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Single Payer Health Plan Surfaces in 10th CD Race

Saturday, August 22nd, 2009

By Evan Wagstaff
Special to Calbuzz

mark Desaulnier2

As progressives in Congress press President Obama to commit to a “public option” as part of health care reform, leading Democrats in the 10th Congressional District race are embracing an even more liberal single payer system.

With the spirited special election campaign heading into its final days before the Sept. 1 vote, three top contenders are telling voters they favor a single payer solution to overhaul the nation’s medical system, in which the federal government would replace private health insurance with a mandatory coverage program.

“Single payer is the simplest, most direct way to solve the health care problems in this country, both from a fiscal and medical standpoint,” said state Senator Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, one of the front-runners in the race. He said soaring medical costs under the current system are “unsustainable – it’s the next mortgage meltdown. As Republicans often say, if you can’t afford it, you shouldn’t keep funding it.”

GaramendiLieutenant Governor John Garamendi, whom several polls have shown leading the pack, said that his support for a single payer plan is well-received by voters in the district: “I’ll tell you, some of my best applause lines come when I talk about health care reform,” Garamendi said. “There is a real hunger in the 10th Congressional District for universal health care … Medicare for all is very popular and people understand the advantages that it brings.”

State Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan also pledged her support for any kind of universal coverage, and included a single payer plan first in a list of possible buchananalternatives. “We have to make health care the right of every American,” she said. “I will support single payer universal coverage, a public option, or a compromise plan that meets these requirements. Doing nothing is not an option.”

A single payer system, which is strongly supported by many liberal groups, has never been on the table in the Washington debate over health care, despite its popularity on the left.

A single payer plan would establish a taxpayer-financed, non-profit system to fund doctors, hospitals and other health care needs under a universal coverage program; the public option plan backed by liberal Democrats in Congress would basically maintain the current system of private insurance, but set up a government-backed insurance program as a competitive alternative to employer plans.

While many health care town hall meetings across the country have been disrupted by protests against reforms being considered in Washington, events in the 10th district have been more restrained.

DeSaulnier said that he had prepared himself for jeers and outbursts in discussions of health care, but has been pleased at the civility of discussions of the issue at campaign events.

“We had a few people who obviously disagreed with my positions, but they were very thoughtful and I think their tone was respectful of the process,” he said. “I was prepared for more anger and acrimony.”

The 10th District includes a large area of the East Bay between Solano and Alameda counties. The seat opened up when former Rep. Ellen Tauscher accepted Obama’s appointment to the State Department as the undersecretary of Arms Control and International Security.

With 14 candidates on the ballot, including representatives from the Peace and Freedom and American Independent parties, it is unlikely that anyone will capture the 50% plus one vote required to win the seat in the first round; if no one does, a run-off among the top finishers in each party will be held November 3.

While leading Democrats move to the left on health care, Republicans are trying to outdo each other in support of market-based solutions that reject government involvement in a reform package.

gary-clift-for-cd-10GOP contender Gary Clift, a retired police officer, for example, argued that healthcare in the U.S. is superior and so merits the cost of private insurance.

“Our current health care is the best, so it costs more,” Clift said. “People need to be willing to pay for health care.”

Other Republican candidates including business owner Mark Loos, businessman David Harmer, veteran Chris Bunch, and physician John Toth anthony-woods-01all agreed that the solution to the health care issue is to remove present government influence and allow the free market to govern the system.

Democratic candidate and investigator Adriel Hampton also came out in favor of a single payer healthcare system. Economic policy analyst Anthony Woods supports the competitive public option.

Calbuzz intern Evan Wagstaff is Opinion Editor of The Daily Nexus at UCSB.

Fishwrap: Mysterious Behind the Scenes Secrets

Friday, August 21st, 2009

conradDeliberative body delivered: The next time Senator Kent Conrad starts holding forth on the tube about why Americans are not allowed to choose a public option for their health care insurance, remember this name: Kelly Candaele.

Conrad is the four-eyed, hose-nosed twit from North Dakota whose self-important pronouncements that there will be no public option in health care reform are eagerly sought and duly recorded by the badge-sniffing stenographers of the Beltway MSM. Conrad was last elected to the Senate with 150,416 votes.

