Nurses union backs Kevin de León in his effort to topple Sen. Dianne Feinstein

2018-02-13 | Los Angeles Times

Feb. 13--A powerful nurses union that has a history of jolting California elections endorsed state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León on Monday in his bid to topple fellow Democrat Dianne Feinstein in the U.S. Senate contest.

National Nurses United and its state organization, the California Nurses Assn., said it was backing De León because of his support for single-payer healthcare, including SB 562, a bill that passed the state Senate last year, but stalled in the Assembly because of concerns about funding.

"At a time when 15 million Californians still have no health coverage, or pay for premiums and still can't afford to get the medical care they need, Kevin de León demonstrated outstanding political courage and leadership in shepherding passage of SB 562 in the California Senate," said Malinda Markowitz, co-president of both nurses' groups. She said their organizations also strongly back De León's efforts on climate change and immigration reform.

De León faces a steep uphill climb in trying to defeat Feinstein, a 25-year member of the Senate. She holds an enormous lead in fundraising and the polls. He has based his candidacy on the concept that Feinstein, a measured, pragmatic voice in the Senate, no longer matches the liberalism of Democrats in California.

"Hard working people throughout the nation are depending on California to bring our fight against dysfunctional establishment politics to the floor of the United States Senate," De León said. "Now is the time to reject business as usual; the lives of millions of Americans depend on it."

The nurses' union has gained a reputation as the pot-stirrers of California politics. But they have a mixed record of success.

Instantly recognizable in their pastel scrubs, they followed then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger around the country in 2005 to protest his effort to increase the patient-to-nurse ratios in state hospitals and emergency rooms. In 2010, they introduced the public to Meg Whitman's housekeeper, an immigrant in the country illegally.

But in recent years, they have had less success, notably in their backing of Bernie Sanders' presidential bid in 2016. A political action committee affiliated with the nurses spent nearly $4.8 million on an independent expenditure campaign supporting Sanders, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In California, they also supported Kimberly Ellis in her unsuccessful campaign to be chairperson of the California Democratic Party.