I don't have to tell you how devastating it would be if the United States House and Senate turned against stem cell research--and the disability community-- in November.
It could easily happen, if we let our friends stand alone.
In California, for example, Barbara Boxer (D) is opposed by the massively-funded Carly Fiorina (R) darling of the Tea Party and the Religious Right. (Karl Rove recently authorized another million out-of-state dollars for attack ads against her.)
On stem cells (my key issue) Boxer is a leader and a champion: pushing the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Acts of 2003 and 2007, both of which passed the Senate before being vetoed by President Bush; she also helped prevent passage of several versions of extraordinarily hurtful laws which would literally have put scientists in jail for stem cell research.
Most recently, she and Senator Dianne Feinstein co-authored Senator Arlen Specter's bill, S. 3766, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act of 2010. She is not waiting to see which way the wind is blowing; she is acting now. (She is very right to do so: we need that bill to be passed into law during the "lame duck" session, or risk losing all federal funds for the research we support. Waiting till the next session begins could be fatal to our best hopes for cure.)
Now Barbara Boxer is a fighter for California. Not a headline-grabber, not someone out to get her name put on buildings, but the kind of person who will stand beside you through thick and thin. She figures out the right thing to do, and does it, come Hell or high water. You may not agree with every stand she takes, but you will always know where she stands, and if she gives her word, that's it.
Let me share a brief conversation I had with Senator Boxer, in Sacramento, years ago. A small incident, but as a fingerprint reveals a person, sometimes even a few words can offer a glimpse of character.
She was standing in the hallway of our beautiful capitol building in Sacramento, and I was trying to get her support for the first Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act.
She cut me off, mid-sentence--to tell me, first, that OF COURSE she supported the bill.
And then she added something that stuck with me.
"What you really need is a billion dollars for stem cell research--and that is something I cannot get for you, as long as the current administration is in power."
This was before Prop 71 was even a $3 billion gleam in California's eye.
That is typical of Boxer. She did not sugar-coat the message, just said flatly where she stood.
How many politicians are that honest?
Carly Fiorina is famous for having been fired, as the head of Hewlett-Packard. The millions she got as her severance package (estimates range from $42-$100 million) is how she became rich.
She does not vote a lot. From 1997 to 2005 she was registered to vote in New Jersey, but did not vote, so was dropped from the polls as "inactive". So democracy has not been super important to her until very recently, when she decided she wanted to take a leadership role.
Where does she stand on stem cell research?
First, remember California supports embryonic stem cell research all the way. In 2004, the state voted to invest serious money in the research. Thanks to Prop 71, California's investment in the future, we are home to what is undoubtedly the greatest stem cell research resource in the world.
With the FDA's long awaited approval of the Geron human trials for embryonic stem cell research, the biomedical industry is on the verge of major growth, pivotal to California's emergence from the world-wide recession.
Lifted by California's success, the biomedical industry is growing stronger every day. Just last quarter, the money invested in these businesses by venture capitalists grew 52%-- despite the tough economy, they have faith in our future.
Fiorina knows this. I doubt she would agree (publicly) with the goal of the pro-life groups which endorsed her--shutting down our research. If Republicans succeed in putting "a ban on all embryonic stem cell research, public and private", California's magnificent stem cell program would be at risk, as would the entire biomedical industry.
So Ms. Fiorina will say "...I'm not an expert", and dance around the issue, soft-pedaling her anti-research stance on one of the most important and beloved issues in the Golden State. There are millions of citizens suffering incurable disease or disability, and we support research for cure.
But look closely at her statements, and it is clear she is against it. She desperately wants the energy of the Religious Right behind her, so she speaks in "code", saying stuff like "I am 100% pro-life; life begins at conception." Those are not lightly chosen words. It is pretty close to an endorsement of the personhood movement, which would grant full citizenship to blastocysts, even in a petri dish. If enacted into law, the personhood philosophy would shut down not only embryonic stem cell research, but also most forms of birth control, and the entire in Vitro Fertility (iVF) procedure, which has brought joy to so many childless families.
Here is some language from her.
(Interviewer) "In the past, Democrats have suggested that pro-life positions on issues like embryonic stem-cell research are 'anti-science."
(Fiorina responds) "It is a cynical political calculation to pit science against the pro-life movement or to try and pit science against morality.
"... scientific advances in embryology, to take one example, are maturing our moral perspective on the sanctity of human life: we're learning that the fetus is viable at a very early stage...
"It's false to suggest that people who are scientifically-oriented must be pro-embryonic stem-cell research and pro-choice. Adult stem-cell research is a perfect example of how science is helping to mature our moral compass. It's probably more viable, more cost-effective and may even have better results--though I'm no expert on this." ~ National Catholic Register, Joan Frawley Desmond, "Ready to go 12 Rounds with Boxer", posted 6/21/10
"Cynical political calculation"? She just compared a fetus (unborn baby in the womb) to embryonic stem cells--dots in a petri dish which can never become a child--to my mind that is a deliberate deception.
