California Dems Reject Sen. Feinstein, Open Path for Progressive Candidate
Long-serving Senator Dianne Feinstein failed to receive the endorsement of the California Democratic Party, signaling a shift in the state’s politics towards a more progressive alternative
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. The California Democratic Party failed to endorse Senator Dianne Feinstein for a fifth Senate term on Sunday. She got only 37% of the 2,775 delegates that voted. Her challenger, State Senator President pro Tem Kevin de León got 54 % of the vote. Neither ended up with the party’s endorsement because candidates need at least 60% of the delegates to vote for an endorsement. This is a major blow to Senator Feinstein, one of the most senior senators in the US Senate.
Californians will hold their primaries on June 5th, and joining me now to discuss the decision and what this means for California and for the Democratic Party as a whole, is Don Nielsen. Don Nielsen is Director of Government Relations for the California Nurses Association. I thank you for joining us, Don.
DON NIELSEN: Thank you.
SHARMINI PERIES: So Don, let’s begin with what this means for California, for such a senior senator as Dianne Feinstein who has been in the Senate for 26 years, to be rejected in this way.
DON NIELSEN: Well, it’s an indication of the direction of the party in California and of the grassroots. Everybody, there was, common wisdom was that she was going to get the endorsement easily because she’s out-polling Kevin de León or has been up until recently. But the party delegates, the people who come to these things are overwhelmingly more progressive and more left leaning than the party leadership. We’ve seen that for a long time, but we’ve never seen anything quite like this, where they voted so overwhelmingly not to endorse her and to endorse, to come very close to endorsing Kevin de León. He only fell about 147 votes short of actually getting the 60% threshold.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Now, let’s talk about Kevin de León in a minute, but let’s back up a little bit here to Dianne Feinstein. Why was she rejected politically? What was her positions in the past that the Democrats as a whole in California just didn’t endorse any longer?
DON NIELSEN: Well, I think there’s a lot of different reasons. From positions on war, positions on fiscal matters, making statements like giving Donald Trump a chance and so forth. But I think the biggest reason is her rejection of the overwhelming momentum out there in the land for guaranteed healthcare for all, Medicare for All at the federal level. Here in California, SB 562 guaranteed healthcare for all.
Bernie Sanders has this bill, S-1804 and people are jumping on board to coauthor it, yet Senator Feinstein specifically refused, notwithstanding the fact that others have endorsed it and cosponsored it, coauthored it. So, I’d say that’s probably the single largest thing that has caused people to want to reject her here at the party convention.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Now, who is Kevin de León? And why was he able to mount such a serious challenge to Feinstein?
DON NIELSEN: Well, he is the Senate pro Tem, meaning he’s the head of the California Senate, the President, the leader of the California Senate. He played a very instrumental role in getting our bill, SB 562 through the Senate and over to the assembly. Party activists, the grassroots, everyone recognizes that. We in particular, California Nurses Association, the main sponsor of that bill, have always been appreciative of the work that he and other members of the Senate have done in supporting that bill and overwhelmingly passing it through the Senate.
We endorsed him just a few weeks ago, and up to that point, there hadn’t been any major labor unions jumping on board to endorse him. After we did that, within a day or two after that, others also endorsed him. So, in effect broke the logjam in that. And I think you’re going to see more and more support for his candidacy. The main reason we endorsed him, the main reason that our nurse leadership overwhelmingly endorsed him was because of his integral role in getting our SB 562 bill through the Senate.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, Don. So, what does this mean now, for both candidates, Feinstein and de León? What happens leading up to the primaries if you’re not endorsed by the party?
DON NIELSEN: Well, the lack of a party endorsement means that you can’t put that on your literature, you can’t cite yourself as being endorsed by the party. It has an effect on, it can have an effect on support, on fundraising. But the real, the bigger litmus test, the bigger, the more important item I would argue for candidates going forward is whether they support guaranteed healthcare for all, Medicare for All. In California, that means SB 562.
For Senator Feinstein to have specifically refused to endorse these concepts while Senator de León has embraced them, I think you’re going to see that become the major factor that will play such a huge role in the primary. And so, I think it’s going to be the case for all Democratic candidates going forward. The grassroots, the overwhelming majority of registered Democrats and the overwhelming majority of the population at large want to see real, meaningful reform in healthcare. What’s going on at the national level is a terrible thing.
