Tag Archives: Hector de la Torre

Dave Jones Gets Endorsement, No Endorsement in LG

Our apologies for being a little quiet here on Calitics this weekend.  The convention has been a wee bit hectic for all of us. We’ll get you a more detailed recap soon,  but there were a few details that were worth sharing.

In the Insurance Commissioners race, Dave Jones was able to squeak out the endorsement.  It was certainly a dramatic race, with both campaigns doing a really good job of rallying support. But in the end, Dave Jones’ progressive base was simply too much for Hector de la Torre to overcome.  The endorsement won’t necessarily bring a big windfall, Chair Burton has said that they won’t be spending any money in primaries.  But, hey, Jones will now get that lower postage rate that everybody was seeking.  Of course, the cache of the Democratic Party endorsement will be quite powerful on the mail that we will likely be seeing coming out of Jones’ campaign very shortly.  I like both of these guys, but in the interest of full disclosure, I did end up voting for Dave Jones. Either will make a much better insurance commissioner than Steve Poizner, that’s for sure.

In the LG race, Gavin Newsom won the outright vote, but didn’t get the endorsement. I know the Hahn folks were trying to spin this as a win, but I just don’t get it.  Newsom had already declined to seek the endorsement a while back, and it was Janice Hahn’s campaign who forced the issue. If I recall correctly, the vote was about 57-43 52-42 in favor of Newsom. Which, considering Newsom’s past, is fairly respectable. But, again, I’m not entirely sure why we went through the process. Perhaps Garry South figured it would make Gavin work and might cause some sort of game-changing drama.  That clearly didn’t happen, and Hahn is still looking for some way of overcoming Newsom’s advantage in name ID.

On the Props, the resolutions committee went the right way on all the props, and we’ll approve them.  They supported Prop 15, the fair elections initiative, and Prop 13, a measure that would change the way seismic retrofits are taxed.  They opposed Prop 14 (“open” primaries), Prop 16 (PG&E Power Grab), and Prop 17 (Mercury Insurance power grab).

General session is about to start, and we’ll wrap up the festivities, approve reports of the committees, and perhaps get a chance to vote on a few endorsements. I know at least one campaign was trying to get signatures, but I don’t know what came of it.  A full recap to come soon.

Budget Games Playing to Appearances, Not to Reality As Cuts Deal Moves Forward

So, this is apparently the “easy part”?

Democratic state senators pushed the first budget cuts of 2010 through a key committee Wednesday, slicing government payroll costs by 5% and cutting $811 million from the prisons’ healthcare budget.

The votes were the first on budget matters since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called a special session last month to address California’s roughly $20-billion deficit. Lawmakers deferred decisions on how much to cut from California schools and social services — the state’s costliest programs — until summer budget talks. (LA Times)

The easy part apparently involves going to the federal prison receiver and begging for help, because if they haven’t done that already, they better start doing it now.  As the healthcare system has been the center of the prison receivership, you don’t just cut money from under a federal court’s nose.

Meanwhile, the Assembly spent their time hamming it up “for appearances,” don’t you know? Like the waste of having safe airports, and the waste of having serviceable state vehicles. The airports one is my favorite.

The Department of Transportation was asked about a single-engine plane it bought for nearly $1 million. Mike Miles,  operations director, said the plane is needed for inspections of public airports and other required aerial duties. It will replace one that is more than 40 years old, and, because of the fiscal crisis, delivery is not planned until 2010-11.

Oh, did the Assembly Panel nail them or what?! Can you believe they want to replace their 40-year-old single engine plane? Why, they don’t make them like they used to back in 1970. It is clear that the DOT is just “tone-deaf” to the people!

“We’ve got to answer to our constituents – and they’re screaming at us,” Assemblyman Tom Berryhill, R-Modesto, said of state spending.

*** **** **** ***

“They need to realize that to the general public and to us, the Legislature, they sound a little tone deaf,” Assemblyman Hector De La Torre, a South Gate Democrat who chairs the committee, said of the millions spent for seemingly routine items. (SacBee)

So, as I have it, the public is “screaming” for unsafe airports and dangerous state parks, is that right Assemblymen?  How’s about this for an answer to your screaming constituents, Asm. Berryhill: We spend this money to protect public safety.

Perhaps the reason the public is screaming is that nobody has bothered to tell them why the state budget is so important. Or perhaps done anything to address why we are paying near usurious interest rates rather than increasing revenue to provide for ongoing services.

So, we’re taking care of the “easy” part, but be prepared for a long, hot summer.