Candaele is a four-term member of the Los Angeles Community College Disrict Board of Trustees.* One of seven members, he was last elected with 151,218 votes – 802 more than Senator Dufus.

The fact that Conrad, an alleged Democrat who has bogged down health care reform legislation along with his buddy, Landslide Max Baucus (who won his seat with one-third fewer votes than President Obama scored in Alameda County – 345,937 to 489,106 – fercrineoutloud) suggests that The Framers weren’t exactly planning ahead when they came up with this whole bicameral, one-house-represents-land-instead-of- people notion.

That cheap suit characters like Conrad and Baucus have the power to hold hostage a health insurance policy that 77 percent of Americans favor is an authentic outrage that makes Calbuzz wonder exactly what a Willie Brown – not to mention Lyndon Johnson – would do to these wigglers, after grabbing them up by the scruff of the neck and tossing them and their office furniture out the window to somewhere south of the Watergate parking garage.

We’re just sayin’.

Candaele*As for Kelly Candaele, who mysteriously – oooh – shares initials with Kent Conrad, Calbuzz was unsuccessful in repeated efforts to reach him to seek his views on health care reform, which seem to us at least as important as those of Mr. Dork from North Dakota. We strongly suspect that  Candaele, a journalist, filmmaker and former labor organizer, (whose mother batted .290 in the women’s professional baseball league memorialized in “A League of Their Own” – you could look it up)  is more of a single payer, public option kind of guy.

nixonParsky Channelling Nixon? Calbuzz is picking up grumblings from some members of  the Commission on the 21st Century Economy who are not happy with the Nixonian tendencies of the group’s chairman – Gerry Parsky the investment firm chairman who once served in (you guessed it) the Nixon administration.

Seems the commission’s agenda doesn’t give anyone a clue about what’s coming up for discussion, members have no time to read position papers or analytical documents before they’re released at or just before meetings and Parsky doesn’t even respond to some pretty credible people trying to stay on top of what’s going on with the commission.

For example, see the agenda for the Commission Workshop on the commission website. See if you can figure out what’s being discussed at that meeting.

Or check out the correspondence from Steve Levy from the Center for the Continuing Study of the California Economy. Steve, one of the smartest guys in California, suggests to Parsky et. al. ways to evaluate various tax proposals and asks how the commission intends to do this. But has Parsky or anyone responded to Levy?  Nope.

Meanwhile, they’re talking about scrapping most of California’s tax structure and replacing it with a net business receipts tax – a monumentally complex idea which no other state has attempted. Does anyone on that commission actually understand the implications? We don’t think so.

meginchair

Will She or Won’t She: Kudos to Chapman University for pulling together an October 28 debate with the Republican candidates for governor. Oh wait, make that most of the Republican candidates for governor.

Tom Campbell and Steve Poizner, who share the quaint idea that candidates for office who want the voters to hire them ought to subject themselves to standing face-to-face with their rivals for the job, both accepted the invite with alacrity. Not so fast for Meg Whitman, who acts like it’s five days before the election and she’s sitting on some precious two-point lead.

As Poizner reliably banged on eMeg for running and hiding on her earlier promise to participate in three debates this fall, a spokeswoman for  Whitman offered this, uh, explanation:

“As you know, Meg has made it very clear she is looking forward to debating the issues in the upcoming election, having sent a letter stating those intentions over 2 months ago,” campaign press secretary Sarah Pompei told Calbuzz via email. “She is committed to ensuring Californians know her plans to create jobs, cut spending, and fix education.  Right now, we are looking at the various debate options to see what will work best in our schedule.”

All righty, then.

Gossip: A well-informed, reliable and top-rank California Republican pol whispers that Her Megness, with the aid and comfort of long-time coat holder Henry Gomez, has decided that this whole politics thing isn’t all that different from running a business and so is pretty much directing her own campaign, despite the 87 gazillion dollars a month she’s forking out for consultants. Watch for what you wish for, eMeg.

Health Care Must-Reads: Media critic Jason Linkins, who can be quite tiresome when live blogging the Sunday shows for Huffpost, absolutely nails it in this piece holding the WashPost to account for a dog-ass story packed with anonymous sources attacking “the left” for its hang-tough position on including a public option in health care reform.

