If it were done, the 9th Circuit has ordained, ’twere best done quickly — regicides and gubernatorial recalls being inherently messy and increasingly unpleasant undertakings that no one really wants to prolong. So we’re back to October 7, with races within races still unfolding.
Barring a spectacularly good debate performance that absolutely no one anticipates, Cruz Bustamante will likely continue his inelegant bump downward in public esteem as his campaign continues to showcase the very things about him — his dependence on tribal casinos, his lack of mental acuity — that tend to repel voters. In a poll released last weekend by the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC), Cruz wins half the Latino vote, but absolutely bombs among other elements of the Democratic coalition, African-Americans most particularly. Indeed, if the polling is to be believed at all, African-American voters are likely to vote No on the recall and skip the succession part of the ballot altogether as they wend their way down to voting No on Proposition 54.
A quick look at the PPIC’s poll also makes clear that for Gray Davis to survive this election, labor will have to pull out all stops. The PPIC poll had the recall leading by a 53 percent to 42 percent margin — a big drop from the 58 percent to 36 percent lead it held one month previous, but still a ways to go for Davis. The recall is behind by 35 percent to 60 percent in the Bay Area, but running essentially even in L.A. — ahead by a single point, 48 percent to 47 percent. It also leads by an analogous 48 percent to 46 percent margin among Latinos. In short, by the normal standards of Democratic success, the most underperforming area of the state is L.A., and the most underperforming constituency, Latinos.
Labor’s legendary voter-persuasion-and-mobilization program in Los Angeles — keyed to both union and Latino voters — is now in full gear. It has turned elections around before, and Davis had better hope it is up to this task one more time.
If the recall weren’t dwarfing all other news in California, the passage by the state Legislature of Senate Bill 2 at the close of this year’s session would be a huge story. With SB2, the Democrats in the Legislature have plunked down on Gray Davis’ desk what the California Budget Project’s Jean Ross calls “the biggest step forward in health coverage for adults since the passage of Medicaid.”
California is the American capital of medical un-insurance, with 6.3 million state residents lacking all coverage. On a percentage basis, says Beth Cappell, a consultant active for years in efforts to expand health coverage, “we have more uninsured than any state except Texas and New Mexico, and our health insurance is more affordable than theirs.”
What sets California apart isn’t the unemployment rate here, but the high number of working poor. One million of the Californians eligible for Medicaid are employed, and a second million are their children. SB2 would help many of those workers and their families — about 1 million Californians overall — by requiring employers of more than 200 workers to offer them family health coverage, and pay for 80 percent of it, beginning in 2006. Employers of between 50 and 199 workers would be required to offer worker (though not family) health coverage beginning in 2007. Businesses with between 20 and 49 workers would be brought into the program no sooner than 2007, and then only when the state can afford to provide those employers with a tax credit to defray their costs. A study by the University of California’s Institute for Labor and Employment concludes that the average yearly after-tax cost per worker to a business covered under this program will be $1,343. Meanwhile, says Cappell, the state will save between $500 million and $1 billion in annual Medi-Cal costs once the program is up and running — a savings that could provide much of the funding for the tax credits to small businesses.
The passage of SB2 is part of a larger national tale: states, fed up with the inability of the federal government to pass a comprehensive health program, deciding to go ahead on their own. Maine now has passed a universal program slated to take effect in 2009, and other states are taking smaller actions. “For years, we had been resistant to the arguments that we should start enacting programs at the state level,” says Gerald Shea, who heads the public-policy office of the national AFL-CIO. “But in light of the do-nothing politics in Washington, we decided last December to pledge more resources to state initiatives.” In November, leaders of 25 state labor federations will meet in Washington to consider how best to expand coverage in their own states. “State-by-state reforms have historically driven businesses crazy,” says Shea. “We hope — as it’s been before — that it’s a way to get to national reforms.”