LACDP Summit Lunch Liveblog: Coalition Building

Following is the liveblog of the LACDP Summit Lunch Panel on Coalition Building with:

  • Assemblymember De La Torre
  • Peggy Moore of OFA
  • Henry Vandermeir of the CDC
  • Arisha Michelle Hatch of the Courage Campaign
  • Dorothy Reik of PDA
  • Gary Vaughn of SEIU 721

This very interesting panel was moderated by Assemblymember John Perez.  

John Perez:  Great to be here, we’ve got a great panel of people who have been involved in coalition politics.  People use the term “coalition” in many different ways, some not so good, such as Bush’s “coalition of the willing”, some good such as when progressive groups come together.  Coalitions are a coming together of different groups for a shared interest.  They’ve identified that interest in themselves, and someone else.

First and foremost, you have to frame the issue around which people will coalesce.  Second, you need to have trust between the partners.  Third, there has to be a mechanism to mitigate when coalition partners have a dispute.  Last, there have to be ways to measure success, and ways to build on that success to move forward.

One example of a coalition coming together on a specific approach will be presented by Assemblymember Hector De La Torre.

Assemblymember De La Torre: AB1060 is a bill that requires that all alcohol sales at grocery stores be done where there is a human checkout person who will check all the codes.  Currently you can go to an automated stand with only one person monitoring 4 or 6 machines.  One person can’t monitor all of this, and it’s not just about minors.  It’s also illegal to sell alcohol to someone who is already drunk.  If you aren’t next to the person and able to check, you can’t tell.  Also, teenagers have figured out how to bypass the the freeze mechanism to get around the alcohol sales barrier.  No one is saying that the alcohol has to be locked away like cigarettes, just that a human has to be at the checkout.

Labor is with us on the bill, but it couldn’t be UFCW versus the grocery stores.  So we need to build a coalition.  Young people, parents’ groups, PTA, MADD, etc.  And it was hard, because there were other issues including Mike Feuer’s lock device bill.  It took a while but we were able to convince them that this was in their interest and necessary.  And in the end, UFCW never appeared publicly as the supporter of the bill, but rather PTAs and MADD and those other groups.  You have to figure out who the best spokesperson and the best face for the issue is.  It’s nice to be right, but winning is important.  You have to have the right face on it.  And AB1060 is still on the Senate Floor, so please sign in favor of it.

Question: These machines are anti-employee!  We need to boycott any stores that have them.

De la Torre: I get askede a lot about whether it’s a labor bill.  It’s not: it’s about how we conduct business in this state.  We the people get to decide how business is conducted in the state.

Perez: That was a great example of how to build a coalition.  In terms of format, we’re going to take 20-25 minutes to go through the panel.  Each panelist will take about 4-5 minutes to give their presentation, then I will moderate the Q&A.  First presenter is Peggy Moore.  Peggy is Political Director of OFA, has organized various campaigns for social justice in Oakland.

Peggy Moore: OFA serves as the President’s field team.  The election last year was exciting and folks got involved who had never been involved in a campaign before.  It was an historic movement, but getting into office was just the beginning of making the change.  OFA was created so that we can support the President on the ground.  Staff of 9 in California, but we’re in 48 states.  We have a phenomenal group of volunteers, and we were phonebanking our hearts out from one congressperson to another, depending on who we needed to give our love to.  Right now it’s all about supporting the healthcare agenda.  But pretty soon it’ll be energy, and immigration and other issues.  So we’re working with HCAN, labor, done press conferences, actions, phonebank, etc.  And when we move to education, we’ll be expanding our coalition building.

We are a part of the DNC.  OFA is a project of the DNC.  Our structure works where we have community organizers who create neighborhood teams.  We want to have people ready and waiting on the ground in an instant when we need to support the president.  We have 150 to 175 organizers ready on the ground.  We’re training people to be ready for action.  The issue is transferrable, doesn’t matter what it is.  We’re just trained to be on the ground and help people organize.  We’ve also been working with Learn to Win.

Perez: Thank you Peggy. Next up is Henry Vandermeir, serving in second term as Chairman of the CDC, and Political Director of the Orange County Democratic Party.

Henry Vandermeir: Obviously, one of the things from the party’s point of view from the coalition point of view is to get our own party working together.  With over 400 clubs across the state, getting them to cooperate is important.  Or if there is a speaker coming and you don’t have enough people in your club, invite people from other clubs to come.  Work together on it and help activate people and get a candidate elected.

It’s important to reach out to PDA, Wellstone and all the other groups out there.  We’re all working toward the same goals.  Not a single one of all these organizations has the resources to do what needs to be done in California all by themselves.  So we need to make them realize that in order to make things happen in this state, we need to cooperate.  Leave our egos at the door when you walk in, work together, quit worrying about “these are our people, these are our precint leaders”.  That’s what gets us into trouble.

