Supporters of a measure to establish single-payer healthcare in California were thrilled by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom's embrace of their bill on Friday, but a rival gubernatorial campaign was less impressed with his position.
A spokesman for former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa accused the lieutenant governor of flip-flopping because after Newsom was asked if he explicitly endorsed the legislation — Senate Bill 562 — he responded that he endorsed "getting this debate going again."
"This is an outrageous parsing of words when millions of people are at risk of losing their healthcare," Villaraigosa spokesman Luis Vizcaino said in a statement.
"It is a yes or no question, lieutenant governor. Are you for SB 562 or not? The nurses and California voters deserve the truth," Vizcaino added.
The question of backing SB 562 is thorny since it was shelved earlier this year after Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) called it "woefully incomplete." Backers have said they'd be willing to make changes to the measure, but the contours of those proposed changes have not been made public.
Vizcaino said Villaraigosa "has always supported universal healthcare and the concept of single payer," but agreed with Speaker Rendon that the bill couldn't be sent to the governor without a funding plan.
Speaking to reporters, Newsom said he saw a single-payer system in which the government covers healthcare costs as the best way to achieve universal coverage and said he would be "actively engaged in designing and developing it" if SB 562 does not pass next year.
RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of the California Nurses Assn./National Nurses United, said she saw Newsom's remarks as a clear endorsement of their measure and a stance she said was not surprising.
"We always knew Gavin would support our bill," DeMoro said.
She lambasted Villaraigosa — who does not support SB 562 — for criticizing Newsom, whom her group endorsed nearly two years ago.
"I want Villaraigosa to explain to the Latino community why he doesn't think they should have ... comprehensive healthcare," she said. "Villaraigosa's being disingenuous. He knows better. He's just politically posturing trying to find a wedge issue and he knows better."
4:32 p.m.: This post was updated with an additional statement from Villaraigosa's spokesperson on the former L.A. mayor's support for universal healthcare.