Rallies in support of health care reform

As members of Congress prepare to return to Washington, D.C., the Democratic National Committee’s Organizing for America is putting together events nationwide – including at least two here in the Bay Area – to demonstrate support for health care reform that it says would lower costs, protect patient choice and ensure all Americans have access to quality, affordable health care.

From noon to 2 p.m. tomorrow, Tuesday, Sept. 1, there’ll be a gathering outside House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller’s district office at 1333 Willow Pass Road in Concord.

“Congressman Miller will join Bay Area residents from all walks of life as they express their support for health insurance reform, talk about what reform would mean and how to fight back against the lies being spread by the special interests and Republicans in Washington,” according to the news release. “Participants will also be thanking Congressman Miller for his support and delivering hundreds of declarations of support for the President’s three principles for reform, signed by constituents, as he heads back to Washington to get it done and pass health insurance reform now.”

Similar events are planned noon outside the district offices of Rep. Barbara Lee at 1301 Clay St. in Oakland; of Rep. Mike Honda at 1999 South Bascom Ave. in Campbell; and of Rep. Zoe Lofgren at 635 N. First St. in San Jose.

The day after that, Wednesday, Sept. 2, people will gather from 5 to 7 p.m. on the steps of San Francisco City Hall, 1 Dr. Carlton B. Goodlett Place, with a similar message for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and the rest of the delegation. “Stand with us in unity and numbers as we display our support for the President’s call for significant health insurance reform,” says the Web site. “Let’s make sure our representatives hear our voices and take our message that health insurance reform cannot wait back with them to D.C.”

And at noon Thursday, Sept. 4, there’ll be a sendoff rally outside the district office of Rep. Jerry McNerney at 5776 Stoneridge Mall Road in Pleasanton.


Republican praise for Ted Kennedy

I’ve received several dozen e-mailed statements from elected officials, advocacy groups, candidates and pretty much everyone else you can imagine regarding the death of U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy. We’ll be carrying an article of reactions in tomorrow’s editions, but for now I thought I’d take a different tack and present here some of the statements issued by Republicans about the death of this liberal icon.

From Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger:

“Maria and I are immensely saddened by the passing of Uncle Teddy. He was known to the world as the Lion of the Senate, a champion of social justice, and a political icon.

“Most importantly, he was the rock of our family: a loving husband, father, brother and uncle. He was a man of great faith and character.

“Teddy inspired our country through his dedication to health care reform, his commitment to social justice, and his devotion to a life of public service.

“I have personally benefitted and grown from his experience and advice, and I know countless others have as well.

“Teddy taught us all that public service isn’t a hobby or even an occupation, but a way of life and his legacy will live on.”

From gubernatorial candidate and state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner:

“I wish to extend my greatest sympathies to First Lady Maria Shriver and Governor Schwarzenegger on the passing of Senator Kennedy. The Senator’s commitment to public service will long be remembered. My thoughts and prayers are with both the Kennedy and Shriver families as this loss comes so close to the passing of Eunice Shriver. My heart goes out to all family and friends in this time of mourning.”

From House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio:

“The people of Massachusetts and the United States Congress have lost a tireless public servant.

“Ted Kennedy was my friend. While there were few political issues on which he and I agreed, our relationship was never disagreeable, and was always marked by good humor, hard work, and a desire to find common ground.

“Ted Kennedy was also a friend to inner-city children and teachers. For the better part of the last decade, Ted and I worked together to support struggling Catholic grade schools in inner-city Washington. By helping these schools keep their doors open and helping them retain their committed teachers and faculty, this joint effort made a positive difference in the lives of thousands of inner-city children, who otherwise would have been denied the opportunity for a quality education. It wouldn’t have been possible without Senator Kennedy and his genuine desire to give something back to help inner-city students in the city in which he’d served for so many years. I’m proud to have worked with Senator Kennedy on this project, and I will dearly miss his friendship and his partnership in this cause.

“Debbie and I extend our thoughts and prayers to Vicki and the entire Kennedy family at this difficult time.”

And, from U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah:


Al Gore does not approve

As referenced in today’s article, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer visited Kaiser Permanente’s new Oakland medical building today for a demonstration of Kaiser’s electronic medical record system, a roundtable meeting with Kaiser staff and a news conference.

Boxer listened intently as Dr. Patricia Conolly, an internal medicine specialist, walked her through the medical record system, which Kaiser began phasing in in 2005; Conolly said it has made it easier for her and other Kaiser physicians to track and improve patient care while lowering costs. Everything from a patient’s complete medical history, including all previous Kaiser visits, to tools for diagnosis and prescription are available at the touch of a button by the patient’s bedside, Conolly said.

“Wow,” Boxer marveled, “did you invent this?”

