West Coast Backlash

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But the latest legal earthquake to rumble through the state did not originate in Sacramento, the state's capital. Instead, the epicenter was located smack in the middle of the nation's capital, Washington, D.C. In August 2001, President George W. Bush announced his administration's policy regarding human embryonic stem cell research.

Since his own ascension to the Oval Office, Bush had come under pressure from religious groups to concretely demonstrate that he was, indeed, a social conservative. In this case, he met their requests to ban embryonic stem cell research only halfway. Instead, he opted to allow federal funds for researchers who experimented only on the 60 or so existing cell lines.

The President's policy would have consequences on the opposite coast. The California state legislature had been down this road before. In September 2002, they had passed a bill allowing therapeutic cloning, which then-Governor Gray Davis signed into law. The bill was seen as a way to attract and keep biotech industry. But with the restriction on federal funding, California's legislators felt that they had to go further. State Senator Deborah Ortiz, a strong stem cell research supporter, introduced a billion-dollar bond measure for research funding, but it was blocked by the sizable Republican minority. Ortiz and others in the private and public section decided to use the initiative process and take the case directly to the voters of California. The culmination of these efforts was Proposition 71.

Proposition 71, also known as the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, was a startling legislative event in three major ways. First, the initiative essentially made conducting stem cell research a state constitutional right. Second, it allocated a grand sum of $3 billion to be given over a period of ten years to stem cell research and research facilities. Third, while the funds could be used to finance all kinds of stem cell research, one specific branch was given priority. In a direct rebuke to the President's directive, Cal-ifornians who voted for Prop 71 would hand top funding priority to embryonic stem cell research.1

The leader of the campaign effort to pass the proposition was Robert Klein, a charismatic real-estate lawyer and developer from the decidedly upscale suburb of Palo Alto in the San Francisco Bay Area. His interest in the legislation was partly scientific, but also included personal reasons. Klein's teenage son had been diagnosed with insulin-dependent diabetes several years ago, and the therapies derived from stem cells would be a boon to him. Since therapies could be developed with the huge base of scientific talent that California was home to, it made sense that anything speeding up the effort would be most welcome.

Klein and the pro-71 forces correctly reasoned that they could in effect bypass the state legislature and bring about change using the citizen initiative system. They felt if they took the case directly to the people, the California population would decisively demonstrate that they cared enough to act when their elected politicians would not. As leader of the pro-71 efforts, Robert Klein spent millions of dollars of his own money to finance the campaign.

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