There have been issues getting cooperation between clubs and OFA.  We need to reach out to them and make sure that we’re all working together.  It’s not rocket science, it’s all common sense.  That’s what we need to do at the club level.  We cannot reinvent the wheel, we don’t have the resources individually, we need to work together on all of this.

Perez: Next is Arisha Michelle Hatch, the Southern California field manager of the Courage Campaign.  She’s responsible for organizing volunteers on a county by county basis.

Hatch: We’re like MoveOn.org but for California.  We like to call ourselves the greenhouse for the grassroots, in that we have a lot of different members with a lot of different interests.  I work for the Equality Program, which was established after the passage of Prop 8.  We sent out a viral video ad called Don’t Divorce Us, which got a lot of new members.  While many of those are interested in marriage equality, most are interested in healthcare, and secondarily education.  I joined Courage because they were trying to emulate what Obama did during the election.  The Equality Program was founded because every 4 years, California does a great job exporting labor and talent to the battleground states to the detriment of California, so we’re out here to build a permanent progressive infrastructure in California.  In terms of Equality, it’s not just about marriage: it’s about making sure the playing field is level in all areas such as education and healthcare.

Perez: Next is Dorothy Reik, Vice Chair of Progressive Democrats of Los Angeles, delegate to the CDP from the 41st assembly.  Led a series of forums on single payer healthcare, Gaza, food safety, etc.  She comes to us through the peace movement, and her club has close ties to the Topanga Peace movement.

Reik: PDA was started by Tim Carpenter after the 2004 DNC convention.  The idea was to further our progressive agenda by working inside and outside the party.  That means working with groups that don’t traditionally work with the party.  We have six issues: healthcare for all.  We don’t support hte public option, and stick to that.  We’re upset about the removal of the Kucinich Amendment.  We want out of Afghanistan and Pakistan, and want to end all wars.  We want economic and social justice, everyone should be treated equally.  And as far as right to marriage, we want everyone to be able to marry.  Clean and fair elections, which we don’t have in this country: we can’t have voting machines at the front end or the back end either.  Stop global warming, environmental issues we’re on the front lines working against the corporations who want to keep overheating our globe and world until our children don’t have a world to work in.  If you think oil wars are bad, wait until we get water wars.  And accountability, because Obama’s Attorney General won’t prosecute for torture.  We want Obama to address our issues, not Obama’s issues.  We want OFA to work with us, and take directions from us, because we believe Obama has been taking directions from the corporations.

We have conference calls where you can talk to Tim Carpenter.  I get jealous listening to OFA talking about paid staff.  Outside of Tim Carpenter who gets a stipend, almost all of our people are volunteers.

Perez: Final panelist is Jerry Vaughn.  Public Relations Director of SEIU 721, the largest public employee union in CA since 2005.  721 represents more than 80,000 public works from Santa Barbara to Orange County to the border.

Gary Vaughn: With such a large region like that, we have a diverse region that we represent.  Social workers, sanitation workers, RNs, attorneys.  We’ve worked with OFA on various issues and a number of other orgs.  Oftentimes, unfortunately, we are good at making use of other organizations, but we have a difficult time reciprocating.  We don’t have a permanent structure in the community, but rather come in to help win an election.  That’s where we can make improvements to build coalitions.  And we can work better with people on the other side of the ideological divide.

Question from Deana Igelsrud: I’m the e-board rep from the 47th district and co-chair of CA Majority Rule.  A lot of your volunteers were new to the process and excited about the election.  Many of the more seasoned veterans are more interested in the issues.  How do you build coalitions with new people and keep them engaged when it comes to issues?

Perez: Part of the difference is between building an electoral coaliton and a governing coalition.

Peggy: We all supported Barack, but many of us have issues with how he’s handling healthcare.  So we’ve had camps and trainings to invite people to participate.  We are organizing people around healthcare.  We’re online, calling structures we have in place.  And then when it comes to education and energy, those issues pop in too.  People will show up based on their passion.  Our job and focus is to teach people to organize effectively in their communities.

Perez: It seems like every election cycle, you see a peak of activism, but then some people drop off, and some stay involved.  So people who were involved in 2004 now see themselves as old hands.  How has that experience been, Peggy?

Reik: PDA truly is a movement.  We reach out not only to Democratic clubs to work with us, but we also reach out to other groups in the city and the state to groups like One Care Now, and the group standing against the Three Strikes Law.  So we try to reach people and bring them into the Party and into the progressive movement who may not have been politically involved before.  If someone came to me interested in food safety legislation, we did a forum for that to help teach people about that.

Thom O’Shaughnessy: How do we follow and deal with these three tenets: 1) learning how to agree to disagree, 2) how to marry orthodoxy with pragmatism, and 3) how to trade horses in a soft IOU for working on each other’s issues?

