Torres lists qualifications, goals in statement on stem cell post

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State Democratic Chairman Art Torres has sent me his statement about his qualifications and goals for the vice chairmanship of the California stem cell oversight board, stressing his "patient advocacy" credentials and outlining his three-part agenda for the position.

Former Senator Torres was nominated for the post by fellow Democrats Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, Treasurer Bill Lockyer and Controller John Chiang. Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger nominated current board member Duane Roth for the position.

I had asked both Roth and Torres for their views on the position and issues facing the board, known as the Independent Citizens Oversight Committee (ICOC).  Roth has already provided his; Torres was in Washington for the inauguration and has only recently returned.

The contest for the vice chairmanship has drawn the attention of the Los Angeles Times. Under the headline "Politics Enters State’s Stem Cell Research Program," Eric Baily wrote:

"On the cusp of a new era in stem cell science, Democratic heavyweights are pushing to install the outgoing California Democratic Party chief in a leadership post at the state’s $3-billion research program."

Indeed, Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts has written a letter supporting Torres’ candidacy.

Torres said he believes "the most the most important criteria for the Vice Chair is being a ‘patient advocate.’"   Among the highlights Torres cites is his work as Chair of the Assembly Health Committee with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation and notes he joined its board after leaving the Legislature.  In the Senate, he says, he "created the first Senate Toxics Committee and began to advocate on behalf of those living in cancer clusters in the San Joaquin Valley."

Some opponents of Roth note that he holds his current position on the board as one of four seats reserved for representatives of the life science industry and say he is not a true "patient advocate".  He has cited what he considers examples of his "patient advocacy" and says his drug industry experience is a useful background for the board.

Torres set out a three-part agenda if he wins the vice chairmanship:

"First, funding for this crucial effort is more challenged than ever.   Confronting this challenge will require a renewed focus by the ICOC and the continued leadership of Bob Klein.  Funding is scarce, and I can work with Bob, the ICOC, and state leaders in furthering that agenda.

"Second, I think the ICOC must continue to educate the public about its accomplishments and future plans.  The voters must be assured that their support for Proposition 71 is justified.  The Vice Chair can play an important role in this area.  My thirty-five years in the public has afforded me the opportunity to participate in numerous debates and interactions with the media (countless interviews on national and local TV, radio, etc.).  This experience will greatly aid the ICOC’s outreach and education efforts.  And, being fluent in Spanish, I can help reach an important and growing constituency in our state.

"Third, consensus building is important on any board or organization.  I’ve spent an entire career building coalitions, interacting with ‘unique’ personalities, and working with both sides of the aisle in the legislature (remember, you can’t get bills out of committee or the floor without Republican votes).  As Vice Chair, I hope to explore the idea of creating an ICOC Executive Committee comprised of board members to aid in facilitating the exchange of information and increase the productivity of meetings."  

Twenty-seven members of the board are eligible to vote on the vice chairmanship, a decision that will likely be made at the ICOC’s March meeting in Sacramento.

Key to the vote, however, will be a job description that is being worked out by the ICOC’s Governance Subcommittee, chaired by former studio executive Sherry Lansing. Among issues to be determined are whether the job would be considered full or part-time and what salary it might carry.

Roth has said he, like former vice chairman Ed Penhoet, would decline a salary.  In December, acting on the Governance Subcommittee’s recommendation, the ICOC voted to make Chairman Klein’s position a half- time job and pay him $150,000 a year. He had been working without pay until then. Torres has indicated he would take a salary.

How will the race play out?  The first task is to decide what the vice chair is supposed to be doing.  The fact that an earlier Governance Subcommittee was cancelled may indicate that is not easy.

Roth is a known and respected quantity for most board members. Some may question whether selecting Torres will politicize the ICOC.  Or, maybe they would value Torres’ connections in Sacramento and Washington.

I’ve said this before, but it still seems true. The decision for many members may boil down to this calculation: If Roth loses, he remains on the board and presumably continues as the productive member many think he has been. Torres would be a new player, bringing strong political connections, so why not go with the new face?

Consumer Watchdog
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