Thursday, March 10, 2005

Small Profit in Stiffing Lawmakers

Robert Klein made a mistake on Wednesday when he failed to appear before a California Legislative committee that had invited him to discuss the California stem cell agency.

Klein is the chairman of Oversight Committee of the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine and has been its most recognizable public voice -- the one heard most often defending the agency and himself against charges of conflict of interest, lack of accountability and more.

Klein was invited to appear in the Capitol some weeks ago, before the agency appointed its first interim president, Zach Hall. It was Hall who appeared instead of Klein at the unusual joint hearing of the State Senate and Assembly Health Committees.

One can understand that the hearing was a good time for Hall to surface and establish his presence. A joint appearance with Klein could have easily overshadowed Hall and given the impression that Hall is not in full control of the agency, which is probably the reality.

But the overriding consideration is what the legislature wants. Regardless of the potential problems with undercutting Hall, there is small profit in appearing to stiff lawmakers.

Klein should do everything in his power to assure that his allies, such as State Sen. Deborah Ortiz, remain his strong allies. While the CIRM has an unusually independent position among state agencies, lawmakers can play genuine hob with its activities if they have a mind to.

Bottom line: When two powerful state legislative committees ask a state employee, which Klein is despite his millionaire status, to testify before their panels, it is wise for him to do so.

(For the record, Klein sent a letter to Ortiz begging off the meeting, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, because "policy makers were concerned about the impact of his testimony on various issues affecting the institute.")

Here are links to the various stories on Wednesday's hearing: Carl Hall San Francisco Chronicle, Terri Somers San Diego Union Tribune, Clea Benson Sacramento Bee, Paul Elias The Associated Press. The Los Angeles Times did not carry a story, according to its Web site. The San Jose Mercury News used Elias' story.


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