Gary Vaughn: We don’t have an answer to those dynamics.  When we have 30 asks of the legislature, given what we can accomplish, can we make 30 asks effectively?  Maybe we need to bullet down to 3 or 4.  Others would say no, we have to push all our issues.  But in other circumstances, we need to know what we have to walk away from the table having gotten.  Our first rule is, do no harm, especially since we have so many budget cuts.  And let’s look at who is doing the work.  And certainly, having wealthier Americans and Californians paying more is worth looking at.

Perez: There’s been a significant debate about gay marriage, given CA and ME.  One complaint is that the LGBT movement hasn’t been involved in coalition politics, that they ask for help but don’t necessarily provide it.  Arisha, what are the challenges in bringing people out of their comfort zone?

Arisha: Courage is well-situated to work on this issue.  Courage is multi-issue unlike some of the other organizations.  One of the things we’re trying to stress in our organizing work is trying to get people to show up, and stress the importance of showing up for community organizing work.  One of the things we’ve been trying to do is stress the importance of not being a one-issue movement.  Bringing people along in their feelings about marriage equality is important, but has to be paired with helping with the issues that matter to them.

Carolyn Fowler: These are not, or shouldn’t be competing organizations.  What is the best way for organizations to reach out to the clubs?

Henry Vandermeir: One of the things you need to do is find out who you’re actually going to talk to.  Know what your resources are.  Common sense would tell you we have all the contact information for all the clubs.  If we want OFA to contact them, well, why not just go to the source?  Make it easy.  It’s a two way situation though.  We don’t just need to contact the presidents.  They also need to contact us.

Peggy: We work closely with the CDP, and getting a list of all the clubs.  We’re going to be at the eboard meeting coming up next weekend.  Coming up and saying, this is who we are and how we work together.

Dorothy Reik: We do it the old-fashioned way, pick up the telephone and call up the club leaders in our area, see if they’ll cosponsor, or join our food safety or other forum.  We have organizing calls, ways to reach out to club presidents and other people, and would love to work with OFA and other groups.

Question: Republicans by and large stand together and are united in their ranks.  We have as Democrats got not to do that among ourselves.  If you don’t like something Obama is doing or whatever, that’s fine and do it in private.  But in a public forum, I find it very offensive to be attacking Obama and what he’s trying to accomplish.

Perez: I’ll take that as a comment.

Question: We have a challenge of people not voting for candidates or working for candidates, and focusing instead on issues.  They need to work for candidates as well.

Gary Vaughn: We do trade with candidates: we work on your campaign, and we’d like you to work with us on these issues.

Question: I’m very disappointed in Organizing for America.  And I love PDA.  You’ve had time to organize your people, and i’ve been to several OFA house parties.  But they don’t teach people how to organize.  They don’t have to join a Democratic club, but they are afraid to even visit a club.  You are spending money giving orders, call this person and say that, not teaching them how to think.  I would like to see Obama people not be afraid of us.

Perez: People take various tones, some more positive and some more critical.  I would ask us to be as productive and respectful in our discourse as possible.  Sometimes it’s hard not to feel the passion we feel about these issues.  There is concern with the difference between a bottom-up approach and a top-down approach, so speak to those issues.

Peggy Moore: I’m proud to work for OFA.  And I’m a president of an East Bay Democratic club.  I understand some of those frustrations that people might have.  But there is a focus we have.  We decided that the issue was healthcare, and this is how we’re going to organize around healthcare.  And there are some groups that think we should be approaching it in a certain way.  I’m not going to be on the street with Organizing for America, challenging the President.  That’s not going to roll.  Other organizations can do that, and they have every right to.  By pushing Single Payer, we may have gotten a public option, which wasn’t on the table before.  But we have a job and responsibility, and we have other issues to deal with as well.  We listen to people about how to do our job better.  We are training people to do the job, and we’ve been around less than a year.  And a lot of the people who voted for Obama and who need healthcare are not Democrats.  So it’s important that we continue to have these conversations.  I will come to a Democratic club and have a conversation with you, I’ll give you my card.  We may not always agree, and I’m OK with that.

Perez: It is a very difficult transition to go from being an activist to running an electoral campaign, and then move to how to govern.  Understanding that as a legislator, understanding that I had to choose often between a number of undesirable options, it’s very difficult.  But it is incredibly valid for us to be frustrated and to express that frustration, because we too came to the campaign with expectations and we want to see many of those expectations met.  So thank you for your openness and commitment to working with all the clubs, and you hear the frustration expressed, and after all these years in the wilderness we want to get as much as we can as quickly as we can.

