Governor Tough Guy, At It Again

You may have heard the story.

You probably haven’t felt the outrage.

You should.

Last week, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger garnered another round of media attention by denigrating a group protesting outside of a conference at which he was speaking.

“Pay no attention to those voices,” the muscleman governor told the audience at the conference. “Those are special interests. They’re just angry because I kick their butts everyday.”

Just more jocularity from the governor who Time magazine notes stands in sharp contrast to his aptly named predecessor, Gray Davis? (Says Time, “At a typical event, he comes crashing onstage, delivers a macho statement of intent, metaphorically flexes his muscles, then roars away.”)

The governor uses his rather sophisticated brand of self-mocking, self-parodying machismo to present the image of a take-charge, independent-minded, no-politics-as-usual, principled public servant.

Unfortunately, the reality is that he is a blustering, corporations-first, favor-returning servant of Big Business.

So, why should you feel outrage?

First, about those special interests whom the governor so heroicallyconfronts: They are the California Nurses Association.

Not the hospital association. Not the insurers association. Not the HMOs. The nurses association.

As it happens, the California Nurses Association represents exactly what is best in the labor movement. The union explicitly identifies the interests of the workers they represent — nurses — with the broader public interest in high-quality patient care. It fights hard for its members and for the public interest.

The governor certainly does know something about real special interests — that is, how to coddle them. To take one example among many, the governor backed the business-contrived Proposition 64 in the November election, which gutted the state’s unfair competition law, a vital tool used to stem the activities of polluting companies, corporations selling dangerous products, and tobacco companies marketing to kids. Arnold has taken millions from the same companies that poured funding into the deceptive Prop 64 campaign.

Second, even in these sophisticated post-modern times, we should all be able to generate a little fury over the governor whose fairytale campaign was almost derailed by sexual harassment charges saying that he kicks nurses’ butts.

Even more so because the governor made the comments at the annual Conference on Women and Families, a star-studded event that reportedly attracted a crowd of 10,000, overwhelmingly women.

“For the Governor to denigrate nurses — a historically female profession — while speaking to an audience of women is an affront to women everywhere,” says Rose Ann DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Association. “We expect more from the state’s top officer than just pre-pubescent comments and blatant pandering to corporate donors.”

Finally, anger should be boiling at the governor’s action that prompted the nurses’ protest.

In November, Schwarzenegger issued an executive order delaying implementation of new nurse-to-patient ratio rules for California.

California’s landmark nurse-to-patient ratio law is the product of a long-running campaign by the California Nurses Association. The law was enacted in 1999, and started to go into effect early this year. The five-year phase-in gave hospitals plenty of time to accommodate themselves.

The nurses lobbied the bill through the state legislature in response to tight-fisted, cost-cutting hospital practices that were putting extraordinary burdens on nurses — and endangering patient care.

Prior to the act coming into effect this year, DeMoro told us, “there were higher rates of infection, and higher rates of re-admission, because patients who were discharged too early had to come back — patients who didn’t get the full care they needed in the hospital, couldn’t get the care at home.”

“Since the ratio has been adopted, we’ve not only seen more nurses in the hospital, but those nurses who are in the hospital really have the time to care for their patients,” she says.

In the rest of the country, DeMoro explains, the problem remains very severe, with nurses handling as many as a dozen patients each.

In California, the nurse-to-patient rules mandate varying ratios for different kinds of care. The present requirement in medical/surgical units is a one-to-six ratio. Under previously existing rules, hospitals were scheduled to reduce that ratio to one-to-five starting January 1 of next year. Arnold’s action gives them until 2008.

The governor took the action at the specific request of a real special interest, the state’s hospital industry.

The California Healthcare Association, which represents the industry, has taken out television ads praising the governor for his courageous action.

Siding with big business against patients and nurses. He’s a real tough guy, alright.

Russell Mokhiber is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Corporate Crime Reporter, Robert Weissman is editor of the Washington, D.C.-based Multinational Monitor, They are co-authors of On the Rampage: Corporate Predators and the Destruction of Democracy (Monroe,Maine: Common Courage Press;

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