PROVO, UTAH - OCTOBER 27: A nurse administers a shot of the H1N1 vaccine at the Utah County Health Department October 27, 2009 in Provo, Utah. After health department got a shipment of 4000 vaccines overnight, a large line formed with a wait of four to five hours. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images)
It was a fundraiser for Democratic party activists and the allies called the "Rage for Justice" dinner (named for the call-to-arms used by the legendary San Francisco congressman Phil Burton).
This dinner was receiving a great deal of attention because the keynote speaker, actor/director Warren Beatty, was about to unleash a torrent of criticism of the current Governor and fellow actor Arnold Schwazenegger.
But the real stars of the night were seated at a table in front. Following their introduction the entire ballroom rose in a standing ovation for the leadership of the California Nurses Association. The CNA is a union that represents about a fourth of the number of RN's in California.
It is political. They believe in outlawing all health insurance companies. They have protested outside of Sen. Dianne Feinstein's house in San Francisco demanding she support a bill in Congress that would eliminate the secret ballot in union organizing campaigns.
But back during this dinner they were in the process of delivering Mr. Schwarzenegger his worst political defeat. In 2005 the Governor had a list of five ballot measures he wanted voters to approve in a special election. One would extend the probationary period for teachers from two to five years. Another would require state workers pay more into their own pension plans. A third called for changes in the way legislative district borders were drawn.
The CNA opposed all of them. Part of it was payback. Governor Gray Davis, prior to his recall, has signed legislation requiring a lowering of the nurse/patient ratio in California. Schwazenegger was delaying implementation of the law. The nurses union was pissed. At each event the Governor attended, from fundraisers to speeches, the unionized nurses would rally. They would show up in their uniforms with picket signs and bullhorns.
On occasion they would try to disrupt his speech. Once in Long Beach when they attempted to shout down the Governor Arnold announced to the crowd not to pay any attention to them... that they were made because "I kick their butts". The union made a political tv commercial out of that episode.
The campaign was effective. The news media routinely pitted the campaign as "nurses" versus the "Governor". At the Beverly Hills dinner in 2005 one organizer told me excitedly that their polling showed that nurses had the "highest credibility rating" of any occupation. A political star was born. Now the CNA is after Meg Whitman.
They have a chartered bus which follows her to campaign events and fundraisers. There is political theater... as an actor dressed as "Queen Meg" extols the vi trues of "buying an election" and how democracy is really not needed in California. eMeg is now fighting back. Today the campaign released this website where they discuss the salary of CNA director Rose Ann DeMoro (not a nurse but a former Teamster union exec), the cost of the bus used to follow Whitman around the state, and a poll of RN's that indicate many nurses like Whitman's positions on nursing issues.
The hope is that the news media will also take notice. The Whitman campaign doesn't want to make the same mistakes Arnold Schwarzenegger did in '05. And while taking on nurses is a losing proposition... attacking a union is a different matter.