Question: The point was to encourage Obama activists to get involved in the clubs.

Peggy Moore: We do encourage people to participate.  We have several members from the Obama campaign, that once the campaign was over, were looking for a place to go.  And some of the members have participated in the Democratic clubs.  And some of the clubs are better than others.  And when you get them in the door, we need to keep them in the door.

Eric Bauman: We need to be careful about putting fingers in people’s eyes.  There are Obama activists who don’t like the Party or our movement.  Just as there were Dean activists with the same perspective.  We need to be figuring out how to do this together.  The other side is together and working together.  We need to work together and stop poking fingers in each other’s eyes.

Question: I’m from the John Muir Democratic Club.  How do we raise consciousness of a particular Get Out of Afghanistan bill?

Henry Vandermeir: As far as getting resources, you need to figure out which organizations are going to be more receptive to what you’re working on.  As mentioned previously, some organizations are particularly focused on certain issues, so it has to be a targeted campaign.  Same thing goes for organizations, you have to figure out which organizations are going to be helpful and cooperative, and which will not.

Perez: Just take a last minute from each of you to talk about any takeaway messages in terms of investing in coalition politics.

Dorothy Reik: We need to work together, but we need to give our message to the powers that be to tell them what we think are the best policies.  We need to elect Democrats, but not just any Democrats.  We need to elect the Democrats who are in favor of what we believe in.   We have one of those, Marcy Winograd, running against Jane Harman.

Gary Vaughn: When we talk about coalitions, we have to try to make connections outside of our norm, including with moderates and conservatives.  Break through the partisanship.

Peggy Moore: Thank you for giving me the opportunity.  I need all of you, your mentorship, need you to keep us on track.  We’re working for a better America.  I want to personally invite you over to the opening of our new office at Centinela and Jefferson in Culver City on Thursday.

Arisha Michelle Hatch: I’m personally a baby of the Obama movement.  I challenge you as leaders and organizers to plug into the energy of the movement, and challenge you to question whether you’re creating an environment conducive to plugging in.

Henry Vandermier: Tolerance is a virtue.  If people agree with you 50%-75%, then consider yourself lucky.  Remember that when you go to work on coalitions.

Perez: I want to thank the panel, and bring back Eric Bauman.

Eric Bauman: Thanks to our moderator Assemblymember Perez.

1st Half Money Race: Insurance Commissioner

UPDATE: I can’t forget about the other Democratic candidate: SF Supervisor Michela Alioto-Pier thinks she’s running for the race as well.  She entered the race too late to file for the July filings.

Here’s today’s entry into my continuing money race series: insurance commissioner. The insurance commissioner is kind of a strange gig. There are a number of other insurance regulators in the governor’s administration that also do a lot of regulation that the title is kind of overbroad.  For example, the department of managed care regulates HMOs and most health insurance, so strike that one off the list. Although I’m not really sure it should be an elected position, the insurance commissioner does play an important role in publicly defining the relationship between the state and insurers.

This should be an interesting race. In theory, it’s one of those races where typically people vote based upon party because they haven’t really heard of the candidates.  The exception would be 2006 when voters had heard enough about the Democratic candidate, Cruz Bustamante, to know they thought his campaign slogan was very apt: Lose with Cruz. Seriously, the campaign was something about weight loss or something.

Anyway, this time you have three Assembly members running for the race, with the Republican, Mike Villines, probably having the highest profile due to his Assembly Minority Leader position until he was deposed after the February budget deal. On the Democratic side you have Dave Jones, a long-time progressive who is pretty popular with the grassroots wherever he goes, and Hector De La Torre, a pretty good guy himself.

Account/Candidate Dave Jones Hector De La Torre Mike Villines
1st Half Contribs $293,190.97 $528,459.96 $612,399.00
Ending Cash IC Account $257,788.86 $512,328.15 $185,944.93
Assembly Account $845,398.04 n/a $44,717.28
Total Cash $1,103,186.90 $512,328.15 $230,662.21

All of the candidates are pretty good fundraisers, but Villines has one key advantage: he’s taking money from every insurance company he can.  He’s received money from Aetna ($1500), Farmers ($3900) and the Association of California Insurance Companies PAC ($2000), among others. Asm. Jones has said that he will not accept any insurance money, and I found no evidence that he has done so.  Asm. De La Torre has taken a few contributions from insurance companies as well, but it seems to be less pervasive than Villines. That being said, if you are looking for the guy who is keeping as far away from taking money from the people you are supposed to be regulating, there is a clear winner: Dave Jones. UPDATE: It turns out those transactions were old, dating all the way back to 2006 and 2007. Asm. De La Torre has also pledged to take no insurance company money for this campaign.  It is reassuring that both Democrats see this as an important issue this time around.

