Nurses Aim to Inject More Democracy Into State Elections

By Todd Spencer

In discussing the pivotal role librarians played in keeping his book Stupid White Men from being shredded by his corporate publisher, Michael Moore once remarked with awe, “Do not mess with librarians.â€

Add nurses to that short list of professionals not to antagonize. “After seeing HMOs, drug and insurance companies and other moneyed interests distort public policy to the detriment of patients year in and year out, we’re completely fed up,†says Charles Idelson, spokesman for the Oakland-based California Nurses Association. He’s explaining why the Association garnered 620,000 signatures and won Prop 89 a place on the upcoming November ballot.

The Clean Money and Fair Elections Act gives the state its best chance at establishing a fair, universal health care system, the association believes. If passed by voters this fall, the measure would go into effect in 2007 and work like this: candidates with a certain number (750 for an Assembly seat, 25,000 for the governor’s office) of signatures and $5 donations from registered voters would get the option of funding their campaigns with public instead of corporate money. Extra money could be given for races against non-clean/big money candidates to keep spending competitive.

Modeled after laws already on the books in Maine, Connecticut and Arizona, Prop 89 would fund “clean†candidates by raising state taxes on corporate profits by a gentle-seeming 0.2%. These candidates would then be free to serve their actual constituents instead of the big donors who lobby to keep healthcare reform and other progressive laws from taking shape.

With Arnold Schwarzenegger raising $75 million from big pharma, big energy, real estate and insurance in hopes of out-tarnishing his millionaire Democrat rival Phil Angelides, who’s beholden to a slate of competing and, in many cases, the same corporations, the need for campaign finance reform is as clear as ever.

According to Idelson, clean money elections in Arizona have given the state higher voter turnout, more diversity in their candidates (more women, minorities and non-millionaires) and more progressive, people-oriented policy getting passed there, like prescription subsidies for seniors. Here in California, Idelson says members of both major parties have expressed interest in public-funded elections. “They get tired of fund-raising all the time. Many would just rather worry about policy.â€

Operating under the name Californians for Clean Elections ( the nurses expect opposition on the measure from the California Chamber of Commerce, a business lobbying group. Count on them, or some other pro-business interest, putting together an organization calling itself something Orwellian like, Patriots for Freedom in Government. A spokesman for the CCC confirmed their opposition to Prop 89 but said he was not at liberty to discuss their plans to fight it.

If voters make Prop 89 victorious in November, it could be a giant step toward healthcare reform, and a shot in the arm for democracy at the same time.

See the article on Common Ground Magazine website

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