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Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Jeff Johnson, Are you Anti-Science?

Does 'Pro-family' equate to being against scientific research?

The candidates for AG debated on MPR this morning. Here's the story.

Stem cell issue fuels flare-up in attorney general race
by Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio
October 10, 2006

St. Paul, Minn. — With only four weeks left before the election, the three major party candidates for attorney general have found a new, divisive issue to wrestle with. An MPR listener called in to ask where Republican Jeff Johnson, DFLer Lori Swanson and John James of the Independence Party stand on stem cell research.

Johnson, a three-term state representative, says he supports the approach of limiting the use of embryonic stem cells to existing lines. But he began his response by scolding Lori Swanson.

"It really doesn't have anything to do with the attorney general's race, although, Lori, I know you had a press conference yesterday because you think you found a wedge issue," he said.

"I did not have a press conference yesterday," Swanson replied.

"You talked to the press. They called me," Johnson said.

Johnson doesn't see the relevance of stem cell research to the attorney general's office, but Swanson does. As state solicitor general, Swanson says the issue came up just a year ago.

"In 2005 we were asked by some conservative members of the House of Representatives for a legal opinion on whether the University of Minnesota was violating the law because it conducted stem cell research using privately donated money," she said.

Swanson supports stem cell research, even the use of embryonic cells. She says Johnson backed legislation that would have penalized the University of Minnesota financially for conducting embryonic research.

Johnson says the bill was intended to start a conversation on the controversial issue. Swanson's boss, Mike Hatch, who's running for governor, raised the stem cell issue in a debate last week.

John James, the Independence Party candidate, supports a wide range of stem cell research. He's also calling for a broader role for the attorney general's office. James says the state is a lacking leadership in public safety.

"The attorney general is probably the most likely person in state government, at the executive level, to take the lead and get us focused on doing all we can to drive the crime rate down and do it in a way that doesn't waste money," he said.

James is the only one of the three major party candidates who flatly opposes the death penalty.

I would suggest that Johnson's support for withholding funds from the U of M because of stem cell research paranoia is a valid question for this election cycle. It demonstrates his willingness to impose a specific theological belief on public policy. If Lori Swanson brings up his legislative record, she isn't creating a wedge issue. He's the one who worked a wedge issue while in the Legislature, and now he doesn't want to talk about it.

I listened to most of the debate this morning. Lori Swanson cited the house file number, which stirred a round of applause in the studio audience.