical industry – and they hate drug companies.
Democratic strategist Garry South is overseeing the campaign for an initiative headed for the November ballot that promises to cut prescription drug prices. The nurses and Sanders have endorsed it, but not Clinton.
“You want them on your side, not on the other side,” South said. “When they come on, they come full-bore.”
The nurses union is aggressively pro-labor, pro-social justice, pro-health care and pro-environmental justice, though the exigencies of the political season can, on occasion, sidetrack the revolution.
The California Nurses Association, for example, supports Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, in a hot San Bernardino County race. To help Brown, the nurses gave $50,000 to an independent campaign committee called the Alliance for California’s Tomorrow. In turn, the alliance has spent $200,000 to re-elect Brown.
Although Brown generally is a reliable labor vote, she sides with business and oil interest on environmental measures. And last year, she voted against one of the most important health care bills to come before the Legislature in years, one to require public school kids to get vaccinated.
By donating to the Alliance for California’s Tomorrow, the nurses joined oil giant Phillips 66, which gave $100,000 to it, drugmaker Eli Lilly, which gave $7,500, and the California Independent Leadership Alliance, which gave $30,000.
The California Independent Leadership Alliance’s largest donor in this election is Philip Morris USA, the world’s largest cigarette maker, hardly the sort of ally health care advocates normally embrace.
Inside the Capitol, nurses have lobbied against legislation to permit registered nurses to dispense birth control pills in community clinics, and expand a program by which nurse practitioners and nurse-midwives provide nonsurgical abortions.
The nurses union doesn’t represent nurses who work at Planned Parenthood, which sponsored the bills. Planned Parenthood prevailed, but the fights were bruising, as Kathy Kneer, who heads Planned Parenthood of California, can attest.
“The Hillary campaign,” Kneer said, “has underestimated the Bernie Sanders campaign from a California strategy standpoint, because they underestimated the political capabilities of the California Nurses Association.”
A Public Policy Institute of California poll last week showed Clinton with a mere 2-percentage-point lead over Sanders. Clinton campaign people should worry. Nurses saw it coming.
“He is going to win the last states,” DeMoro said. “I think she is in a lot of trouble.”
If the unthinkable happens and Sanders is not the nominee, DeMoro said, “Clinton is not going to be an easy sell” to the rank-and-file. More likely, a Joe Biden-Elizabeth Warren ticket could emerge in a brokered convention.
But say Clinton does win the nomination. Wouldn’t Sanders supporters vote for Clinton, for fear of Donald Trump? DeMoro shudders at the notion of a Trump presidency.
But maybe in a Trump presidency, things would get so bad that a candidate like Sanders could prevail in four years. How bad would that be? DeMoro does not subscribe to that notion. A Trump presidency would hurt too many people, she said. She doesn’t have the stomach for that. But it is, she noted, something that has been discussed.