Skip to main content

The letter below is from one of the most dedicated progressive voices in California, Libby Sholes of California Church Impact. It explains why Single Payer health care in California died this year, and is likely dead for a long time to come.

It is a significant wakeup call to all those who purport to support their causes, yet damage them because of their behavior. You can blame the elected officials all you want, but you can't threaten and abuse them and expect to get your way.

Read, learn, improve. This issue is too important for it's advocates to use outreach as a therapy session for their anger issues. Go to the gym/park/backyard and stomp your feet there.

Dear Friends:

It is with great sadness that we must tell you that the course of single payer health care -- "Medicare style care for all" -- appears to be dead. This is not just the bill, SB 810, but the issue. Events unfolded at the end of January that changed, perhaps permanently, the ability of legislators to work with single payer supporters. It is not a pretty story.

This is a long discussion. We believe it is essential to tell it.

Many of you know single payer began as a legislative strategy in about 2003 then was introduced by Senator Sheila Kuehl. It was passed through the Legislature several times only to be vetoed by then-Governor Schwarzenegger. He grew up in Austria with single payer but continued to insist it was "socialist" and thus unacceptable to him.

After Sen. Kuehl was termed out, the bill was eagerly adopted by newly-elected Senator Mark Leno. However, he arrived in the Senate along with a new group of Senate and Assembly leaders who had no history with single payer. By 2010 the financial data from the Lewin Report -- crucial to passage -- was over 12 years old and highly out of date, and educating the new members was therefore increasingly difficult.

Over a year ago the single payer grassroots steering committee, the State Strategy Group, agreed to create a panel of experts who would do a new fiscal analysis to update the information from the Lewin Report.    IMPACT helped find experts on health care financing for the panel, and the SSG knew that it would cost about $250,000 to get this done well.

For both the incoming governor, Jerry Brown and all the new legislators, this evidence of cost savings for individuals, families, small business, and the state was crucial.    Single payer had to show it would be at least as if not more effective than federal health care reform in cost savings for all parties. It would be impossible to convince legislators unfamiliar with single payer that it was a very responsible measure    = without those data.

Consequently, in its first foray under Senator Leno's authorship, the bill did not pass on the Assembly floor. There were simply too many grave doubts, and the newer members had no interaction with single payer supporters who might have eased their    concerns.

In response to that loss, the SSG decided suddenly to abandon SB 810 and the fiscal report and go the initiative route thinking it would be simple and that the governor could put it on the ballot. That is not possible since it would have to be done legislatively and requires a supermajority vote. To do an independent initiative with signature gathering is extremely expensive. SSG fund raising therefore turned to obtaining the $2-3 million needed just to do a signature drive, but the money never materialized for the ballot measure, much less the financial analysis.

No initiative. No fiscal study.

Senator Leno continued to shepherd SB 810 until, as is customary, it went into "suspense" the last week of January in Senate Appropriations. Suspense occurs when there are large questions about costs and means to cover them. Despite the pressure to hold the bill for lack of financial analysis, President pro Tem of the Senate Darrell Steinberg used his leadership strength to send it to the floor. At the first floor vote,    five Senators abstained, all of whom had the same fiscal reservations expressed by Senators in Appropriations. Steinberg, as a strong single payer supporter, kept the bill "on call" until the absolutely last moment, January 31 by which time legally it had to pass or die.

Over the weekend senators Leno and Steinberg asked the abstaining members for a "courtesy vote." This is a vote that occurs when a member with reservations still moves a bill to keep it going.

Those votes    were getting pinned down when on January 30th the grassroots advocates    started a massive phone campaign to senators. The results were shocking. Office after office including Leno's and Steinberg's were flooded with calls -- angry, berating, nasty, threatening, and bullying    calls.    These were not from opponents of single payer. These were from supporters.

When callers could not access senators or their top staff, they lambasted lower-level staff right down to the receptionists.    One young woman, new to the Capitol, was shattered by the vicious attacks on her and her senator. She was absolutely devastated by the personal assaults on her character and politics. Other, older staff were tougher, but every one of them was shaken to their foundations by how incredibly violent and abusive the calls were from supporters.

What the enraged supporters did not realize -- because they never asked -- is that yes, the requisite number of courtesy votes were being gathered.    But after the barrage of abuse, these senators, all with reservations    due to the absence of information on financial impacts, withdrew those    votes in disgust. Senator Leno then pulled the bill rather than having it die on the floor.

We are aware that these calls did not involve the faith community. Insofar as people identified themselves, those from faith groups were not the source of the harassment. It did not matter enough, however, to prevent the massive meltdown from other less responsible groups and individuals.

At this moment so much damage has been done from the barrage of nasty calls that it is seriously doubtful any legislator will ever work with any of the single payer supporters again, not even in the faith community.

This means single payer likely is dead in California. The most important point is that SB 810 died NOT due to the insurance industry or even from Senate opposition -- the votes were ready for passage - but due to the obnoxious and outrageous actions of its supporters.

We have no idea what will now transpire. What we do know is thatbefore we go any further as a body of people, faith and secular, we need to have some resolution about how we proceed. We encourage opening these discussions in your area. That will not be easy. No one likes to think that his or her actions could have caused so much damage. No one likes to think that they are in the wrong.    It is easy to dismiss the lack of votes as the fault of the Senators.

But if we are going to be effective, we need to have not just progressive politics but progressive humanity and good sense as well. That is a community conversation we all must have.

We will keep you apprised of what happens next.


Elizabeth Sholes
Director of Public Policy

Originally posted to sanchez96 on Thu Feb 09, 2012 at 12:29 PM PST.

Also republished by California politics.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site