Now while I support cure research 100%, I also want our citizens with disabilities to be helped now, so that they can be fully participating citizens, not shunted aside by inadequate accommodation.
Where does Fiorina stand on disability rights? It's hard to tell. We can get a hint, though, from her friends and endorsers.
As the Tea Party candidate, Ms. Fiorina undoubtedly wants to cut the education budget--of which about 20% ($12 billion of the entire $64 billion budget) goes to fund education for disabled k-12 students. And if a disabled person wants help going to college, the Pell Grant ($27 billion) offers scholarships and loans to deserving students with a disability.
Where does Senator Boxer stand on disability issues? That is not hard to find out. I wrote to her office, and asked. They sent me this.
Highlights of the Boxer Record on Issues of Interest to Americans with Disabilities
Senator Boxer is committed to helping Americans with disabilities participate fully in our national life.
Americans with Disabilities Act. Senator Boxer strongly supported the reauthorization of the Americans with Disabilities Act - the landmark legislation that prohibits discrimination against disabled Americans and helps remove barriers to employment and basic services for Americans with disabilities so they can participate more fully in national life.
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Senator Boxer believes in the importance of providing schools with the resources they need to serve all of their students, including students with special needs. She strongly supports full funding for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and consistently advocated to increase funding for schools to provide quality special education.
Tax-Exempt Savings Accounts. Senator Boxer has supported the creation of tax-exempt savings accounts to help people with disabilities plan and pay for education, medical care, and job training.
Ed Roberts Campus. During 2004 to 2008, Senator Boxer secured funding to help build the Ed Roberts Campus in Berkeley, CA, a national center on disability and independent living that serves people with disabilities and their families. ERC also advocates for the improvement of accessibility for people with disabilities to health, transportation and other essential services.
Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS) Act. Senator Boxer is proud to have voted for health care reform, which created the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports program. CLASS is a new voluntary insurance program that will help expand options for people who become disabled and require long-term help.
Rosa's Law. Senator Boxer cosponsored Rosa's Law, which President Obama recently signed into law. This measure will replace the terms "mental retardation" and "mentally retarded" with "intellectual disability" and "individual with an intellectual disability" throughout federal health, education and labor statutes.
Folks, Barbara Boxer is a champion for California, for individuals with a disability, and for all who see hope in stem cell research.
I support her 100%.
Now California will almost certainly re-elect Barbara Boxer, no matter how many millions of dollars the opposition spends.
We know her: who she is, what she stands for. She IS California, caring, future-oriented, full of hope and determination, passionate in her convictions, and dedicated to fair play for all.
But not every stem cell research supporting leader is as well-known as she. Also, when she is re-elected, we need to be sure she has friends in the Senate to work with, and in the House of Representatives, so we do not have good bills that the Senate passes and the House blocks, or vice versa.
Here are 21 stem cell races in the House and Senate, where a friend of the research is at risk, and their opponent is someone against the research.
Find your state, and pick someone to help.
Friends of research come first, as they should.
CA: Jerry McNerney, vs. David Harmer, District 11
CA: Ami Bera vs. Daniel Lungren District 3
FL: Joe Garcia vs. David Rivera, District 25
IL: Dan Seals vs.Robert Dold, District 10
MN: Tarryl Clark v. Michele Bachmann, District 8
NH: Carol Shea-Porter v. Frank Guinta, District 01
NV: Dina Titus v. Joe Heck, District 3
NY: John Hall v. Nan Hayworth, District 19
OH: Mary Jo Kilroy v. Stivers, District 15
WI: Julie Lassa v. Sean Duffy, District 7
CA: Barbara Boxer vs. Carly Fiorina
CO: Michael Bennet vs. Ken Buck
DE: Chris Coons v.Christine Odonnell
KY: Jack Conway vs. Rand Paul
MO: Robin Carnahan vs. Roy Blunt
NH: Paul Hodes vs. Kelly Ayotte
NV: Harry Reid vs. Sharron Angle
OH: Lee Fisher vs. Rob Portman
PA: Joe Sestak vs. Pat Toomey
WA: Patty Murray vs. Dino Rossi
WI: Russ Feingold vs. Ron Johnson
Remember, sometimes a crucial bill can be decided by a single vote. Pick somebody from that list, and help him or her. Support them financially if you can, lend energy if you cannot: walk door to door for them, send emails to friends, do phone-banking--but help them.
BRING A SIGN-- "Support Stem Cell Research!" to the rallies--make sure everyone knows where your candidate stands on the research for cure.
If you are one of America's 51.2 million citizens with a disability (U.S. Census Bureau statistic) or chronic disease-- or if you love someone who does--be active now.
Or risk losing our best friends for cure.