And in another morsel of what seems a concerted White House effort to distance themselves from the policy that Obama, um, campaigned on – “We’re shocked! Shocked that these liberals would be wedded to such a thing! – that old mischievous nameless source show up in this nice piece about former DNC chief Howard Dean doing the Lord’s work on health care.

Paging Rodney King: Calbuzz readers gave major props and style points to Garry South, Gavin Newsom’s chief consultant, for his well-honed one liner in our post about Jerry Brown’s expansive views on abortion  the other day.

“This guy’s had more incarnations than Zelig and he’s taken more positions than there are in the Kama Sutra,” South said, to the wild applause of the Croatian judge – “9.9, 9.8, 9.9” – and many others.

While some Democrat critics scold and wag their fingers at South and Newsom for refusing to sign a no-negative-attacks pledge for the primary, others believe in a more positive approach.

Thus, a longtime party loyalist spent several hours Google searching for a  quote in which South actually had something nice to say about Brown:

“I never got to know Jerry very well,” South said in 2007. “But he did a very effective job of becoming a pragmatic mayor in Oakland.”

Ommm….

3-Dot Pot Shots: Madonna & Paris vs. Carly & Babs

Thursday, August 20th, 2009

carlyIt’s on: Not since Madonna’s smack down with Paris Hilton over Kabbalah has there been such an intriguing match-up of big-name narcissists as the potential U.S. Senate brawl between Barbara Boxer and Carly Fiorina – both of whom probably thought that song was about her.

Fiorina’s self-aggrandizing style has been well chronicled in stories about her destructive reign as CEO of Hewlett-Packard. And Boxer, whose shameless self-regard recently popped out in her public dressing down of a Pentagon officer who dared call her “ma’am” instead of “Senator,” has recently written yet another cheesy political thriller that admiringly focuses on her alter ego, Ellen Fischer (guess who’s the “honest, tough and energetic” U.S. Senator?).

At a time when California’s unemployment is soaring and its public schools are going down the toilet, there’s something vaguely creepy about the state’s junior senator tooling around with an entourage to book readings as she tries to cash in on her office with fine writing like this swooning recollection of the first glimpse her heroine’s hubby had of her:barbara-boxer

“Listen, ever since I saw you across that room, fighting for your children’s bill with every nerve in your body, I’ve loved you and wanted you and I can’t stand the thought of losing you.”

Whoa – peeping legislative posturing makes you hot? Duuude!

As Kimberley Strassel wrote about Boxer’s “Blind Trust” in a Wall Street Journal review,  the book  “begs to be read less as a thriller than as an attempt to score real-life political points in fictional form.”

Carla Takes On Carly: As a novelist, Boxer is, um, a really good politician. No matter what you think of her, she certainly paid her political dues, as a county supervisor and a member of congress, before stepping up to run for Senate, unlike Fiorina.

Yet from Boxer’s first, down-to-wire campaign against the mercurial Bruce Herschensohn in 1992, she has been routinely underrated by Republicans. Every six years, they think they’ve found the guy who can knock her off, and this time out, Fiorina is the guy being anointed by establishment GOPers such as Texas Senator John Cornyn, chair of the Republican Senatorial campaign committee. Unlike some of the other stiffs that Boxer’s vanquished, Fiorina at least will offer her a serious challenge in the swollen head sweepstakes.

“One is hard-pressed,” ABC-News Silicon Valley columnist Michael Malone wrote of Fiorina, “to think of anything she did during her time at either Lucent or HP that wasn’t designed to burnish her own image — at the sacrifice of anyone who got in her way.”

madonna_dont_tell_me_coverBe that as it may, the famously failed and fired CEO  Fiorina does know a thing or three about product launches, so the rocky roll-out of her nascent Senate candidacy this week can’t have pleased her very much.

For starters, there was this roundhouse right attack by party rival Chuck DeVore, whose slashing style makes Steve Poizner look like the Dali Lama. Then came a total takedown by the ubiquitous Carla Marinucci, who added to her previous reportage about Fiorina’s spotty California voting record the new news that the would-be Senator never voted in the 1980s and 1990s, when she lived in Maryland and New Jersey.

