California’s Democratic Lawmakers Shouldn’t Fear Primary Threats Over Single-Payer

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

Backers of the single-payer health care legislation, Senate Bill 562, have made it clear in trying to bully state lawmakers that if they don’t support their bill, they’ll run candidates against them in next June’s primaries.

Assembly Democrats should call their bluff. Because the threat of knocking off incumbent lawmakers with single-payer as a litmus test, as some have suggested, is all bark, no bite and without foundation in fact.

Politically savvy lawmakers, such as Governor Jerry Brown and Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, already have been smart enough to question the bluster of single-payer advocates. As an article that appeared yesterday headlined “Bernie Sander’s Army is Not the Democratic Base” adeptly notes (and reiterated by 538’s Nate Silver,” when it comes to winning elections (including Top Two primaries ), single-payer is not an issue driving voters nor reliable Democratic voters.Perhaps that’s why the real interest of the leading single payer advocate, the California Nurses Association’s Roseann DeMoro, isn’t to support Democrats, but to start a “People’s Party” of her own – one that would never be able to crack California’s Top Two election system. Over the weekend at the “People’s Summit,” DeMoro – who endorsed Ralph Nader over Al Gore and refused to endorse Democratic Party nominee Hillary Clinton – reiterated her support to ditch the Democratic Party at the drop of a hat.

Maybe that’s why single-payer boosters are have yet to generate any interest in races against incumbents or, for that matter, Republicans in swing districts.

U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein – who is widely expected to run again – has repeatedly rejected calls for single-payer. And despite a handful of noisy protests at some of her town halls, Feinstein’s only single-payer challenger is Bernie Sanders phone banker David Hildebrand.

I clicked on Mr. Hildebrand’s website to see if he had any events, anywhere, at any time in the state where I could see him speak. There are none listed. He also has failed to file a single financial report with the Federal Election Commission. He describes his candidacy as a “long shot.” That’s an understatement.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, who also has drawn the ire of single payer advocates, also has a Berniecrat challenger, San Francisco lawyer Stephen Jaffe. Mr. Jaffe doesn’t have a website, but he does have a not-so-whopping 1,944 Facebook followers. He recently posted with a picture of what he describes as his senior political advisor – a parrot.

In the recent 34th district Congressional race won by Assemblymember Jimmy Gomez, the single-payer crowd lined up behind Sanders deputy political director Arturo Carmona. Despite an independent expenditure from the California Nurses Association, Carmona finished a distant fifth with 5.21 percent of the vote. And that was in a low-turnout primary where progressive activists stood to make the biggest gains .

Even when it comes to challenging Republicans, single-payer backers are failing to excite Democrats. Against anti-Obamacare GOP Congressman Jeff Denham in a Central Valley swing district, CNA has put up one of their own, nurse Dotty Nygard, as a candidate On her website, she lists two endorsements from elected officials and unions (no surprise: one of them is CNA) and a grand total of 10 endorsements from individuals. Her competition includes a young venture capitalist (who’s not supporting single payer) and perhaps others who know that single-payer would be a death knell in a swing district (just as it would be in the Georgia special election, where Democrat John Ossoff has forcefully rejected single-payer yet winning voters who believe health care is the most important issue by a 2-1 margin and winning 91% of Democratic voters).

As a recent POLITICO article noted, GOP House Leader Kevin McCarthy also has dismissed Democratic chances for gains in California congressional delegations saying “most of his colleagues’ Democratic challengers are progressive Bernie Sanders-type who might not play well in more moderate-minded GOP-held California districts.”

Democrats need not fear the consequences of shelving single payer this year. In fact, it might be the best thing they can do to increase their chances of political success and retaining the super-majority in the Legislature.

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