Arnold Schwarzenegger, the Republican governor of California, has formally endorsed a bill that, if passed, would provide $3 billion of funding for embryonic stem cell (ES cell) research in the state over the next ten years.
The bill, known as proposition 71, or the California Stem Cell Research and Cures Initiative, will be voted on in state elections on 2 November, the same day as the US presidential elections take place. If passed, California would become the first US state to publicly fund ES cell research: $295 million in state funds would be provided annually, over the ten year period, to Californian universities, institutes and companies wishing to conduct ES cell research, subject to certain limits. Proposition 71 would also create a 29-member panel to determine how the funds would be administered. Last week, the results of a poll of Californian voters showed more support than opposition to the bill.
Schwarzenegger made what has been described as the 'surprise announcement' at a press conference on Monday. Until then, he had 'remained quiet' about the initiative. Supporting ES cell research puts him 'at odds' with the Republican Party 'both in California and nationwide'. President Bush, for example, is well known for his dislike of the research and, as a close ally of Schwarzenegger's, it was thought they may share similar views. However, Schwarzenegger pointed out that the Republican Party 'goes all the way from the right to the centre, as much as the Democratic Party goes from the centre to the left', adding 'I think I'm much more in the centre'.
Speaking at the press conference, he said 'I am very much interested in stem cell research, and I support it 100 per cent'. On the same day, he gave a lecture in the Californian town of Monterey, where he explained his decision to support Proposition 71. He said that ES cell research 'will save so many lives' and 'it will help so many people'. He hopes this will include his father-in-law, who has Alzheimer's disease. In a written statement, Schwarzenegger said that Proposition 71 would be a 'boon' to California's biotechnology industry, adding 'we daringly led the way for the high-tech industry, and now voters can help ensure we lead the way for the biotech industry'. Rob Stutzman, a spokesman for Schwarzenegger, said the governor has always been in favour of ES cell research beyond that which Bush has authorised. Schwarzenegger's main concerns, he said, were the financial issues involved.
Meanwhile, the late Christopher Reeve has appeared in a taped appeal to urge Californians to vote for Proposition 71. Reeve filmed the ad shortly before his death on October 10, but his family gave their permission for it to be screened last week. In it, Reeve says: 'Stem cells are the future of medicine. Please support Proposition 71 and stand up for those who can't'.