“Fiorina strongly disputes the voting records as ‘just wrong,’” an unfortunate spokeswoman for Carly told Carla.

Yeah, well, Calbuzz strongly disputes our birth certificates as “just wrong” too, but that don’t make us young.mug-shot-paris-hilton

The final epee cut to the rookie contender came from Michael Finnegan of the By God L.A. Times, who graced his yarn with a fine example of proper technique in  employing  the understated story kicker: “Fiorina was fired from Hewlett-Packard after a rocky tenure.” As Brian Leubitz put it in Calitics: “Ouch”

“Carly doesn’t understand Boxer,” one triple smart GOP insider told us. “If she tries to play that princess act, she’s toast.”

Calbuzz early line: Give the points and take the incumbent.

Speaking of entitlements: It’s disappointing to learn that San Francisco Mayor and wannabe governor Gavin Newsom views as a state secret the public costs of the cops who follow him everywhere, including on his campaign travels.

Let’s be clear that we don’t begrudge Newsom a round-the-clock security detail, especially given San Francisco’s history of violence against public officials. But refusing to disclose the bill taxpayers are footing, on top of his years-long resistance to releasing his daily mayoral calendars, suggests a petulant disregard for transparency in government, a troubling trait for an elected official at any level, let alone a governor.

The mayor’s office contends that releasing such information could compromise Newsom’s security and put him at risk, an argument that doesn’t seem to fly with the U.S. Secret Service or other big city mayors.

The Prince of Pride’s obstinacy on the issue has won him an extended beef mirkarimi_lgwith S.F. Supe Ross Mirkarimi, who’s sponsoring an ordinance that would not only make the mayor disclose how much his  personal protection on the campaign trail costs taxpayers, but also require him to reimburse the city for the politicking portion of his security bill.

“If he’s campaigning outside the city, there’s a question of commingling taxpayers’ money with his campaign,” Mirkarimi told us. “It’s good public policy that we recover those funds.”

Press Clips: Not sure who Tom Campbell knows at the Journal, but he got himself a big sloppy wet kiss this week trumpeting his bid for the Republican nomination for governor, in which a whole brigade of unnamed “analysts” offered a rosy view of Dudley Do Right’s chances…The always worth reading Nate Silver offers a forecast that should keep Nancy Pelosi awake at night — “While the Democrats are not extraordinary likely to lose the House, such an outcome is certainly well within the realm of possibility” –- over at FiveThirtyEight.com… Check out California’s Capitol, where Deadhead Greg Lucas turned off the iPod long enough to analyze the true shakiness of the just completed budget deal.

3 Ways Obama Is Blowing It on Health Care Reform

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

ObamaHealthCareThere’s one simple reason why the White House has rushed so aggressively to try to knock down the story that Barack Obama is backing away from his support of a public option for health care: if he does retreat on the issue, he risks trashing the political viability of his entire presidency.

Over the weekend, both Obama and Kathleen Sebelius, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, made weasly comments about the administration’s commitment to a public option policy that led even some of the president’s staunchest supporters to denounce his waffling.

Having raised the specter of ignominious political surrender himself, Obama sent press secretary Roberts Gibbs into the White House briefing room to – wait for it – blame the media – for manufacturing a story. He insisted that the president’s position has not changed on the most crucial issue in the reform debate, namely to provide a system of medical care for the uninsured and underinsured as an affordable alternative to the private insurance industry.

The public option flap is just the latest evidence of how  Obama and his posse, after running one of the most consistent and effective campaigns in history, have badly botched the communications strategy and framing tactics in the battle over a defining issue of his presidency, undercutting in the process fundamental elements of the message of change that got him elected.

Beyond a shameful retreat on a substantive policy matter, hoisting the white flag on a public option would put Obama at odds with the congressional leaders and liberals who have been his most enthusiastic supporters and, more broadly, signal weakness and failure in fulfilling three of the basic premises of his message of change:

healthcarefistSpecial interests – As a candidate, Obama vowed to fight powerful and entrenched interest groups whose influence and money routinely cripple reform and determine the fate of legislation in Washington. Just eight months into his term, Obama is causing concern among allies who back the public option (as a less attractive alternative to their true preference for a single payer health care system) that he is preparing to cave in to insurance companies, after earlier cutting a deal with the pharmaceutical industry, another Beltway blue chip special interest.

