Monday, February 09, 2009

Torres Makes Pitch for Vice Chair's Job at CIRM

State Democratic Party Chairman Art Torres has made the case for his election as vice chairman of California's $3 billion stem cell research agency in a letter to Consumer Watchdog's John M.Simpson.

Simpson wrote late Friday about the statement and the race on his organization's blog.

Torres has a three-part agenda: Dealing with the CIRM funding crisis, enhancing community education/PR and consensus building, including creation of some sort of executive committee for the CIRM board of directors.

Torres said an executive committee could "increase the productivity of meetings." CIRM is currently overseen by a 29-member board of directors that has been hobbled by absenteeism. The absenteeism itself is not so bad, but it makes it difficult to maintain the required superquorum of two-thirds of the board's members necessary to do official business. And because of the size of the board, it is much more of a legislative and debating group than a sharply focused decision-making panel. For example, if each member of the board were to spend three minutes each addressing a single matter, it would take nearly 90 minutes to hear them all.

An executive committee for the board would seem to be desirable, if it can improve the board's efficiency and continue to conduct the people's business in public. But the task of creating one faces several obstacles. One is Prop. 71 itself, whose 10,000 words lock all sort of minutia into the state Constitution and state law and which may make it difficult, if not impossible to create such a panel. Another barrier could come from resistance from some board members who may feel that their voices would not be well heard by an executive panel. And still another is that formation of an executive committee could run into resistance from CIRM Chairman Robert Klein. It could dilute his hold over the board, whose size and diversity of opinion can muddle its focus on some matters. An executive committee could hobble Klein's independence and perhaps call a halt to some of his forays into areas that the panel does not consider high priority.

Running against Torres is Duane Roth, already a member of the CIRM board and a biomedical industry-connected executive. Simpson earlier received a statement from Roth and has written about it.

Simpson's piece drew comment from CIRM board member David Serrano Sewell, concerning objections that Torres, a former state legislator, would "politicize" the board. He noted that CIRM itself was created through a powerful political process, a $30 million ballot initiative in 2004.

He continued:
"Second, most (not all) of the people appointed to the ICOC got on by way of politics, that is to say their name was submitted to a Constitutional Officer, and a third party (usually someone with some heft) advocated for that person.  Some people call that 'lobbying' and there is nothing wrong with that at all."
Sewell continued,
"'Politics' is not a dirty word.  Exhibit A - President Obama, he secured the nomination and won the election by executing some sophisticated political moves and I am glad he did, our country is better off as a result!"
Election of a vice chairman by the board is not expected any sooner than the CIRM's board meeting in March.

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