The “Mighty” California Nurses Association/National Nurses Union? Not So Much 

Steven Maviglio
Principal of Forza Communications, a Sacramento-based public affairs/campaign firm

Rack up another high-profile loss for the California Nurses Association/National Nurses United, as the union’s backed candidate for California Democratic Party chair, Kimberly Ellis, was defeated by party stalwart Eric Bauman on Saturday night. (Most of the state’s unions with electoral success, including the California Professional Firefighters, California Faculty Association and the Building Trades were early supporters of Bauman).

The high-profile defeat was a body blow to attempts by the union’s long-time leader, RoseAnn DeMoro, to hijack the Party to promote its agenda. Even before the votes were counted, DeMoro & Co. already were losing support of party activists after heckling DNC Chair Tom Perez, Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and others that are lukewarm to its single-payer health care agenda. 

To top it off, DeMoro also threatened to primary Democrats that didn’t back its single payer bill. This was an affront to many Democrats who wanted the convention to focus on the party’s sweeping success in winning elections in this state and focus on dumping Republican Congressional candidates in 2018.

It also wasn’t lost on many delegates that DeMoro refused to back Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. Those with longer memories remember that DeMoro endorsed Ralph Nader over Al Gore in 2000. For others, the irony of DeMoro billing herself as “anti-establishment” after being at the helm of her organization for two decades was a little tough to take.

The loss is the latest in another string of defeats where CNA went all in with its organizational power and dollars. In April, its chosen candidate, Arturo Carmona, finished 5th in the race to succeed Attorney General Xavier Becerra in the 34th Congressional district, picking up just 5.2 percent of the vote. Carmona received the backing of CNA as well as one of the largest independent expenditure contributions in the race.

Last November, the union was the high profile backer of Prop 61, which sought to lower drug prices. It dumped six figures into the ballot measure and was instrumental in Bernie Sanders being featured in its ads. Despite being on the ballot in a year with heavily Democratic turnout, it lost by seven percentage points.

And then there’s the primary candidacy of Bernie Sanders himself. As the Los Angeles Times pointed out, CNA/NNU went “all in” for Sanders in the California primary last year. And despite their buses and DeMoro’s repeated bitter attacks on Clinton, the union lost big.

As noted GOP strategist Rob Stutzman told The Times last year, “They are successful at being disrupters — protesting, crashing town halls, interrupting rallies.”

But winning elections? Not so much.

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