One Small Step for Missouri, One Giant Leap for Stem-Cell Research

ByABC News

Nov. 9, 2006 — -- So after the $30 million spent in campaigning, the lengthy legal battles over ballot descriptions, and some of the most controversial ads of this election year -- all for a Missouri state stem-cell ballot initiative -- what do state voters have to show for it?

On the face of it, not much.

The Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, which passed by 40,000 votes, does not devote any taxpayer money to stem-cell research.

The act simply allows scientists to conduct any stem-cell research that is permitted under federal law, while also banning human reproductive cloning.

The law only ensures that Missouri cannot have a more restrictive federal embryonic stem-cell policy than the one we currently have.

However, the symbolic and electoral importance of the ballot cannot be overstated.

The passage of a stem-cell ballot in the heartland of America demonstrates just how powerful an issue it is.

As polling continues to indicate, embryonic stem-cell research enjoys widespread support, with anywhere from 56 percent to 72 percent of Americans favoring it.

Even more important, this support spans geography, religion and ideology. As scientists continue to demonstrate the promise of this research, that support will only grow.

The passage of the amendment also defines Missouri as a "stem-cell friendly" state, which will make researchers and biotechnology companies feel more comfortable locating there.

The money supporting the ballot initiative came largely from billionaire James Stowers Jr., the founder of the Stowers Institute for Medical Research located in Missouri.

Concern over proposed bills that would criminalize stem-cell research caused the Stowers Institute to hold off plans to expand the institute and hire 600 new people, slowing the recruitment of top level researchers. But that won't be a problem now.

Support for embryonic stem-cell research has also proven to be widely successful as an electoral strategy in 2006.

Democrat Claire McCaskill's vocal support for embryonic stem-cell research helped her win a close election over incumbent Republican Sen. Jim Talent in Missouri.

Sam Berger is a research assistant for the Center for American Progress.

Jim Doyle, also a strong proponent of embryonic stem-cell research, made the issue a central part of his campaign, and won the governorship of Wisconsin.

Senate races in New Jersey, Ohio and Maryland all went in favor of the stem-cell research supporters, with Robert Menendez, Sherrod Brown and Ben Cardin prevailing.

And stem-cell supporters defeated incumbents for House seats in conservative districts in Arizona, Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

The true test of the importance of the Missouri stem-cell initiative, however, will come early in 2007.

That's when the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act, which loosens onerous federal restrictions on the research, is likely to be reintroduced.

President Bush used the first veto of his presidency on the bill last summer, thwarting the will of the American people and a bipartisan majority in Congress.

Hopefully, voters in Missouri and across the nation have demonstrated just how important support for embryonic stem-cell research is.

Sam Berger is a research assistant for the Center for American Progress.

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