New politics – While often ill-defined, Obama’s “yes we can” campaign message had two fundamental carrot and stick elements: a goody-two-shoes call for the bipartisan putting aside of status-quo politics and ideological polarization, coupled with a strong, clear and consistent attack on failed Republican economic policies that worshiped markets and business interests. In the political fight of his life, Obama has been putting his energy and emphasis almost exclusively on the can’t-we-all-just-get along aspect of his message, in a desperate bid to pass a bill – any bill – that he can spin as an alleged victory, even if represents right-center policies and politics.

With Democrats in the rare position of controlling the White House and both houses of Congress, however, he needs to stop singing kumbaya and start busting some heads by fighting fiercely for the populist – and, yes, partisan – principles that led millions to support the progressive promises of his campaign. And that means taking on, not just the other party, but some of the obstructionist Senators in his own party like Kent Conrad and Max Baucus, a couple of self-important narcissists who each represent a  no-account state with about 12 people that Obama’s never going to win anyway.

Authenticity – Candidate Obama decried sound bite politics, repeatedly vowing he would tell Americans the truth, even if it was unpleasant, contrasting the integrity of his outsider stance with the Beltway insider images of rivals Hillary Clinton and John McCain. Now, instead of giving hell to the special interests and right-wingers in Congress, President Obama too often passively abides their lies and demagoguery while resorting to Clintonian hair-splitting and legalisms in trying to finesse his position on the public option.

If he succumbs on this issue, the disillusionment and dismay among his own supporters that would accompany a retreat could not only fatally weaken him on Capitol Hill, but also put the issue of his re-election very much in play.

And if there’s any question that Obama himself – and not the media – set off the firestorm on public option, check out Jon Stewart’s take, characteristically complete with the most telling video clips.

Health reform resuscitations: Nate Silver has a smart post on a post-public option political landscape while Victoria Colliver of the Chronicle has a good Q&A primer on health care reform here and the Times offers a useful glossary for following the debate here.

Jerry Brown and the Woman With a Glass Eye

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

jerrybrownprofileEvery time we see a suggestion that millionaire former Controller Steve Westly might jump into the 2010 governor’s race (which – Yo Willie! – isn’t happening*), we’re reminded of the last time he and Jerry Brown sought the same office. The year was 1988, and Brown big footed his way into the race for California Democratic Party Chairman,  which had been looking like a sure thing for Westly.

The former governor parachuting into the contest was a huge disappointment for party Vice Chairman Westly, who, back then in his pre-eBay days, was an earnest grass-roots activist.

Before grabbing the party chairmanship in the winter of 1989, however, Brown ran into a bit of trouble with liberal party regulars on a key Democratic issue: abortion. The matter is unlikely to come up specifically in the 2010 governor’s race primary because, as a public official, Brown has been an unwavering supporter of pro-choice policies.

But back then, Brown professed that he was personally opposed to abortion and acknowledged he had recently urged clemency for one of the nation’s most visible and fanatical anti-abortion activists.

joanandrewsA few weeks before the election for state party chairman, the San Jose Mercury News revealed that Brown had written to Florida state officials earlier in the year on behalf of Joan Andrews, a pro-life crusader from Delaware. She had been sentenced to five years on burglary charges for her part in the 1986 storming of a Pensacola abortion clinic in which equipment was damaged and two workers were slightly injured.

”People are shocked and very dismayed,” the lefty field director of the 24,000-member California Abortion Rights Action League said at the time. Her name was Susan Kennedy, and she’s since evolved into Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s hard-nosed, cigar-smoking chief of staff.

“Jerry Brown stated that his private position on abortion would not affect his ability to lead the party,” Kennedy said at the time. “But the very fact that he wrote this letter on behalf of Joan Andrews clearly steps across the line of having personal beliefs into the public and political realm of crusading for those beliefs.”

At the time, Brown said that ”My position is just what it was before.”

“I am against abortion and I feel more strongly than ever about that,” he said. “But I also deeply respect the autonomy and integrity of each person and that means to me that you trust women to make these judgments on their own and not to call upon the coercive power of the state.”

