Stem Cell Work Gets Statesâ Aid After Bush Veto
By JODI RUDOREN
CHICAGO, July 24 â" President Bushâs veto of legislation to expand
federally financed embryonic stem cell research has had the unintended
consequence of drawing state money into the contentious field and has
highlighted the issue in election campaigns across the country.
Two governors seized the political moment Thursday, the day after the
veto, to raise their ante for stem cell research.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, a Republican who helped Mr.
Bush win a second term but has long disagreed with him on this
research, cited the veto as he lent $150 million from the stateâs
general fund to pay for grants to stem cell scientists. In Illinois,
Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich, a Democrat opposed to most every White House
initiative, offered $5 million for similar grants in his state.
Before the announcements, the only money available was $72 million
that five states had allocated for the research and $90 million that
the National Institutes of Health had provided since 2001 for work on
a restricted number of stem cell lines.
Several other governors, including one Republican, M. Jodi Rell of
Connecticut, denounced the presidentâs veto, his first, in a sign of
the political potency of the stem cell debate.
Within hours, too, the issue sprang to the forefront of some crucial
campaigns, including ones for governor, senator and representative in
Colorado, Florida, Maryland, Missouri and Tennessee.
In many cases, Republican moderates, mindful of consistent polls
showing public support for expanded stem cell research and expecting
the promised attacks from Democrats, sought to distinguish their
positions from their presidentâs.
For Mr. Schwarzenegger, who is running for re-election in a state
dominated by Democrats, support for stem cell research has helped
position him as a centrist, but his Democratic opponent, Phil
Angelides, the state treasurer, tried to one-up him by taking credit
for the loan.
Sean Tipton, president of the Coalition for the Advancement of Medical
Research, the lead lobbyist for the bill Mr. Bush vetoed, said, âIn
terms of actually getting some resources to the scientists, it turns
out like it may be a good week.â
âI also think thereâs symbolic significance,â Mr. Tipton said. âIt
sends a strong signal to patients that there are some politicians that
care about them and want to see them taken care of.â
Tony Snow, the White House press secretary, said of the president,
âWhile he recognizes that states have the legal power to use their own
funds for embryonic stem cell research, he hopes researchers and
entrepreneurs will focus on developing effective cures,â including
those âthat donât involve controversial practices.â
Douglas Johnson of the National Right to Life Committee dismissed the
initiatives in Illinois and California as a âpublic relations gimmickâ
to divert attention from a debate over whether scientists should be
allowed to create embryos through cloning.
âItâs regrettable,â Mr. Johnson said, âbut itâs really a matter of
their trying to focus public attention on an issue that is significant
but is not really the front line of this battle.â
In Florida, stem cell research is a rare point of contention between
two Republicans vying to succeed the presidentâs brother Jeb as
governor. But when one of them, Attorney General Charlie Crist,
announced that he ârespectfullyâ disagreed with the veto, his rival
Tom Gallagher, the chief financial officer, accused Mr. Crist of
taking âevery opportunity to disagree with the governor and the
mainstream of the party.â
Meanwhile, Rod Smith, the Florida state senator who is the Democratic
candidate for governor, promised, âWhen I become governor, we are
absolutely going to do stem cell research and we are going to fund it
in this state.â
In Maryland, Democratic hopefuls in the governorâs race responded to
the veto with visits to the homes of quadriplegics and patients with
Parkinsonâs disease who could benefit from stem cell research, while
the Republican incumbent, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr., pointed to his
support of the research as evidence that he did not âgovern from the
right or the left but the center, where most of us are.â
In Colorado, Representative Diana DeGette, a Democrat and a sponsor of
the vetoed legislation, staged a protest rally on Friday when the
president visited her district for a $1,000-a-plate luncheon on behalf
of Rick OâDonnell, a Republican who supports his position.
Nowhere is the issue hotter than in Missouri, where voters in November
are likely to face a ballot initiative supporting stem cell research,
and where Senator Jim Talent, a Republican who is seeking re-election,
opposes it. Mr. Talentâs Democratic challenger, Claire McCaskill, the
state auditor, highlighted the issue last week when she delivered the
Democratsâ radio address and then initiated a conference call with
national reporters to spotlight her support.
