Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Stem Cell Bifurcation at the Vice Chairmanship Level

Come Friday the 13th of this month, it is a good bet that the $3 billion California stem cell agency will have two vice chairmen or something akin to that.

No matter that the legal charter for the agency calls for only one, the board of directors is likely to find a way. They have a $1 million crew of artful legal beagles to help them sniff out an appropriate direction for almost any course.

CIRM Chairman Bob Klein signaled the dual vice chairmanship likelihood in his agenda for the March 12 meeting of the agency's board of directors. It was a simple but ambiguous matter of saying something in the plural and not the singular – chair(s) versus chair. The agenda item only says:

“Consideration of election of Vice-Chair(s)”

It was a move that the 17th century Jesuit Baltasar Gracian (see drawing), a student of the exercise of power and control, would have admired and whose works we became acquainted with as a student 47 years ago.

“Maintain an air of uncertainty,” Gracian said in 1653. “Know the meaning of evasion.”

But in 2009 we need to know more. So here it is: The board has a choice between two men: Art Torres, chairman of the state Democratic Party, and Duane Roth, a current member of the CIRM board of directors and an executive with biomedical industry ties and head of Connect business development organization in La Jolla, Ca.

Torres is a former state legislator and was nominated by Democratic state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, who is the final arbiter on the state bonds that finance CIRM's grants and operations. Lockyer is also a former state lawmaker and friend of Torres, who needs a paying job since he is stepping down as head of the state Democratic party. Roth was nominated by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who okayed a $150 million state loan to CIRM when it was on the financial ropes a few years ago. The governor has expressed concern about the high salaries at CIRM, and Roth has said he will not need a salary.

Both men bring different skills to the job. Torres is well connected in California politics and Washington. He is endorsed by Sen. Ted Kennedy and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Torres would contribute mightily to Klein's lobbying effort for a $10 billion aid package for the California biomedical industry. Roth is connected directly to the industry itself, chairing a CIRM committee that pulled together CIRM's $500 million lending program.

No one at CIRM wants to offend either Lockyer or Schwarzenegger.

While our good Jesuit Gracian would likely have admired Klein's agenda item on the Torres-Roth election, another more contemporary observer and participant in California stem cell issues does not.

In response to a query, John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for Consumer Watchdog of Santa Monica, Ca. and a man who is reasonably adroit in his own political maneuverings, said,

"Once again Chairman Bob Klein is posting an ICOC (board of directors) agenda that raises more questions than it answers. This serves neither the public nor CIRM. If they are thinking about having more than one vice chair, why not say so?"
One CIRM director, David Serrano Sewell, in response to a query about the result next week, said,
"We'll see what happens at the meeting."
As for CIRM's official views on this, earlier today we told the agency via email that we intended to write that the board is considering electing two vice chairmen. We asked whether CIRM considered that accurate.

CIRM Communications Chief Don Gibbons responded,

"No decisions have been made. The board will decide what motions to consider."

Applying flackery's Rosetta Stone to that comment, it means,

"I am not denying the accuracy of what you are writing. I can't say anything else. This is a delicate issue involving my bosses and issues at a much higher level that they do not want to air in public."


(Editor's note: I have a copy of Gracian's 1653 work -- “A Truthtelling Manual and the Art of Worldly Wisdom” -- in a net bag next to my bunk on our sailboat here on the west coast of Mexico. The version I have was copyrighted in 1945. More recent versions exist, but they are not as powerful as the 1945 version. And by the way, I am fond of legal beagles that can find ways to make things happen.) Sphere: Related Content

1 comment:

  1. John M. Simpson of Consumer Watchdog is having difficult posting comments to this blog. So he sent this via email and we are posting it for him.

    Simpson said, "Why don't they act like banks used to do when they named everybody an assistant vice president? They could vote to
    call every board member vice chair. If two vice chairman are good, 28 must be even better.

    "No appointing authority could possibly be angry. Everyone would have a really, really important position... And with the new fancy titles maybe all the ICOC members would all turn out for meetings and quorum difficulties would be solved."