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When I first heard then-Supervisor Lou Correa give his stump speech to our OC chapter of Democracy For America – (he was hoping, and succeeded, in getting a lot of support and volunteers for his nail-biting-tight Senatorial run against moderate Republican Lynn Daucher) – he began with an anecdote about a poor Latina mother who came to the door and complained that she couldn’t afford health insurance for her children. And this was, we were to believe, his inspiration to get involved in politics.
A strange choice of anecdotes, I thought, many times later, and I did hear him give the same speech again at another Democratic function. A strange choice, because, alone among Democratic politicians, I really don’t know of any vote Senator Correa has taken that makes it any easier for the working poor or middle class to get health care.
I realize, of course, that, as a skillful politician, he probably has several contrasting speeches he likes to give to different audiences, and I only end up hearing the progressive Democrat one. Kind of like when a group of us progressives met with him at his Anaheim office to convince him (unsuccessfully) to support campaign finance reform (and I was hoping to also get a plug in for the single-payer bill SB 840) – but he immediately went on for 15 minutes about how he had managed to preserve part of the Santa Ana River as a wildlife refuge or something. We were puzzled – that’s not what we’d come to talk about. But later I realized that when he looked at us what he saw was Liberal Democrats, and that was his one achievement he could think of boasting about to “liberals.”
So, that was 2006, when Lou made it into the Senate by the skin of his teeth. Since then, health insurance costs have continued their inexorable rise, and millions more have joined the ranks of Lou’s uninsured or underinsured mother. Three times, California’s single-payer bill SB 840 – the best solution to this crisis – came up for a vote since then, and Lou was the only Sacramento Democrat to vote against it. (Even Assemblyman Jose Solorio, who’s become another Big Insurance Dem, voted aye – albeit secure in the knowledge it would be vetoed by Schwarzenegger.)
Mike Feuer’s Assembly Bill 52
The past two years in particular have seen an epidemic of excessive health insurance rate hikes, in the double digits (sometimes backed off of when public outcry was too great.) Blue Cross’s infamous 59% raise, Aetna’s 19% hike, and Blue Shield´s 75% increase in May 2010 for small-group health insurance were only among the most notorious, in an overall premium tidal wave that has crippled small businesses and impoverished or un-insured hundreds of thousands of working families in the state. It was obvious that we needed what many other states have (and what WE already have for other forms of insurance) – the ability for our Insurance Commissioner (our new, populist Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones) to reject health insurance rate increases he found to be unreasonable. And so, LA Assemblyman Mike Feuer introduced his very popular Assembly Bill 52. Here, just watch him talk about it:
So. Fearing this bill like the wrath of God, California’s insurance companies began a nearly unprecedentedly huge propaganda campaign against it, replete with bogus, easily disproved claims, false figures and scare stories, largely to convince the gullible that this bill would actually do the opposite of what it would, and drive rates UP. Of course, Democratic lawmakers – Solorio and Correa specifically – are not stupid. I don’t believe they are fooled by propaganda campaigns like this. I believe the propaganda campaigns function to give them cover for voting in the way that they’re otherwise motivated to vote.
To kill a good progressive piece of legislation, what is needed (and what California insurers seem to have got for now) is at least FIVE Democratic Senators to vote with the Republicans against the people. The numbers in the Assembly are harder, for the forces of oppression. Still, our Assemblyman Solorio – who is auditioning for Correa’s role in the Senate when the latter’s termed out – did what he could to soften the legislation up in the Assembly last June. With another likeminded Dem, he stubbornly insisted on a pointless amendment specifying that “reasonable rate increases would be approved” – not only an unnecessary touch, but calculated to slow down the legislation, and also make it easier for insurance companies to challenge any rejections. Unable to attach this amendment, Solorio abstained from the vote, as did every Republican in the Assembly. You see, this is not the sort of bill that politicians want to come out against publicly!
And then, as I hinted before, the bill was killed (temporarily) in the Senate, by (at least) five “Democrats” who refuse to go on the record, although Juice friend Greg Diamond is on the job figuring out who they are. It is unthinkable, however, that one of them is NOT our Lou Correa, given his pro-insurance and pro-corporate record over the years. I’ve been waiting a week now, fruitlessly, to hear back from him on his position on AB 52, and his reason for his position. Funny, he always got back to me right away back when we were fighting together against the Great Fairgrounds Swindle. I guess there is no upside to coming out publicly as a protector of Big Insurance against consumers and struggling small businesses.
And these are our two Orange County “Democrats.”
And they are Democrats who have got huge chunks of their campaign contributions from the Insurance Industry: Over $150,000 for Lou from 2007-10 – his biggest contributors – and over $100,000 for Jose. Tellingly, for those of us who note how poorly these two serve their struggling Santa Ana constituents, 85% of Jose’s contributions come from outside his district, and 89.4% of Lou’s! [Sadly, much of this insurance money seems to have ended up feeding Kinde Durkee's ice cream and Disneyland habits *snort* *snark* *schadenfreude*]
Or, to be more charitable (to the point of naïveté?) my sometime friend Jose seems to think of himself as a technocrat devoted to resolving differences between competing parties and coming up with the optimal win-win. While fighting the Fairgrounds Swindle, this somehow, eventually, through lots of ups and downs, came to a good outcome. But we don’t need our Democrats looking out for the profits of predatory corporations like health insurance as something equally valid to our own personal and financial well-being. There are plenty of Republican lawmakers who are paid for that. When folks vote for a Democrat, they are expecting to have someone who will look out for THEIR interest – the public’s interest. What Correa and Solorio, and Democrats who support them, forget is that:
… there’s a WAR going on!
And I don’t mean between Americans and Muslims in the Middle East. And I don’t even mean between Republicans and Democrats – I think that most of our friends who vote Republican are nice misguided people who don’t know what side their bread is buttered on. I mean the War of the Billionaires and Predatory Corporations Against the Rest of Us. For-profit health insurance, which is illegal in many civilized countries and shouldn’t even exist here, is not a force that needs to be coddled by supposedly liberal politicians at the expense of the public’s real needs. When we vote for Democrats, we need to know they’re going to be on OUR side.
It’s obvious that getting 2/3 in Sacramento is not going to be enough, we need to make sure those 2/3 are Progressive, on our side, not Corporatist (as Cruickshank divides the Dems in the post-GOP era.) One of the first things we can do in the OC is to make sure that Jose Solorio is replaced in the 69th AD with an actual Progressive, whether it’s Julio Perez or Michele Martinez. Would Julio or Michele have voted for AB52? Will they? I’ll ask them both soon.
And the other thing – the bill will be re-introduced in January. One theory is that some Senators are skittish about drawing the ire of a powerful lobby until they’re sure what their new districts are and who they’re running against. (Cowards.) Let’s work between now and then at shaming Lou into voting in favor of this vital reform.
Yes on AB 52, Lou. If you want us to believe you’re really a Democrat.