Meg Whitman, the billionaire gubernatorial candidate who made headlines for physically assaulting an employee while chief of eBay, has in the last month found a new target: California's registered nurses.
Irked at the California Nurses Association for drawing attention to her unprecedented campaign spending and her past wheeling and dealings as a board member of Goldman Sachs, Whitman has launched a series of bizarre attacks on RNs that we can only conclude are meant to intimidate us from speaking out.
Voters who have seen the press reports of Whitman's demands that CNA provide her with nurses' personal information, her late-night 'push-poll' phone calls to the state's RNs and her slick mailers smearing CNA's leadership may wonder what all the fuss is about.
The answer is simple: Nurses are mobilizing against Whitman because we believe that putting California in the hands of a candidate whose only qualification is her vast wealth, and who has pledged to repeal even the most basic checks on corporate influence, is simply the wrong prescription for our state. And Whitman, apparently, doesn't like it.
As nurses, our primary responsibility is to advocate for the health and safety of our patients and the public. For years, we have fought for patient protections such as safe minimum staffing levels in hospitals and better standards for emergency preparedness.
These cutting-edge reforms, along with California's groundbreaking environmental protections, have made our state a model for the nation. And it is exactly these key safeguards of the public health that Whitman has pledged to repeal, along with basic workers' rights like the eight-hour day and meal and rest breaks. Nurses know that this kind of deregulation doesn't work. We've seen its consequences in the recent financial meltdown and the Gulf oil spill.
At a time of great and increasing insecurity for low- and middle-income Californians, Whitman also plans to eliminate 40,000 state jobs and cut pensions for workers who have already seen their retirement prospects dim in the stock market crisis.
As caregivers, registered nurses have little sympathy for the mean-spirited campaign Whitman has run--seeking to blame vulnerable populations like immigrants, the poor, women and children for the state's economic woes. In one of her mailers to the state's RNs, Whitman promises to set aside funds for nursing education--from the money she'll save by cutting welfare benefits for the state's poorest residents. Nurses aren't buying it. As one of our members who works at a University of California medical center pointed out, "She's going to take more money away from women and children and the poor; those are the patients I take care of every day. I don't need them to be poorer, less educated and less healthy."
Whitman's efforts to keep nurses from speaking out against her raises further concerns about the character she'd display as governor. They began when her campaign sent a letter to CNA demanding the home addresses of all 86,000 members. We refused. But nurses had already begun receiving harassing phone calls from Whitman campaign operatives using the pretense of a fake 'poll' to spread misleading information about CNA. At times, the caller would claim to represent CNA or the state Board of Registered Nursing, our members reported. If nurses said they didn't support Whitman, the caller would often turn hostile.
Soon, the Whitman campaign had launched a website bashing CNA and claiming to present a nurse perspective on the election--with no comments from any actual nurses.
For nurses, the approach is disturbingly similar to that of hospital managers who attempt to silence us when we point out problems with patient care. Whitman's recent pledge to set up a 'nurse advisory committee' for her campaign smacks of the panels hospitals set up when they face public relations disasters due to lapses in patient safety: hand-picked by management, with no real power to affect policy.
Yet Whitman has shown little interest in unscripted interactions with nurses not selected by her campaign, turning down repeated invitations to address our members. Unlike her opponent, Attorney General Jerry Brown, Whitman has no record of public service, and even voting--that most basic citizen's task--apparently slipped her mind for years. Clearly, this is a candidate uncomfortable with the messiness of actual democracy.