Checchi supports home care for seniors, right to sue HMOs

SACRAMENTO (AP) — A senior activist challenged Al Checchi’s business background Thursday, suggesting that without experience the former airline executive could make a shambles out of government.

Checchi, a former co-chairman of Northwest Airlines who has put $19 million of his own money into his first bid for elected office, stressed his business background in remarks to the Congress of California Seniors.

"The next governor has to be a builder, like Pat Brown. The next governor has to be an agent for change. The next governor has to manage a $1 trillion economy," Checchi said, saying that his career makes him best qualified on all three counts.

But Ralph Copperman, a Gray Panther senior activist from Pleasant Hill, challenged that premise in a question-and-answer session.

"I don’t know a business anywhere that’s democratically run. How do you make the transition?" Copperman asked to scattered applause.

Checchi replied that Northwest Airlines was 92 percent unionized, which he said meant "you can’t just give orders." He noted he has the endorsements of 14 Democratic legislators, including new Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa.

Copperman said later that Checchi’s answer was "forthright and open and honest," but that it still didn’t satisfy him.

"The man has no experience in government. He can make a terrible shambles of the whole thing," he said.

Undeterred, Checchi cited his business experience responding to numerous issues.

On the subject of prisons, for example, Checchi said he supports three-strikes sentencing laws, but that after 20 years of increasing penalties, California still has one of the nation’s highest crime rates.

"I think its time to invest in prevention, too," he said. "That’s common sense, and I guess that doesn’t work in government."

On other topics, Checchi said he favors "a massive investment in education" and vehemently opposes entrepreneur Ron Unz’ "English for the Children" Proposition 227 initiative on the June ballot to repeal most bilingual education programs.

Instead, Checchi said, he would put children who do not speak English into classes in which "for two years they do nothing but learn to read, write and speak English."

He said he also opposes Proposition 226, which would ban the use of union funds for political contributions without the written consent of members.

"That says business can speak out politically, but labor can’t. That isn’t fair," Checchi said. "It’s just Pete Wilson’s farewell wedge before he goes off into the sunset."

Checchi told the seniors he supports more home care services as an alternative to nursing homes and backs their right to sue HMOs for malpractice.

He called home care "the best investment we can make" for the health of seniors, because it is better for patients and costs less than nursing home care.

As governor, Checchi said, he would work to get rid of "perverse incentives that pay for some services only if a patient is in nursing care."

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