My letter to nurses on governor election

The California Nurses Assn. is about as “progressive” as unions get on most political scales – strongly pro-single-payer, pro-choice etc.  We usually tend to support the most progressive Democrats we think we can.  And we generally have good support from our members for those stands

But, with a large membership from all parts of the state (and beyond), we have a significant minority of more conservative – or just less informed – members who give us some pushback on those more progressive stands.

For reasons I make clear below, we intend to work hard to elect Jerry Brown and defeat Meg Whitman this year.  Since I represent nurses from one of those more conservative areas (though far from the most conservative), I thought it wise to send out something to make sure that our members understand why this election is important.

The text of that letter is below.  

Dear Enloe RNs:

This will be a longish note on the California Governor’s election this year

and its importance to nurses.  I hope you can spare a few minutes to read


Before I talk about that though, I want to dispose of something else.  Every

time the issue of our union’s involvement in electoral politics comes up, I

will hear from nurses who feel that we “should not be involved in politics”.

I often feel that what they really mean is that they disagree with our

political choices, but I’ll take the statement at face value and respond to

it on that basis.

In the course of your nursing career, from student to working nurse, here

are just some of the ways that the political process has affected you and

your practice:

As a student:

Whether there is a place available for you in a nursing school.  What

requirements you have to meet to get in.  What the qualifications of the

faculty are.  How much they get paid.  What is included in the curriculum.

What is on the test you take to get licensed.

As a practicing nurse:

What standard of practice you have to meet.  What is within your legal scope

to do.  What happens to you if you are injured at work.  What happens if you

are accused of a legal violation.  Whether lesser trained people can take

parts of your scope of practice.  Whether your patient has health coverage

or not.  Whether you have a right to join a union.  Whether you have a right

to a meal break or rest break.  How many patients you have to care for.

Whether the building in which you work is likely to stand or fall in an


That’s just a very partial list, but you get the idea: every one of those

issues above is decided through the political process – by elected officials

or those appointed by elected officials.  Any nurse who does not want to

participate in politics, or believes that an association representing nurses

ought not participate in politics is saying that we should leave all those

critical decisions about our  working lives and professional practice to

someone else.

Enough about that.

The election for governor this year presents an important choice on a number

of issues that affect nurses.  And it is going to be a very high profile and

unusual contest.  Former Ebay CEO Meg Whitman has already put $59 million of

her own very large fortune into the race and – with 7 months still to go –

is likely to put in a good deal more.  The amount she seems prepared to

spend will make this the most expensive governor’s race in the history of

the country.  It is an amount so large that it dwarfs normal political


A couple of weeks ago, the Board of Directors of CNA voted unanimously to

endorse Whitman’s opponent, State Attorney General and former Governor Jerry

Brown.  We intend to do all we can to support his election and it’s

important that you understand why.

We do not make political endorsements on the basis of party.  We support

candidates who support us on the issues we care about: the right to a safe

workplace, the ability to provide safe care to our patients, the right to

join a union, access to health care, the right to a break during your

workday, fair compensation if you are injured at work.  The kind of simple

bread and butter issues that ought not to have a party label attached to


On those issues, and others like them, everything we know about Meg Whitman

tells us she is on the wrong side.  Since she has never held elective

office, rarely even voted, and provides few specifics of her plans, her

record of actual action is thin.  But what we know from her public

statements and the histories of her supporters and advisors tells us that

she can be counted on to take the side of business against the interest of

workers or patients.

Her key advisor and political mentor is former Governor Pete Wilson.  Wilson

played a similar role for the current governor.  Wilson vetoed our staffing

ratio bill the first time it passed and supported Arnold’s effort to roll

back that bill in 2005.  Under Whitman as governor, we could expect more

attacks on safe staffing.  The past two years we pushed through the

legislature a bill to require lift teams in hospitals to reduce injury to

nurses.  Arnold has vetoed it twice and will again this year.  Whitman could

be counted on to veto it if elected.  Brown could be counted on to sign it.

One of our current top legislative priorities is  “presumptive eligibility”.

This is an effort to give nurses the same sort of protection that police and

firefighters currently enjoy.  If a firefighter develops lung disease, to

give just one example, it is presumed be job related – he isn’t forced to

prove it is.  We think nurses should have the same presumption in the case

of MRSA or a

career ending back or shoulder injury.  We will probably pass that through

the legislature this year but expect Arnold to veto it.  As would Whitman if

elected.  Brown would sign it if elected.

In contrast to Whitman, Jerry Brown, of course, has a very long record in

public office.  One thing about such a record is that anyone with enough

time (or money) to spend can comb through it and find things to use against

a candidate – often distorted or taken out of context.

But here are just a few items from that record of special interest to


1. As governor, signed the very first staffing ratio bill in the country –

it only covered ICUs, but in its time even that was revolutionary.  If

you’ve spent your career in a critical care area, that’s the reason you

haven’t been forced to take 3 and 4 patients as still happens routinely in

some states.

2. As governor, signed the bill that gave collective bargaining rights to

nurses at UC hospitals.  Today, those nurses make up a substantial fraction

of CNA’s membership and help to raise standards for all of us.

3. As attorney general, has initiated investigations and suits against some

of the worst practices of the insurance industry – denials of coverage,

denials of care and cancelling policies after the patient becomes sick.

For the last 7 years we have suffered under a governor who has been a

consistent enemy to nurses and patients and has always favored big business

over workers or consumers.  We don’t need 4 more years of that.

There is no way for us or any other union to match the financial resources

that Meg Whitman brings to her campaign.  And we shouldn’t try.  Nor can

conventional political fundraising level the playing field.  Our campaign

will be about people power and will depend on the volunteer help – the time

and energy – of many people.  There will be many opportunities to help out.

Please let me know especially if you would like to be part of the campaign.

David Welch

CNA Board of Directors

Chief Nurse Rep, Enloe Medical Center.