President Obama's health-care-reform victory required nearly every vote it got. It needed 216 to pass the House, and it received 219. Helping put the package over the top was every member of the Bay Area's congressional delegation. And though it isn't surprising that Bay Area politicians favored reform, one of them nearly opposed it. If he had, the entire package might have unraveled.
For weeks, Democrat Jerry McNerney of Pleasanton had wavered. His indecision was understandable. He represents the only local Congressional district in which Republicans hold a majority. In 2006, he replaced Republican Richard Pombo. And in recent weeks, the GOP had threatened to use health care as a bludgeon against him this November.
But a vote against health care had no real upside for McNerney. If he had helped kill reform, it would have angered his base. Plus, he voted for essentially the same package last fall. So his Republican opponent would have been able to paint him as a flip-flopper. And so, a day before the vote, McNerney came off the fence and endorsed the most sweeping health-care reform package since the 1960s.
Although Republicans will surely try to use his decision against him, they may not have much success once voters learn about the law's benefits. For example, insurance companies soon will no longer be able to exclude or kick children off of insurance plans because of illness or pre-existing conditions. The law also will prohibit insurance companies from pushing adults off plans when they get sick. Children will be able to be covered by their parents' insurance up to age 26. And lifetime insurance coverage limits will be eliminated.
The GOP has supported these reforms over the years, and so it will be hypocritical to hammer Democrats for finally enacting them. And promising to repeal health-care reform will be tough once voters realize the package is much better then they had been led to believe.
Had Democrats failed to pass the bill, that could have been devastating for them. It would have confirmed critics' complaints that liberals can't govern, which would have been far more damaging to McNerney this fall. After all, he would be known as a member of a party that had the presidency and both houses of Congress, and yet was unable to pass its most important piece of legislation. In short, a no vote would have been political suicide.
California Turns to the Right
The coming weeks and months also will reveal whether the health-care victory and the push to regulate Wall Street will reverse the trend toward conservatism in California and beyond. Recent polls suggest the rightward shift has been dramatic. Last week, the Field Poll showed that GOP gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman had moved into the lead over Democratic Attorney General Jerry Brown, 46 to 43 percent. Whitman had trailed Brown by nearly 20 points a year ago.
Although Whitman's surge can be attributed to her expensive ad blitz during the Winter Olympics and Brown's nonexistent campaign so far, the Field Poll revealed that something more sweeping was at work. The poll showed two Republican candidates in a virtual dead heat against incumbent Democratic US Senator Barbara Boxer. Moderate Tom Campbell was leading Boxer 44-43 percent, while the more conservative Carly Fiorina trailed her 45-44 percent. The turnaround was particularly striking for the ex-Hewlett Packard CEO. She had trailed Boxer by nearly 20 points in early 2009.
Sheila Jordan Does it Again
Alameda County schools Superintendent Sheila Jordan is one of the most ethically challenged politicians in the East Bay. Over the years, the Express has detailed her litany of questionable activities. Earlier this month, Contra Costa Times political columnist Lisa Vorderbrueggen provided more evidence of Jordan's lack of ethics. Vorderbrueggen uncovered a letter that Jordan sent to companies doing business with the Alameda County Office of Education requesting that they make donations to her reelection campaign.
Soliciting contributions from companies that have contracts over which Jordan has control is not illegal but should be, said Bob Stern, president of the nonpartisan Center for Governmental Studies. "This solicitation is exhibit one for enacting such a ban covering all elected officials," Stern told Vorderbrueggen. "This should be illegal; it certainly is unethical." Jordan's letter also prompted the usually low-key editorial board of the Times and the Oakland Tribune to criticize her, calling her actions "particularly disturbing."
Berkeley city official Ryan Lau resigned from the Zoning Adjustments Board last week after the Berkeley Daily Planet revealed that he had illegally converted his garage into living space without permits. The web site also reported that Lau, whose job was to uphold the very same laws he broke, may be forced to tear down what he had built. ... Alameda Councilwoman Lena Tam and former San Leandro Mayor Shelia Young dropped out of the race for Alameda County supervisor. Their exits leave a battle between former Assemblywoman Wilma Chan and Alameda Mayor Beverly Johnson to replace outgoing Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker. ... Two Texas oil companies are bankrolling a campaign to roll back California's landmark climate-change law. ... And three Bay Area businesses have joined a lawsuit against Yelp, alleging that the online site extorted them by demanding ad money in exchange for eliminating bad reviews.