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Whitman goes toe-to-toe with nurses union

Orange County Register, 7/2/10

By Martin Wisckol
Orange County Register
July 2, 2010

The nurses group wants Brown as the next governor, but Whitman is reaching out directly to individual nurses.

Meg Whitman is trying her hand at a manner of union busting – and her degree of success will help determine whether she's elected governor in November.

Several major labor unions have launched campaigns to elect Democrat Jerry Brown, with the California Nurses Association taking a particularly aggressive tack. Even before the primary, a delegation from the union was dogging billionaire Whitman at public events, dressing up in Whitman wigs and featuring its own Queen Meg.
California Nurses Association's satirical "Queen Meg" showed up at Meg Whitman's June 1 Westminster rally

A sampling of its satirical slogans: "Only The Rich Deserve Health Care." "Rich Enough to Rule." "We can't afford our democracy so why not try a monarchy?"

The nurses union has set up a Facebook page, It's bought ads on Spanish-language radio, reminding Latino voters of her strong "no amnesty, no driver licenses, no sanctuary cities, no state universities for illegal immigrants" language during the primary. They're also planning to launch a campaign targeting women voters.

Whitman has struck back by setting up her own website for nurses, She points out that only one in four nurses here belong to the statewide union. She has done two mailings so far to California nurses. Her poll of nurses shows Whitman and Brown in a statistical dead heat (the nurses union counters that the poll methodology was rigged).

"The radical union leadership doesn't represent the views of the average California nurse," said Whitman spokeswoman Sarah Pompei.

One thing both sides acknowledge is that former eBay CEO Whitman will swamp Brown when it comes to campaign spending. While unions are unlikely to level the financial playing field, they can decrease the slope – and supply considerable volunteer manpower.

"There's no question these unions are playing a critical role in the re-election of Gov. Brown," said Pompei, whose partiality to the words "re-election" and "Gov. Brown" reflect the Whitman campaign characterization of him as an old-time politician. "His campaign is very dependent on their efforts."

In turn, the union portrays Whitman's outreach to nurses as an extension of an imperial campaign.

"Whitman is acting like a bored billionaire who thinks her enormous wealth will enable her to buy the votes of nurses, while seeking to destroy their collective voice, just as she thinks she is entitled to own the governor's office," said Deborah Burger, co-president of the nurses union.

Squishy issues

The political landscape of the dispute is simple: The unions expect to get better treatment from Brown than from Whitman. Besides the nurses, unions working to defeat Whitman include the California Labor Federation, the California Federation of Teachers, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association, the California State Employees Association, and the Service Employees International Union.

But things get squishy when it comes to specific issues. The nurses union criticizes Whitman for saying she'd "strongly encourage" California's attorney general to challenge the new federal health reform law. But it also claims she would fire nurses and cut back on patient care, and cut $7 billion from education spending.

Whitman says she supports current nurse staffing levels. She has made no public comment – including when asked directly – if education funding would be affected by her proposed $15 billion in cuts, saying only that she will get more money into the classrooms.

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