Here in California, the Democrats control all branches of government, right? So, at the national level, it’s the opposite but here in California they control all branches of government. So, they in effect own the fix. They have no excuse for not implementing real, meaningful reform in the area of healthcare and that, right now, there’s only one single-payer bill out there in California and that’s our bill SB 562. Again, Senator de León embraced it, and others have not. In particular Senator Feinstein has not embraced the concept of Medicare for All, and I think that is the issue. That’s the item that has separated the two at the convention that we just saw this last weekend.
SHARMINI PERIES: Now, some of this Democratic Party establishment challengers are lingering from the last convention and the last presidential election and the struggle over Bernie Sanders’ candidacy and so forth. How is the party establishment reacting to these challenges?
DON NIELSEN: Well, it’s interesting to watch them because much of the establishment is trying very hard to resist that type of message, a Bernie Sanders type message in the area of healthcare and in many other areas as well. But we’re also starting to see a division among that leadership beginning to take place, where the smarter ones are seeing that if they want to continue to lead the party, if they want to continue to enjoy the support of the grassroots and win elections, they’re going to have to get on board with this issue. Guaranteed healthcare for all is the issue right now that, at least the party faithful care about and I think the population at large cares about as well because it’s a broken system. Our healthcare system is a broken system that is in need of drastic repair and there’s really only one solution. That is guaranteed healthcare for all.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Don, in what ways are the party establishment blocking the Healthcare for All bill?
DON NIELSEN: Well, back in June of last year, June 23 of last year, the Speaker of the Assembly, Anthony Rendon, out of nowhere said he was going to hold up the bill in the rules committee and not assign it to a policy committee for further consideration. You remember, a few minutes ago, I mentioned how Senator de León, the head of the Senate played such an integral role in getting that bill through the Senate and passing it over to the Assembly for them to vote on it. And instead of embracing it, and working with us and others who support this concept, Speaker Rendon, without any heads up, without any communication with us or anyone else that cares about this bill, decided to hold it up, to freeze it in effect.
Now, the bill is not dead. The bill can still be assigned to a committee. We still have this entire legislative year to the end of August for that bill to go forward. And we’re hopeful that he’ll allow it to go forward. He was called on by various speakers and activists at the convention to do just that, but right now he’s standing in the way of that. It’s not a winning solution for him and for others who are supporting him because the grassroots, the majority of the population, the vast majority of registered Democrats want to see this bill allowed to go through the normal hearing procedure and voted on, right? I mean, that’s why we elect these people, is to vote and to take and to be accountable. What the Speaker’s trying to do is to “protect” those more moderate members of the Democratic Party from having to go on record and having to answer to their constituents as to why they do or do not support SB 562.
SHARMINI PERIES: Don, I understand that the California Nurses Association is supporting a candidate for governor and you’re about to go on a campaign, unveiling a bus. Tell us more about that.
DON NIELSEN: Right. We, the nurses, democratically and overwhelming voted back in December of 2015 to endorse Gavin Newsom for governor. We’re doing, we’ve got a whole bunch of things planned in supporting him for his candidacy. We just, at the party convention in San Diego over this weekend, rolled out our Nurses for Newsom bus. It’s quite impressive. That bus will be traveling around the state to various activities, appearing at, from town halls to rallies to you name it. And also serving as sort of a mobile billboard for the governor traveling around the state.
It’s very impressive and it shows the level of dedication and support we have for his campaign because he is the frontrunner and as the frontrunner, and I believe a direct result of being the frontrunner is the fact that he has come out in strong support of single-payer, our bill SB 562, guaranteed healthcare for all, is committed to signing a single-payer bill when it gets to his desk, when elected governor. These are the things that have entered into our overall decision to support him overwhelmingly and you’re going to see a whole slew of activities designed to promote his candidacy because he is serious about the bill, serious about the concept, and fortunately is the frontrunner, and the favorite in the race at this point.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Don, I thank you so much for joining us here on The Real News Network and I wish you all the best with the upcoming campaign.
DON NIELSEN: All right. Well, thank you very much. We appreciate all your attention to this.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.