With odd alliances forming, the debate over stem cell research could decide Wisconsin’s gubernatorial election.
Stemming the rightwing tide
These are strange days in Wisconsin regarding the issue of stem cell research. While the rightwing religionists are saying that stem cell research is sinful tinkering with God's eternal plan, an odd collection of people is now coming forward in support of it.
Ronald Reagan's widow, Nancy, is a fierce proponent of stem cell research, which holds the possibility of reducing the curse of Alzheimers, the disease that took her husband from her. She has given up on President Bush, it seems, but she's been very successful in lobbying Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. Frist now says that he supports the research and is going to schedule a vote on a stem cell research bill before October. Of course, he's promised that before and not kept his promise, but who knows? Nancy can be a powerful voice.
The House has already passed a similar bill, but Bush says he'll veto it if it gets to his desk, which would be the very first veto of his presidency - it must be an important issue for him - or for his political base.
Here in Wisconsin, Governor Jim Doyle is determined to build on the initial research, applauding "People like Jamie Thompson, whose pioneering work with stem cell research at the University of Wisconsin will one day save and improve thousands of lives, and will produce unimaginable economic progress for so many Wisconsin families."
Doyle is forthright in his call for Wisconsin to develop as a world-wide center of stem cell research and bio-tech industry, and he has put his reputation and political capital behind this idea.
It's a challenge, and Doyle is acting on it: The new $375 million Wisconsin Institute for Discovery is taking shape on the UW Campus, the $134 million HealthStar Interdisciplinary Research Complex is being built at the UW Hospitals, and venture capital for bio-tech businesses has been made available through Doyle's Department of Commerce.
In 2004, California's voters approved a controversial bond measure that devotes $3 billion in state funds to human embryonic stem cell research, the largest such program in the country, challenging Wisconsin's pre-eminence in the field. The stage is set.
There is opposition in Wisconsin, of course, but a very curious thing is happening. An unlikely collection of business leaders find themselves in a strange position, supporting Governor Jim Doyle on stem cell research. Who would have thought we would ever hear James Haney of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce supporting a Democratic Governor? Or hear Mark Bugher, Tommy Thompson’s former secretary of Administration, saying, "At a time when Wisconsin is seeking to succeed in the new, knowledge-based economy, it is irresponsible for us to turn our backs on this life-saving research"? (And Tommy Thompson himself also supports the research, as it happens.)
Bugher added, "Mark Green is running a campaign which is maybe trying to be sensitive to the Christian right of the party. I think the vast majority of the people of the state support the research."
Mark Green, Doyle’s Republican opponent in this fall's election, has signed on with the pro-life groups and stated his opposition to the research, saying that adult stem cells can do the same things that embryonic stem cells can, which nearly all researchers dispute. He seems unmoved by the appeal of a possible cure for dread diseases like juvenile diabetes and Parkinson’s, or the possibilities of bio-tech industry and Wisconsin's place in that future.
This issue will be a major one in this fall's election campaign, and you're going to hear a lot more about it. Make sure that you the details and can make an informed judgment.
Ken Milan of the Spooner Advocate recently wrote, "Rarely are political issues a matter of life and death. The 2006 race for Wisconsin governor is an exception. Doyle is counting on the moderates of both parties and the independents to vote their conscience. Green can only hope they stay home on Election Day."
This time, it might be Republicans stalwarts like Bugher and Haney who convince the moderates not to stay home, tipping the scales in favor of Doyle and other Democratic candidates who support stem cell research.
July 11, 2006
post a letter about this article »
read letters on this article (0)
John Smart lives in Park Falls, is a member of the Wisconsin Governor's Commission on the United Nations, the board of the Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools and a frequent guest on Wisconsin Public Radio's Ideas Network.