As for the money totals, Dave Jones takes a huge cash on hand advantage into the race from his assembly account. Contributions for the first half of the year, despite looking lopsided in favor of Villines and De La Torre, were actually quite equal, as both of those candidates included transfers from their old accounts into their new insurance commissioner accounts. Keeping track of Villines money was particularly confusing because he also has an account for state senate in 2014 where he raised for the first part of the year, and the transferred to the IC account.  Nonetheless, each raised slightly under $300K for the first half of the year. Villines spent a ton of money, over $400K. It seems to have gone to slate mailers, so perhaps this was related to the May 19 election. Otherwise, I’m not sure when these mailers are going to go out.

This should be an interesting race. The Democratic primary could be an interesting discussion between two qualified candidates, while the general election could end up being a little more competitive than we’d like.

Asm. Hector De La Torre: No More Large Cash Payments to Candidate Coffers

This post was written by Asm. Hector De La Torre (D-South Gate) and is being promoted pursuant to our policy to bump post from candidates and electeds.

Democratic Party activists have complained to me for years about the Party’s finances.  Alex Rooker and Eric Bradley have also been concerned, and shared  their frustration with me.

If we agree there is a problem, then we need a solution.  That is why I decided to introduce a Resolution at the upcoming Democratic Party Convention and asked Alex and Eric to join as co-sponsors:  to fix our Party so we can get more Democrats elected!

But we can’t do it alone.  This common sense CDP finance reform resolution is the beginning of coming together for reform.  I strongly believe that when delegates come together in support of this resolution, it will send a loud message for positive change throughout the Party.

The companion measure to our resolution is a bylaw amendment that will block cash payments to politicians’ campaign accounts (especially those that are termed-out).  I am confident that broad delegate support will build momentum to make this long-overdue change happen–to stop spending that does not meet our main goal of electing more Democrats at the federal, state, and local level and supporting worthy ballot measures.

I encourage every delegate, and every Democrat, to visit our website: www.LetsFixCDP.com and sign up for our reform effort.  As we saw in November, we can accomplish amazing things when we unite for change as Democrats.

What Do Health Insurers – and Arnold – Have Against Motherhood?

In a sign of the growing health care crisis in California, the number of health insurance policies offering maternity benefits – from pre-natal screenings to birth – has dropped dramatically in recent years. In the aftermath of the failure of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Year of Health Care Reform” in 2007 all sides agreed to pursue greater regulation of the insurance industry as a stopgap before a broader solution was reached. And yet Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed a bill that would have mandated insurance plans cover maternity.

About 805,000 Californians have insurance policies that specifically exclude maternity coverage – a number that has more than quadrupled from 192,000 in 2004, according to the California Health Benefits Review Program, which provides independent analysis of proposed health insurance benefits mandates.

“You see this tremendous jump in just a few years. That’s where we’re going with this,” said Assemblyman Hector De La Torre, D-South Gate (Los Angeles County), whose bill to require maternity coverage is headed to the Assembly Health Committee today. Insurance companies are “pushing these policies clearly onto people, and people are making their decisions based solely on dollars and cents.”

De La Torre’s bill, AB 98, would solve this problem. But Arnold has repeatedly vetoed the bill, including one by then-State Senator Jackie Speier in 2004.

The failure of insurance companies to provide these basic benefits is especially acute here in Monterey County. The Chronicle article linked above profiled Wendy Root Askew, a good friend of mine, whose experience typifies the problem that results from insurers’ refusal to provide basic maternity benefits:

When Wendy Root Askew of Monterey started looking for a doctor she hoped would be her gynecologist as well as deliver her future children, she was shocked to discover her health insurance policy didn’t include a single OB/GYN in her county.

The 31-year-old considered changing health plans. But then she learned that while 85 percent of the plans available in Monterey County offered maternity coverage five years ago, just 15 percent offer it now.

She found only two individual policies that included maternity, but they were three to five times as much as the policy she already had and came with annual deductibles of up to $15,000.

What the insurers that oppose AB 98 claim is that if a woman gets pregnant, she can purchase maternity benefits for an “additional sum”. Insurers claim this amount is small, but as Wendy found it is anything but small – it can be as much as five times the monthly cost of existing health insurance. A $15,000 deductible is essentially punishing women for getting pregnant, a stunning example of gender bias and inequality in an insurance system where prostate exams are routinely covered by basic plans.

Some insurers, and Republican opponents of AB 98 like Audra Strickland, claim that it would cost all Californians more money to mandate maternity benefits be included in all health insurance policies. And while that might mean a whopping average increase of $7 per month per policy (oh noez!) for Californians, the savings are actually much larger. Numerous studies show that proper prenatal care is vital to the long-term health of a child. By spending a little more per month to ensure all insurance policies provide expectant mothers with maternity benefits, we will be saving a far larger sum when their children turn out to be healthier.

