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Meg Whitman’s cash & the threat it poses to California’s democracy

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POSTED July 20, 2010 2:32 a.m.
There is a 900-pound-gorilla in the governor’s race for California, but contrary to assertions by the Manteca Bulletin, it is hardly unions representing California workers.

 That behemoth in the political arena is cash, much of it this year from the pockets of one billionaire CEO, Meg Whitman, who with her pledge to spend as much as $180 million out of pocket by November, threatens to smash all previous spending records and drown out all opposition.

 Many Californians don’t think that excess is healthy for our state or our democracy. It worsens a trend in which big spenders, mostly the biggest corporations and wealthy executives, not unions, and makes it harder for the voice of regular Californians to be heard in Sacramento.

 With Whitman acting as if she was entitled to the governor’s office by virtue of her spending and wealth, California’s nurses decided to parody her campaign with a “Queen Meg” tour.

 Anyone trying to buy the governor’s office would be concern enough. Especially someone with no track record in public office (like our current Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and everyone knows how poorly that inexperience has worked out) , and who hasn’t even shown the civil responsibility or interest to vote for most of the past three decades. But we have additional concerns.

 Such as, Whitman’s plan to fire 40,000 public employees, creating additional hardship for thousands of additional California workers and their families, just as she did when she sent 40 percent of company jobs overseas as eBay CEO.

 Many of them may be the watchdogs we all count on to oversee safety in our workplaces, to monitor our air and water, to protect us against food toxins, and assure other public protections. Whitman has railed against “regulations” she, as a corporate CEO and similar business executives dislike, and promised a “moratorium” on unnamed regulations.

 We’ve already seen that risky model at work with Gov. Schwarzenegger, with his defunding of public agencies and furloughs that leaves vital programs virtually crippled and unable to function.

 For example, in November, nurses filed a complaint with the Department of Public Health about serious safety violations at the University of California Davis Medical Center in Sacramento that included dangerous delays in responding to emergencies, providing medications, and care for patients in distress. Through mid- June, no investigator by that beleaguered agency had yet been assigned.

 Nurses are also concerned about Whitman’s plan to continue Schwarzenegger’s program of cuts in public safety net programs that would put more of California’s most vulnerable patients, many of them women and children, further at risk.  All while she favors billions of dollars in tax breaks for the state’s biggest corporations and wealthiest individuals.

 For nurses and other working people, Whitman’s program is toxic in other ways as well. For example, she has proposed eliminating guaranteed meal and rest breaks and overtime pay. In healthcare, the potential consequences could be deadly.

 The last thing a patient needs is a nurse forced to work an eight-hour or 12-hour shift on her feet without any breaks, a clear recipe for accidents and errors. And cancelling overtime pay is an invitation to hospital employers to force more nurses to work mandatory overtime, again often while fatigued, instead of employing more staff at a time when many new RNs are unable to find jobs.

 Those are messages Whitman does not want voters to hear, and she is trying to silence the messenger as well.  Whitman has demanded the home addresses of CNA members which no organization would ever violate the privacy of its members to provide.

 Though claiming she wanted an unfiltered dialogue, Whitman refused our offers of unscripted forums with nurses. Instead she bought lists from other sources (is there anything about you she will not buy?) and began barraging nurses with multiple mailings and phone calls, as well as setting up a web site. 

 All with attacks on the standards won by nurses, especially in the public sector, and on the collective voice of nurses, who as individuals will never match Whitman’s enormous wealth and resources. Like other CEOs we’ve seen, Whitman hopes to disrupt the ability of RNs to act together to defend their patients whether at the bedside or in the policy arena.

 Her efforts to stifle our voices, just like her efforts to smother all opposition through her campaign spending, raise concerns about how Whitman would govern, and what voice regular Californians can expect in the years ahead.

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