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Democratic Gov. Doyle Pounds Right Wingers in Wisconsin on Stem Cells

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Message Michael Leon
Madison, Wisconsin-Governor Jim Doyle is beating up his Republican challenger by blasting him, Rep. Mark Green (R-Green Bay), as an extremist who would dash the hopes of millions of families by squashing stem cell research funding.

At the Wisconsin Democratic convention this summer, Doyle fired his opening salvo driving this public health and emerging-business (bio-tech) issue that has divided Republicans here.

"Wisconsin pioneered this research, and I believe that the governor of Wisconsin has a special obligation to these families (relatives of those stricken by ailments for which one day stem cells may provide treatment or cure). I will not turn my back on these families. I will never let partisan politics slam the door on hope for these families," thundered Doyle.

In TV spots, debates, letters and speeches, the Doyle campaign has hit Green for repeatedly opposing embryonic stem cell research, a particularly foolish position to take in the state that forged the research (stem cells were first isolated at the University of Wisconsin-Madison), is courting bio-tech firms, and which has, for over 150 years, nurtured the huge public research institution, the University of Wisconsin-Madison (now under funding attack by the Republican-led legislature, though successfully protected by Doyle through his aggressive use of the partial-veto pen).

Now Green has back tracked on his position of stem cells, and charged that Doyle (and Michael J. Fox who cut an ad for Doyle blasting Green for his anti-stem cell votes) is "part of a national smear campaign (that) flat out lies about my record on stem cell research."

But Green's House votes against stem cell research are rather easily retrieved public records and the damage to Green has been done.

The latest news is that former Wisconsin Gov. and Bushee Cabinet member Tommy Thompson just cut an ad for Green saying that: Yeah, Green is all for stem cells, don't let anyone tell you differently.

No one's buying, and Doyle (an old politcal foe of Thompson's when Doyle was attorney general) can take an extra bit of satisfaction in seeing the impotence of Thompson who declined a run against both Doyle and Senator Kohl this year.

Key Endorsement

Yesterday, the influential Wisconsin State Journal, the Republican-leaning Madison daily newspaper, endorsed Doyle, in part because of Doyle's record promoting stem cell research.

"And (Doyle) is a champion of high technology, including embryonic stem cell research at UW-Madison," reads the endorsement of the editorially pro-business, socially moderate paper that has featured heavy news coverage of the stem cell and gay marriage issues.

Dane county, where Madison is located, can be counted on to supply a hefty vote margin for Doyle that in this pro-Democratic election cycle will be difficult for a right-winger like Green to overcome. Heavily democratic Dane and Milwaukee counties together can be counted on to supply over 25 percent of the state vote.

Doyle has never trailed in any statewide polls, and though much mud has been thrown at him in numerous attack commercials, (for example, right before last night's, prime-time 60 Minutes profile of the Notre Dame football coach, three acidly negative, anti-Doyle spots ran consecutively on the Madison CBS affiliate (WISC) in a well-timed appeal to football fans who watched the heavily advertised segment) the smart money is on Doyle winning his second term.

The desperation in the independent groups' and Green's spots is obvious in their negativity (for alleged corruption) and frequency. Running a spot on 60 Minutes is not exactly cheap, and you can bet that if Republican polls showed Green ahead, the expenditures would decrease.

Whacks and Money

But why has Mark Green taken such extremist and seemingly politically perilous positions on stem cells and other issues such as reproductive choice?

Part of the answer is the simple fact that Green, like most of the current crop of Republicans in Congress, is plain wacky.

But, as John Nichols writes in Madison's The Capital Times, Madison progressive daily newspaper, it's also about getting money in today's Republican political world. Writes Nichols:

" ... Green and Gard (Green's would-be successor) want to maintain the support of the primary lobby against serious stem cell research: the powerful anti-choice political action committees, which funnel tens of millions of dollars in questionable cash into the campaigns of candidates who echo their opposition to research that could identify treatments and perhaps even cures for life threatening illnesses such as Parkinson's disease, Lou Gehrig's disease, juvenile diabetes and spinal cord injuries."

Hope and Politics

Today's political reality is that individuals and their families are hit hard by these illnesses and public awareness of the situation has been considerably heightened, and those politicians who through dogma or old-fashioned greed build barriers against hope for medical treatments achieved through public funding are finding their private ideology and lust for money a tough sell in this campaign season.

Jim Doyle is selling hope, and Doyle's hard-hitting campaign for stem cell research is a political victory for him (once regarded as the most vulnerable democratic incumbent governor), and an affirmation of faith in the community's commitment to championing science for the common good as too many families endure these cruel maladies that we hope will go the way of the defeated small pox and polio scourges.

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Michael Leon is a writer living in Madison, Wisconsin. His writing has appeared nationally in The Progressive, In These Times, and CounterPunch. He can be reached at
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