That, however, was a far cry from the statements attributed to Brown earlier that year by Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the National Catholic News Service, who had written that Brown said he sees “the killing of the unborn as crazy.”

Even more upsetting for some Democrats was Brown’s intercession on behalf of Andrews, then a 40-year-old Roman Catholic activist who had been arrested more than 130 times. Arch-conservative former Republican Congressman Robert Dornan of Garden Grove, had praised her as “a new martyr on the world stage of human rights causes.”

”To me, this is a clear civil rights issue,” Brown said back then, explaining his support for Andrews.

mother-teresa

He said Mother Teresa first told him about Andrews’ case when he was working at her House of the Pure Heart in Calcutta. “I told her I did not believe that there was any woman incarcerated for five years for a non-violent, trespass offense. And I said I’d look into it for her.”

Sentenced to five years for the Pensacola case after refusing to pledge not to break into the clinic in the future, Andrews caused a furor when she arrived at the Broward Correctional Institution. She resisted a mandatory strip- search, jumping off an examining table, banging her head on the floor and throwing her glass eye across the room, according to news reports from Florida.

Prison officials said Andrews was an uncooperative prisoner and kept her segregated from other prisoners.

‘The issue was,” said Brown, “should a person convicted of non-violent crimes, who’s not cooperating with the prison authorities, be in solitary confinement for five years?”

Andrews, who was married years later and became Joan Andrews Bell, has been arrested and jailed scores of times in the intervening years, including most recently in May 2009 at Notre Dame, as part of an anti-Obama anti-abortion demonstration.

In April of 2006, LA City Attorney Rocky Delgadillo tried to use the issue against Brown in his campaign for attorney general, arguing: “He says he is pro-choice, but he wrote a letter on behalf of an abortion terrorist for clemency, to get out of jail early, which she did, and then went on to attack more abortion clinics across the United States.”

“It’s absurd,” Brown told the LA Times. “When Mother Teresa asks you to do something that is fairly reasonable, most people would do it. [Andrews Bell] spent 2 1/2 years in solitary confinement. The sentence was longer than a lot of robbers were getting at the time. I said it was wrong, what she did, but the question was, was 2 1/2 years in solitary confinement enough?”

Brown scooped up endorsements from abortion rights leaders, including Nancy Casady of the California Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and U.S. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, among others, and the issue did not  surface again.

As a political matter in the 2010 governor’s race, the episode is unlikely to pose  trouble for Brown on the policy issue of abortion — but it could be used to illustrate and underscore his reputation as a political chameleon who has re-invented himself countless times.

“It wasn’t a problem for the Democrats. It wasn’t a problem in the Attorney General’s race. What’s the point? It’s old news,” Brown told Calbuzz with a hint of irritation.

Brown’s stance in favor of choice is second nature to him, he said – like being in favor of the minimum wage, collective bargaining or the right of people to get married. He said he put funding for abortion into MediCal back when the Legislature was opposed to it and he still supports funding in MediCal and for family-planning clinics. “It’s a level of obviousness that you cannot convert it into an issue,” he told us.

Perhaps. But Brown’s clemency letter for Andrews just might qualify as one of what Garry South, rival Gavin Newsom’s consultant, refers to as the “huge number of contradictions, conflicted positions and controversies that Democrats are going to have to consider” about Brown.

kamasutra

“When you get the full grasp of Jerry Brown’s record over 40 years, it’s an embarrassment of riches,” said the Duke of Darkness. “He’s not going to be able to cherry-pick what he wants people to know about his record,” South said, pointing, for example to Brown’s support for the flat tax during his 1992 campaign for president.  Said South:

“This guy’s had more incarnations than Zelig and he’s taken more positions than there are in the Kama Sutra.”

* With Willie Brown and others peddling stories about Steve Westly running for governor, Calbuzz figured, hey, since we’ve done all this “actual reporting” anyway, why not just call the guy and ask him if there’s any chance he’d get into the 2010 governor’s race.

“I’m completely focused on being the best father I can be and building one of the best clean-tech venture capital funds ever created,” Westly said.  Of course, he added, he’s hoping to run statewide some time in the future. But now’s not the time.