By Joe Garofoli

The California Nurses Association didn’t just endorse Gavin Newsom for governor in 2018; the powerful union drove a giant red bus around the state with Newsom’s face plastered on the side of it.

Written underneath: “Nurses Trust Newsom. He shares our values and fights for our patients.”

Now, though, the nurses union is ready to throw Newsom under the bus.

Six months before Newsom appears on the primary ballot seeking re-election, a top nurses union organizer just called him a flip-flopper. Another top union leader told me that Newsom is “at war” with their top priority.

Why? It’s all about single-payer health care — the nurses’ foundational issue. A bill creating a single-payer system, AB1400, is moving through the Legislature after getting delayed last year, and so far the governor has been uncharacteristically silent about it.

That’s a change. Newsom earned the union’s endorsement largely because he openly and loudly — as only he can — supported single payer. The nurses were thrilled, as not a lot of governors had made such a pledge, let alone one leading the world’s fifth-largest economy. If California were to adopt single payer, “the rest of the country will follow,” Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, its leading national advocate, predicted back in 2017.

Not only did the nurses’ endorsement bolster Newsom’s credibility among California progressives, but his stance set him apart from his top 2018 Democratic rival, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who had accused Newsom of “selling snake oil” for supporting single payer without identifying a funding source.

Newsom fired back, to the nurses’ delight.

I’m tired of politicians saying they support single payer but that it’s too soon, too expensive or someone else’s problem.

— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) September 22, 2017

But last week, union leaders said Newsom did just that.

When Newsom rolled out his state budget, it included a plan to extend health benefits to low-income undocumented residents of all ages — long a desire of progressives. Newsom touted that California would be “the first state in the country to achieve universal access to health coverage.”

Universal access to coverage is great, the nurses agreed, and the proposal is expected to fly through the Democratic supermajority in the Legislature. Advocates point out, however, that access to health care is not a single-payer health care system that covers every Californian. A single-payer system would include no co-payments, and no health insurance companies. (But yes, higher taxes.)

What about single payer?


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