Editorial: How the State's Research Revolution Was Stemmed

    Like most voters, the members of this page did not read the entire, voluminous text of Proposition 71 before writing our endorsement in its favor in 2004. And like most voters, we are now paying the price.

    Almost two years after the measure was passed, the state has not issued any of the promised $3 billion in bonds to pay for stem cell research, largely because of technical challenges to the language of the proposition. The most important challenge is currently being heard in district court.

    These challenges are disingenuous; the critics’ main beef is the bioethics of stem cell research, not its constitutionality. Having lost at the ballot box, they moved their battle into the courtroom.

    Yet the controversy demonstrates exactly why making complex policy through direct democracy is never a good idea.

    Since its passage, Proposition 71 has been plagued by bad news: First, the absence of conflict-of-interest provisions for members of a citizen-oversight board designed to dole out research cash raised serious eyebrows. Later, voters learned that the state might not get any royalty payments from the research it was bankrolling, even though the promise that the bonds would pay for themselves was a major reason the measure attracted so much support.

    Though the constitutional objections of research critics may be insincere, they are exactly the sort of roadblocks that ballot measures breed.

    If there is a lesson in this mess, it’s that implementation of an idea matters as much as its conceptualization, and that the implementing is best done by elected lawmakers.

    Though the state may yet see the medical breakthroughs promised by the initiative’s backers, we won’t hold our breath.

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