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Calif. Legislator Gets Death Threats for Stopping Single-Payer

Rally to save the Affordable Care Act in Los Angeles. Flickr/Creative Commons/Molly Adams

At a time when the debate over “Trumpcare” and the possible repeal-and-replacement of Obamacare is hotter than the Fourth of July thermometers in L.A. and Orange County, one lone Democrat is risking death threats and the banishment from his party to put the brakes on the what would be the first single-payer system in the country. 

And even though California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon is strongly opposed to Republican attempts to replace President Obama’s Affordable Care Act at the federal level, his implacable opposition to California’s Senate Bill 562 (the “Healthy California” initiative) is being interpreted by left wing voices in his own party as effectively giving aid and comfort to President Trump, and to the Tea Party/Freedom Caucus.

A little backstory: California’s overwhelmingly Democratic Senate placed a bill to enact Canadian-style single-payer healthcare in the Golden State in direct reaction to Trump’s election, in a state that Hillary Clinton took by a mega-million margin and where street protests demonstrating “The Resistance” have become regular events.  The more determined that President Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and House Speaker Paul Ryan became to getting rid of  Obamacare at the federal level, the more that California’s single-payer initiative became a symbol of Resistance–attracting the attention of Bernie Sanders, Washington Monthly and even European and British media.

Things got tense. When Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez “bombed” in a speech failing to explain to Golden State progressives why national Democrats aren’t going all-in on supporting single-payer or Medicare For All, former California Democratic Party Chairman John Burton (who also seems less-than-thrilled about single-payer), publicly and angrily told protesting nurses and progressive activists to quote, “Shut the fuck up!” Burton and Perez were immediately attacked all over the “liberal media” and social media institutions.

Meanwhile, the single-payer bill was sailing through the California State Senate and well on its way to being reconciled in the State Assembly, with the strong support of Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom, largely considered a shoo-in to succeed 80-year-old Jerry Brown as he retires from his fourth and final term as governor.

Until Speaker Rendon slammed on the brakes, that is, summarily tabling the bill on Friday for at least a full year. Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and newly-elected state Democratic chair Eric Bauman went ballistic when Rendon issued his ruling, with his decision “roundly denounced” by countless progressive activists as in effect, giving in to Trump. Bernie Sanders attacked Rendon personally on Twitter on June 24th. “I am extremely disappointed that the speaker of the California Assembly is refusing to allow S.B. 562 to come to the Assembly floor for a vote.  Call on Democratic Speaker Rendon to reverse his decision to shelve the bill.”

Even more tellingly (and truthfully in this case) Sanders added, “The eyes of the country are on California.”

Indeed they are. Even London’s Observerattacked the move with the blunt headline, “Corporate Democrats Sabotage Single-Payer Bill in California for Wealthy Donors,” and judged Rendon’s move as “unconscionable” in light of the federal battle merely to preserve key components of Obamacare. The article notes the hefty amounts (for a state-level politician) that Rendon received from corporate and pharma/health insurance lobbies, and said that it was a sign that the “Democratic establishment in California has been bought and paid for by pharmaceutical and healthcare industries.”

And that’s why this move merits national attention. In this kind of environment, whether he meant to or not, the message that Rendon sent was an unmistakable “ENOUGH ALREADY!” to the red-rose Democratic Socialists and the Bernie Bros. To put it as bluntly as John Burton might have, Rendon would have had to have been a f***ing idiot to not realize that this is exactly how the left wing (including many Millennial voters of all stripes) would interpret his move. But like a power-wielding federal judge, Rendon refused to give even an inch of deference. You might say Rendon was warned by his party’s leadership–especially the Brocialist Left–but nevertheless, he persisted.

Rendon himself has been the subject of death threats ever since his decision to overrule the bill. One demented prankster warned Rendon to “check his schedule for baseball practice,” a clear reference to the assassination attempt on Rep. Steve Scalise in Washington D.C. But in this kind of “Resistance” atmosphere, a spokesman for the CA Nurses’ Association (a strong supporter of single-payer, as most nurses’ unions backed Bernie in last year’s Democratic primary) tossed back, “There ARE real death threats out there-–for people who are facing a loss of health care (because of Rendon’s move)!”

It’s no wonder that it came on the heels of Perez’s disastrous reception by left-wing voices and progressives in the Golden State. Left-wing voices and Brocialists are only now getting over their disappointment that Perez was forced through by the Clinton and Obama wings of the Democratic Party as a specific move to stop Rep. Keith Ellison – an openly Muslim African-American who unambiguously supported the Bernie wing of the party–from taking the DLC’s top spot in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s defeat.

Writing in his column, ultraconservative foreign policy hawk Mark Steyn said that “if you live in Tikrit or Fallujah, the Iraq War is about Iraq. If you live anywhere else on the planet, the Iraq War was about America.” In much the same way, in this kind of scalding-water melting pot, if you’re in the California Assembly bubble, you might be able to get away with saying that Rendon’s decision was merely about finding the proper funding mechanisms and procedural issues. If you’re anywhere else, it’s a metaphor for the struggle that the Democrats are having nationwide, as the neoliberal, “Goldman Sachs” wing of the party that has held absolute economic-sector power at the top since Bill Clinton in 1992, is now fighting an army of Millennial Marxists, Bernie Bros, and democratic socialists for the future and control of Team D.

A very wise mathematician friend of mine on Twitter (he lives in New York, the other large state as irrevocably deep-blue as California), noted that as the Republican Party has collapsed in New York and California, the intramural battle between liberals and the Left there is only bound to get uglier.

Telly Davidson is the author of a new book on the politics and pop culture of the ’90s, Culture War. He has written on culture for FrumForum, All About Jazz,FilmStew, and Guitar Player, and worked on the Emmy-nominated PBS seriesPioneers of Television.

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