Strickland in particular argues that it’s a matter of choice – if women want to get pregnant, they should choose to pay the extra cost. This is absurd on its face. By segmenting high-cost risks out of the insurance “market” you’re also actually undermining the entire system of insurance. Insurance is supposed to work by pooling the cost of risk, making it cheaper for everyone to get health care. By dumping the costs of pregnancy onto a small handful of people, health care costs actually soar, public health is undermined, and insurance as a system will go from a state of near-collapse to total collapse.

In reality Strickland, and Arnold Schwarzenegger, are arguing that the only “choice” here is whether one accepts that unless you’re wealthy or lucky enough to still have a job with group coverage, you’re going to not be able to afford to have a child. It’s typical conservatism – the rich can afford the basics of life, and who cares about those who cannot?

There is no plausible reason to oppose AB 98, and certainly no reason for Arnold Schwarzenegger to again veto the bill, unless he believes that society has no obligation at all to ensure that mothers and their children are healthy. And while AB 98 won’t solve the health care crisis itself – and it’s surely no substitute for true universal health care – it is a sensible and necessary move to provide gender equity and basic health care to mothers and children.

Over the flip is Wendy Root Askew’s testimony given to an Assembly committee on AB 98 last week.

My name is Wendy Askew and I am here to testify on behalf of AB 98 – the maternity services bill from Assemblyman Hector D La Torre. I would like to thank my representatives Assemblyman Bill Monning and Assemblywoman Anna Caballero for co-sponsoring this bill. I’d also like to introduce my husband Dominick, my mom Gail, my good friends Shirley and Jessica who are here to support me today.  

Recently my two sisters and I traveled to Santa Barbara to celebrate my mother’s graduation from a Master’s degree program in Pre and Perinatal Psychology.  We were slightly amused, but very proud, to sit in the audience as she presented her thesis on “Grandmother Connection”.  You should know that despite having three daughters in their mid to late twenties, my mother is not yet a grandmother; thus our amusement with the topic.

As a result, I decided it was time to start building a relationship with an OB-GYN who would eventually help my mom become a grandmother.  I was surprised to find that my insurance plan did not have one single contracted OB-GYN in my County.  However, I figured it was a good thing I had plenty of time to get a new insurance plan that actually included these doctors.

The real shocker came when my insurance broker explained that almost all of the plans offered in my County excluded maternity coverage.  I had a hard time swallowing the details of the only two plans that actually included maternity coverage.  It became clear that the risk pool for these plans was limited to women who intended to become pregnant and thus the plans were significantly more expensive than my current high deductible plan.

I felt I was an expensive liability that was going to drain our hard earned savings and saddle our family with medical debt.  I felt guilty for indulging in my dream of being a self-employed small business owner.  I felt like a second-class citizen at the mercy of decision makers who didn’t care about my health, dreams or goals.  The more I learned, the more disheartened I felt with the whole system.

Dominick and I take pride in being financially responsible.  Dominick is a self-employed licensed architect.  I started a fruit brokerage business.  We built a solid emergency fund. We set up and made regular contributions to our retirement accounts.  We each carried a high-deductible individual health insurance policy.  We live frugally, but very comfortably.  We made conscious decisions to build flexibility into our careers that would allow us to support our future family.  

For us, the issue of maternity coverage will be resolved when I accept a new job with a large employer who offers an excellent group insurance plan.  Ironically the new job will provide me with the maternity coverage I need to start a family, while ultimately preventing me from maintaining the work-life balance that will allow me to actually raise my family.  It will be difficult to leave behind a small company that I built, but my mother will be thrilled to know that at least one of her daughters has the relevant insurance coverage to make her a grandma!

I am here testifying before you today because the rules governing the Individual Health Insurance market, specifically as they relate to the exclusion of maternity coverage, preventing young couples like me and Dominick, from being able to start a family without the threat of financial ruin or dependence on state subsidized programs.  I’ve learned that the issues surrounding health reform are exceedingly complicated, and the solutions are riddled with trade-offs.  Without this legislation and without access to comprehensive individual health insurance that includes maternity, women face exceptional challenges as entrepreneurs or as stay at home mothers.

Thank you for allowing me to share my story today.  

Again I strongly urge you to vote for AB 98.

Arnold Vetoes Anti-Rescission Bill

Hector De La Torre’s bill, AB 1945, which would have forced health plans to seek approval from a third party before rescinding health insurance – a VERY common practice, unfortunately – was vetoed by Arnold today. Interestingly, Arnold was for it before he was against it as De La Torre noted:

Having the governor not engage in any discussions or negotiations for months, and then just veto the bill is astonishing,” he said. “The issue was good enough to use as an applause line in his State of the State Address in January, but not to sign a good piece of legislation that would protect insured people in the individual market.