“No,” Conolly replied as Kaiser staffers chuckled.

“Did Al Gore?” Boxer quipped.


Lawmakers’ plea for NUMMI goes unheeded

California’s U.S. Senators, joined by much of the Bay Area’s House delegation, wrote to Toyota today to forestall closure of the New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. (NUMMI) plant in Fremont, but apparently it’s too little, too late.

NUMMI is a joint venture between General Motors and Toyota; GM announced last month it will withdraw, and Toyota has been considering doing the same. The plant’s closure would cost 4,500 California jobs directly, and an estimated 35,000 or more indirectly.

The lawmakers wrote to Toyota Corp. President Akio Toyoda to emphasize NUMMI’s importance to California’s economy and to offer to work with Toyota to keep the plant open. Also, U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., reports she recently spoke on the phone with Toyota Motor America President Yoshimi Inaba about her willingness to help find solutions to keep the plant in operation’ other California lawmakers have talked to company officials as well.

But even as the lawmakers announced their effort, media began reporting Toyota’s decision to pull out of the venture and close the plant.

UPDATE @ 5:11 P.M.: Never say die, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s office insists. The governor has talked with and written to the Toyota execs, too, and has formed a “Red Team” of stakeholders to work on keeping the plant open. “The Schwarzenegger Administration is actively engaged with NUMMI’s partners, Toyota, federal officials, local officials, labor, suppliers and other stakeholders to work together to ensure the future success of the facility,” David Crane, the Governor’s special advisor for jobs and economic growth, said in a release. “Our office will continue to respect Toyota’s wishes to keep discussions private as we work together to determine the best path for ensuring NUMMI’s continued operations in Fremont.”

See the letter, after the jump…
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DiFi’s remarks at the Sotomayor hearing

U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., praised U.S. Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor’s “deep and broad experience in the law” during opening remarks delivered at today’s Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing.

Read her remarks in their entirety, after the jump…
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Labor targets Dianne Feinstein for EFCA

Big labor is trying to turn up the publicity heat on U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., this week by staging a two-day fast outside her San Francisco office in support of the Employee Free Choice Act.

Feinstein will be in Washington meeting with business leaders who oppose EFCA even as the Oakland-based California Labor Federation launches its protest Wednesday, with participants starting a fast at 10 a.m. and ending it Thursday evening; some protestors will stay overnight outside Feinstein’s office at One Post St. in San Francisco.

EFCA would let workers form unions by having a majority of employees sign petition cards stating their intention to organize — often called “card check” — without management requiring that a secret-ballot election be held; such elections would still be an option if the workers want it.

The bill also provides that if an employer and newly formed union can’t agree on a first contract within 90 days, either can ask for help from the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service, and if that doesn’t produce a deal within 30 days, the dispute goes to binding arbitration; all time limits can be extended if the parties agree. And the bill would beef up penalties against companies that violate labor laws during organizing campaigns and first-contract bargaining.

The Senator in March backed off her previous support of EFCA, and is currently the only Congressional Democrat from California not on board with the bill. She has floated a sort of compromise in which workers could vote to form unions with mail-in ballots, thus alleviating some lawmakers’ stated concerns about protecting workers’ privacy from labor organizers.

The federation’s schedule says there’ll be a kick-off at noon Wednesday with Executive Secretary-Treasurer Art Pulaski, San Francisco Labor Council Executive Director Tim Paulson, community leaders and others; a 4:30 p.m. workers’ rally in support of those fasting; and a 9:30 to 11 p.m. candlelight vigil. On Thursday, there’ll be another rally – this one with elected officials and clergy – at noon, and then a prayer circle to end the fast at 6 p.m.

UPDATE @ 1:51 P.M. TUESDAY: California Republican Party Chairman Ron Nehring just issued a statement on a similar, pro-EFCA rally taking place outside Feinstein’s office in Los Angeles:

“Today, according to the union bosses, ‘workers and community supporters’ will be demonstrating in support of the Employee ‘Forced’ Choice Act (EFCA), which they claim will ‘help workers earn good wages, healthcare and retirement benefits.’ Unfortunately, it appears our friends have not been reading the news as of late, as unreasonable demands made by Big Labor have forced workers in the auto industry to lose their jobs and mismanagement of their programs have left worker benefit packages terribly underfunded.

“EFCA threatens to have the same affect on the small business community here in California and throughout the nation. By mandating contracts on employers and eliminating workers’ right to a private ballot, union bosses will decimate job creation and severely increase unemployment, slowing any economic recovery on the horizon.”

To clarify, EFCA wouldn’t be “eliminating workers’ right to a private ballot” – it would eliminate management’s right to a private ballot. Workers would still be able to choose a secret-ballot vote if they wish it.