Republican gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman escalated her battle with the California Nurses Association this morning by debuting a website criticizing the union and unveiling internal polling showing Democratic rival Jerry Brown leading Whitman by three percentage points among nurses statewide.
The website, titled "Truth for Nurses," features articles and a video accusing the nurses union of, among other things, paying exorbitant salaries to its president and other executives and wasting members' dues on political activity, such as a running protest featuring an actress playing Queen Meg - a parody of the billionaire candidate.
The internal poll, conducted by Hill Research Consultants, says 34 percent of the state's nurses belong to a union and that 57 percent of the state's nurses "are more likely to support Whitman when they hear that 'she supports California's current law on nurse-to-patient ratios and that she opposes any effort to weaken those rules ratios,'" according to a memo by the polling firm.
At a May 18 town hall in Roseville, Whitman declined to take a position on the staffing issue, saying, "I haven't actually said anything about nursing ratios."
The poll also says 84 percent of nurses think it is a "bad use of dues" for the nurses union "to spend $50,000 on a shrink-wrapped bus to protest 'Queen Meg.'"
CNA Executive Director Rose Anne DeMoro didn't dispute the Whitman campaign's cost estimate for the Queen Meg bus. But she called the survey "a trumped-up poll" and said "it's no secret to our members who the organization supports and who we don't."
The poll interviewed 300 licensed nurses by phone on June 12 and 13 and had a margin of error of 5.7 percentage points, according to the polling firm's memo.
Whitman spokesman Tucker Bounds said the campaign created the website to get around the union's leadership and speak directly to its members. Last week, the CNA rejected Whitman's request for its members' contact information and on Monday, invited Whitman to speak to nurses at at least one forum. The campaign had not yet responded by early Monday evening.
"The actual population and constituency of nurses is more reflective of the general electorate than of the union's political machine at the CNA," Bounds said. "We are focused on winning over supporters across the political spectrum and believe that nurses even more than a lot of other constituencies are predisposed to support Meg's vision for the state."
DeMoro said the union is using the same strategy it employed against Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to defeat government reform voter initiatives that he had backed in 2005. Whitman has hired several high-priced consultants such as Mike Murphy, Jeff Randle and Rob Stutzman who had worked closely with Schwarzenegger.
DeMoro said the union is opposed to Whitman's plans to cut state employee numbers by 40,000 and reform state employee pensions.
"She's going after significant layoffs of public employees, which includes nurses," DeMoro said. "She's cutting retirement. She's getting rid of regulations. We find her credibility suspect."
Photo: A Queen Meg billboard is displayed June 19, 2010, near the California Nurses Association office in Oakland, Calif. (Jack Chang/Sacramento Bee)