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California Democrats

Single-payer healthcare supporters take first step to launch recall against California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon

Single-payer supporters rally in the state Capitol in June. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
Single-payer supporters rally in the state Capitol in June. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

When Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Paramount) halted a measure to establish single-payer healthcare in California, the bill's most dedicated backers immediately called for him to be removed from office.

Now, more than a month later, single-payer advocates have taken the first formal step to follow through on their threat, giving Rendon's office this week notice of intent to circulate a recall petition.

Rendon's move to stop the single-payer bill — which he called "woefully incomplete," noting it passed the state Senate without a method to pay for it — was the catalyst for the outcry.

"If we recall the Assembly speaker, maybe someone else [will be] willing to push this bill, to get it out of the rules committee and send it to the Assembly to get a vote on it," said Jessica Covarrubias, a proponent of the effort. "Maybe that will help everyone get healthcare."

Covarrubias, a 27-year-old law student from South Gate, described the recall campaign as "literally a grassroots effort." She first learned of the recall campaign when single-payer activists, incensed by Rendon's action, launched a door-knocking drive to inform voters in his district. 

The notice, which proponents mailed on Tuesday and was received by Rendon's office Friday, was signed by 60 people; at least 40 signatures must be deemed valid, belonging to registered voters of his Southeast Los Angeles County district. It was filed by Stephen Elzie, an Irvine-based USC law professor who is acting as an attorney for the effort.

"Assemblymember Rendon trusts in the fair-minded voters of his district to see through the misleading and false allegations made by the recall's petitioner, who doesn't even live in Southeast Los Angeles," said Bill Wong, a spokesman for Rendon.

The recall effort faces tough odds. As the powerful Assembly speaker, Rendon has been a robust fundraiser, ending 2016 with more than $1.2 million in the bank. Other labor groups, including unions representing construction workers and grocery clerks, publicly sided with the speaker's decision to shelve the single-payer bill and could serve as as a well-financed cavalry should Rendon face a heated campaign to oust him.

Still, this week's step forward in the recall effort underscores how activist anger over Rendon's decision continues to simmer weeks after the measure, SB 562, was blocked.

Last week, the California Nurses Assn., which sponsored the legislation, paid for two mailers to be sent in Rendon's district, assailing his move as "holding healthcare hostage" and "protecting politicians, not people's healthcare." Both mailers encouraged recipients to call or visit Rendon's office to voice their displeasure, although the flyers stopped short of calling for a recall.

Michael Lighty, policy director for the nurses' group, said the union was not involved with the recall effort, focusing instead on pressuring Rendon to let the single-payer bill move forward.

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