California Leaders Must Condemn the Threats Against Speaker Rendon and Have the Courage to Stand Up to the Dangerous Rhetoric on Single Payer

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The rhetoric over single-payer healthcare in California has taken an ugly, even dangerous, turn and now every responsible leader has a role in returning this discussion to a civil and honest debate.

Press reports detail how California State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon received numerous death threats after he postponed the vote on the single-payer bill, threats the state Highway Patrol is now investigating.

Speaker Rendon had the courage to pause the headlong rush into a flawed single-payer proposal, calling for a thorough debate in order to properly vet the legislation.

As a result, the Speaker is now receiving threats via social media that include references to various means of execution. One poster is reported to have written he “prays someone checks Rendon’s schedule for baseball practice,” an obvious reference to the recent attempted assassination of members of Congress at a Congressional Baseball practice.

This must stop. This must stop now. We must all condemn this hateful speech at once.

And we should remember, we are better than this. A progressive speaker like Anthony Rendon standing up to make legislation better is not an action to be condemned, it is work that should be praised.

The organizations and leaders raising the temperature of this discussion to the boiling point should also pause and reflect on their own responsibility to dial down the rhetoric and return to a civil debate.

This is not, after all, a debate about whether we should have single-payer healthcare in California. This is a debate about how we will achieve it. Virtually every person engaged in this healthcare discussion supports the concept of single payer. I have been a supporter of single payer my entire career; I introduced and passed a massive expansion of public health insurance for California children when I was Speaker of the California State Assembly.

The current proposal, according the Legislature’s own analysis, would carry a price tag of up to $400 billion and require tax increases of up to $200 billion. It is true that other studies show a lower price tag, but even the authors of the State Senate bill acknowledge their proposal still has many financial details to be resolved.

Even if you accept the best-case data, adopting single payer now will mean massive cuts in other state programs and significant increases in taxes. It will also require explaining to voters why the state will take away trusted providers, like Kaiser and even Medicare, and require every Californian to join a state-run system. Of course, the premise of the proponents’ argument is based on the obviously false hope that President Donald Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress would grant a waiver, turning over federal healthcare funds to California.

Given these hard facts, the Speaker is correct to work to improve the proposal before moving it forward.

The supporters of single payer are not responsible for these death threats. But we are all responsible for elevating the level of our civic discourse and speaking out at once against violence and threats.