HHS Official First Told Riordan, Not Davis, About Healthy Families Waiver Approval
As HHS last week prepared to approve a waiver request submitted by Gov. Gray Davis (D) to expand Healthy Families to cover the parents of uninsured children, the Los Angeles Times reports that a department official first called Republican gubernatorial candidate Richard Riordan, not Davis, with the news. Christopher McCabe, chief liaison to state and local governments at HHS, called the Riordan campaign office a week before the announcement, which "tipped off" Riordan that the Bush administration planned to approve the waiver request, a Riordan adviser said. The aide "invited" the former Los Angeles mayor to "step in at the last minute and take credit" for the waiver after the announcement, and according to the Times, "that's exactly what Riordan did" (Finnegan/Bernstein, Los Angeles Times, 1/27). "I lobbied for that. I had a lot to do with getting it," Riordan said last week. However, Steve Maviglio, a Davis spokesperson, said Sunday that Riordan "should not claim credit" for the Healthy Families expansion, adding that the HHS approval resulted from "continued pressure" by Davis appointees and health care advocates over the past 13 months (Ornstein, Los Angeles Times, 1/28). McCabe did not comment on the decision by the Bush administration to offer "advance notice" of the waiver approval to the Riordan campaign. According to HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson, McCabe made the decision to call the Riordan campaign "on his own."
The Times reports that such "maneuvering behind the scenes signals the emergence of health care as a potent issue" in the California gubernatorial campaign and highlights the "degree to which political considerations will help shape the public agenda" this year. Davis and Riordan have "seized" on health care to "score points" with voters in their campaigns. Last Tuesday, the governor proposed new rules to establish minimum nurse staffing ratios in hospitals, and last Wednesday, he pledged to spend $60 million to educate nurses. In addition, Davis last Friday announced public forums in Fresno, Sacramento, Oakland and Manhattan Beach to study plans to expand health coverage to more California residents. Davis also "touts" his record on health care in the first television advertisement of his campaign. In the ad, the governor "takes credit" for his efforts to expand Healthy Families -- a "showcase issue" for Davis -- to cover 500,000 children. The Times reports that health care also "has been a favorite issue on the stump" for Riordan. He has often described California's health care system as "in total crisis" and has called health care a "God-given right." In addition, the Times reports that he has criticized Davis for a proposal to delay the expansion of Healthy Families to cover parents of uninsured children (Los Angeles Times, 1/27). Last Friday, Davis announced a decision to more forward with the expansion (see related story).
Abortion also has emerged as an issue in the California gubernatorial campaign, the Times reports. Last Friday, Davis released a television ad that questions Riordan's position on abortion. Riordan has said that he supports abortion rights, a position that is a departure from past statements by the candidate and that has prompted criticism from Republican rivals. The 30-second ad asks, "Where does Richard Riordan really stand on a woman's right to choose?" The ad points out that Riordan made campaign contributions to antiabortion candidates "as recently as 2001" (Barabak/Gottlieb, Los Angeles Times, 1/26). According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Riordan "expresses the ... strongest pro-choice views" in the field of GOP gubernatorial candidates, which includes Secretary of State Bill Jones and businessman Bill Simon. The Chronicle reports that the campaign for the Republican gubernatorial nomination serves as a "demonstration of how important the abortion issue remains in California politics." Riordan -- who said in the past that "abortion is murder" and has donated $10,000 to the antiabortion group Americans United for Life -- now says that the GOP "may become 'extinct' if it does not consider changing the party's antiabortion platform" (Marinucci, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/28). In a speech on Saturday, Riordan said that he hoped to have "antiabortion language removed" from the party's platform. "I don't like abortion, but I still want women to be able to make their own decisions," he said (Associated Press, 1/26). Riordan advisers hope that his support of abortion rights will help him win votes from Republican and independent women, who have backed Democrats in past elections (Finnegan, Los Angeles Times, 1/28).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.