Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Loss of CIRM's Friendly Critic in Sacramento

The California legislature reconvenes Monday in Sacramento minus its chief advocate for embryonic stem cell research.

Her absence will not well serve the California stem cell agency, although its chairman, Robert Klein, probably has a different view. He labelled her an "ongoing threat" in a harshly worded screed earlier this year.

While it is impossible to fully determine the roots of his animosity, Klein and the agency are losing a valuable asset with the departure of former Sen. Deborah Ortiz, D-Sacramento.

She was the one of the earliest and strongest advocates for stem cell research in California and played a key role in the conceptualizing Prop. 71. Following its passage, she understood some of its failings and began to work to correct them. But Klein did not welcome the attention and stiffed the Senate Health Committee, which Ortiz chaired, during a session examining the research agency.

It is natural to bridle at one's critics. And sometimes their motives are mixed. But in the case of Ortiz, she was a friendly critic, one who supported CIRM but also understood its imperfections and the political risks that they continue to pose.

Having powerful friends in politics and government is important for any state agency. Otherwise a department can become fair game for the genuinely malicious. A friend such as Ortiz can provide important guidance to governmental novices as they attempt to navigate the tricky byways of the Capitol. But most importantly a powerful legislator can deflect truly harmful fire by taking an agency under wing.

Perhaps one of the best known examples of a friendly critic was Harry Truman when he was a U.S. senator in the early 1940s. His committee of one exposed examples of poor military training, waste and fraud. Folks in the Roosevelt administration did not care for this. But ultimately Truman earned appreciation from within the administration. He was a Democrat and a friendly critic. Problems with the war effort? Well, the Roosevelt administration could say, "Harry's on top of it." Harry took the wind out of the sails of many of those who could have played hob with FDR's plans.

The stem cell agency enters a new stage Monday in Sacramento. It has no obvious or powerful champion or friendly critic. That may well change as legislators settle down for their new session. But ESC research is a complex field, tricky politically and governmentally. Ortiz had mastered those complexities. She will be difficult to replace. Sphere: Related Content


  1. A distinct appeal of Truman was his committee's attack on Standard Oil concerning synthetic rubber, an attack that would later prove to have been of questionable validity.


  2. Very questionable validation. cody