It’s another sop to the HMOs, whose business model relies on preventing people from getting the health care they need. This is especially true on the individual health insurance market (the one John McCain wants you to rely on) – if you get sick, the insurance company is going to comb over your application, your policy, and your life with a fine toothed comb to find a reason to cut you off and watch you suffer.

Arnold has vetoed a lot of bills this session, but few vetoes will hurt more Californians than this one.  

Al Gore on California Education Funding

(full disclosure: I work for Courage)

Vice President Al Gore recorded a video and wrote an email to Courage Campaign members about the importance of investing in education even during a time of economic crisis.

In it Al Gore asks for people to respond back to him directly on Current.com with either a video response or text.  They have a pretty nifty tool that will detect a webcam on your computer and let you respond right there, just scroll down to the bottom.

On Monday, I went to the capitol and filmed 18 different Assemblymembers responding to Al Gore.  Dave has been cutting them into individual videos and uploading them.  Below the fold is the rest of the email from Gore.  I had hoped to be able to embed those videos from the Assemblymembers here, but the code from Current is not playing nicely, so you will have to click the link to see.

Assemblyman Anthony Portantino AD-44, Assemblywoman Betty Karnette AD-54, Assemblyman Dave Jones, AD-09, Assemblyman Kevin DeLeon AD-45, Assemblyman Ed Hernandez AD-57, Assemblyman Hector De La Torre AD-50, Assemblyman John Laird AD-27, Assemblyman Lloyd Levine AD-40, Assemblyman Lori Saldana AD-76, Assemblyman Sandré Swanson AD-16 and there are a few more coming including Speaker Karen Bass.

Dear Julia,

I don’t write emails like this often.

But, with Californians facing a massive budget crisis and potentially devastating cuts to education, I feel compelled to speak out. As members of the Courage Campaign community, I hope you will speak out as well.

I recorded this one-minute video for the Courage Campaign on Current.com. Please watch it and let me know what you think by recording a short video or written response of your own.

Jann Wenner, the publisher of Rolling Stone magazine, asked me an interesting question in an interview a few months ago:

“How do we engineer the sweeping social and political and industrial change that we need in a short period of time, from top to bottom?”

My answer is that we must create a shift in consciousness — and, education is the catalyst for this shift.

That’s why I recorded this video for the Courage Campaign. Please watch it on Current.com and, if you feel so inspired, respond with a webcam video or text response of your own.

Education is not a partisan issue. It is a crucial building block toward creating a more informed democracy. We can solve the climate crisis, and every other problem facing our nation, if we begin by transforming America’s priorities on education.

As parents, teachers and students speak out about these proposed cuts, they need your support, now more than ever. Please forward this message to your friends who care about the future of California and our country as much as you do.

I hope you will take a moment today to record a short webcam video or write a response to my video. Your voice, and the voices of your friends, can change the conversation in California.

Thank you,

Al Gore

Lots of thanks to Steve Maviglio for help getting the legislators to come give their responses to Gore.

Nuñez’s House Cleaning

Because I’m dumb: corrected to Portantino from Portafino

Rep. Anthony Portantino got a fax last week informing him that he was no longer chairing the Education Committee.  Rep. Hector De La Torre lost his chairmanship of the Rules Committee and won’t even get to stay on the committee.  The LA Times and the Pasadena Star News, along with Capitol Weekly, paint the moves as some combination of retribution for running for Speaker (both ran against Karen Bass) and lining up Bass’ preferred leadership ahead of her taking over the Speakership.

Steve Maviglio, in his normally flowery language, said simply “it’s an internal caucus matter.”  Both Portantino and De La Torre have said they spoke to Bass and she told them she knew nothing about the demotions.  If you’ve been living under a rock lately, you may have missed that Education is rather a hot topic about now in the halls of the Capitol, so a shakeup at the top of the committee is notable.  And the Rules Committee is always a big deal, so swapping out a recent Bass (and Nunez) competitor for Ted Leiu (who’s long been in Nunez’s and Bass’ respective camps) and dropping De La Torre all the way off the committee, well…that’s also notable.

If anything, it brings into stark contrast two competing governing theories.  Some people want to govern surrounded by the folks who get to the top based entirely on their merits, some prefer to be surrounded by the folks they work best with.  Certainly this isn’t a cut-and-dried contrast between the two options, but I’m sure it sets (or reinforces more likely) a standard of discouraging people for aspiring to higher positions lest they be punished for it.