The moves in California and Illinois continue the patchwork pattern of
public financing for stem cell research since 2001, when Mr. Bush
announced his policy restricting how federal money could be used in
More than 100 bills have been considered over the past two years by
dozens of state legislatures, with one, South Dakotaâs, banning such
research altogether and five â" in California, Connecticut, Illinois,
Maryland and New Jersey â" allocating state resources to the effort.
Other states, including Indiana, Massachusetts, Virginia and
Wisconsin, have taken steps to support stem cell science without
directly paying for research, while Arizona, North Carolina and
Virginia have formed groups to study their stateâs role in the
Mr. Schwarzeneggerâs announcement on Thursday of the $150 million loan
will provide the single largest public pot yet available.
âI think with one stroke, the president energizedâ the program, said
Zach W. Hall, the president of the California Institute for
Regenerative Medicine, which had an anemic $14 million to spread among
16 training grants before the veto, and which will soon be flush.
âItâs not what we would have wanted, but it did have that beneficent
For California, the $150 million is half the $300 million per year
that would be provided under a decade-long, $3 billion bond issue that
59 percent of voters approved in 2004. Taxpayer groups sued to block
the bonds and appealed a verdict in May that favored the state. At the
same time, âbond anticipation notesâ floated in the interim found
little favor in the market. The $150 million loan is intended to fill
that shortfall and would be repaid by bond proceeds, presuming the
state prevails in court.
âArnold is supposed to be a Republican, so I donât understand his
thinking here with President Bush. It seems like heâs going against
the party line,â said Dana Cody, executive director of the Life Legal
Defense Foundation, one of the groups suing the state. âItâs very
inconsistent with the governorâs platform, if you will, of âweâre
tired of being taxed.â Thatâs $150 million coming out of the
taxpayersâ pocket for something that is questionable at best because
of the litigation.â
Asked at a news conference in Sacramento on Friday about the political
implications of making such a forceful public move to oppose the
president he has previously supported, Mr. Schwarzenegger said, âYou
donât have to agree with someone on every issue.â
âIt doesnât matter to me what the president thinks about it, or what
any party thinks about it,â the governor added. âI always try to do
whatâs best for the people of California.â
In Illinois, the $5 million would come out of the administrative
budget in the Department of Healthcare and Family Services, and would
be added to $10 million in grants awarded in April to hospitals and
universities. A five-year, $100 million investment that Mr.
Blagojevich pushed has been stalled in the Legislature.
Mr. Blagojevich, who was vacationing in Michigan when the new money
was announced via a news release, declined an interview request,
through a spokeswoman, Abby Ottenhoff.
âIt was after the veto that the governor determined there were no more
options,â Ms. Ottenhoff said. âThis research is too important to put
on hold until there is a new leader in the White House.â
Even with the limitations on federal financing, the overall financing
available for stem cell research could be described as fairly robust,
given that the research is still at a basic stage and that in addition
to state money, philanthropies like the Howard Hughes Medical
Institute have made contributions. Moreover, in the private sector,
biotech companies like Geron, Advanced Cell Technology and Athersys
conduct research on embryonic or adult stem cells.
While stem cell scientists applauded the statesâ efforts, they
cautioned that such an approach was not ideal.
âIn the long term, I donât think itâs a good idea to have individual
states trying to mount efforts which are going to be more piecemeal,
less effective and take more time than a federal effort,â said Douglas
A. Melton, co-director of the Stem Cell Institute at Harvard
University. âI donât think states should mount their own militias either.â
Dr. Arnold Kriegstein, director of the Institute for Regeneration
Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, said that the
$150 million was âabsolutely a boon,â but that âif youâre an
investigator in another state, besides Illinois or California, I think
youâd be very frustrated right now.â
Candace Coffee, a Los Angeles resident who has suffered partial
blindness, paralysis and constant headaches from Devicâs disease,
appeared with Governor Schwarzenegger on Friday at his news conference.
âPresident Bushâs veto stole my hope,â Ms. Coffee said. âBut just as
quickly as our hope was stolen, it was renewed.â