Robert Klein, Davy Crockett, and the Quest for Another $5.5 Billion for Stem Cells

As this column has often noted, the 2004 ballot measure Proposition 71, the $3 billion California Stem Cell Research and Cures Act, promised life-saving cures for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and other diseases, plus a steady stream of royalties for state coffers.

In 2020, a ballpark estimate for the promised cures and therapies is zero, and the royalties fail to surpass the annual salary of Art Torres, the former state senator the government hired to help oversee the stem cell agency. Even so, Americans for Cures, a non-profit headed by original Proposition 71 backer Robert Klein, is floating the California Stem Cell Research, Treatments, and Cures Initiative of 2020

A signature taker for this measure told me the initiative seeks another $1.5 billion, but it actually seeks “$5.5 billion in bond funding,” nearly double the amount from 2004. At that time, Klein deployed celebrities such as Christopher Reeve, Brad Pitt, and Michael J. Fox. This time the star is Robert Klein himself. The Americans for Cures website sports an interview with author Don C. Reed headlined, “How the California Stem Cell Program is Fighting Your Incurable Disease,” the title of a book by Reed. He says Californians were right to pass Proposition 71 and describes Klein as the irreplaceable man “practical visionary,” like Davy Crockett, who said, “be sure you are right then go ahead.” 

Cures are now “closer than ever before” says Reed, who cites crooner Al Jolson, who once had to follow the legendary Enrico Caruso and told the audience, “Hang onto your hats, folks — you ain’t seen nothing yet!” True to form, Californians have seen “nothing yet” for their $3 billion in 2004. What another $5.5 billion will produce is unclear, but it is possible to guess. 

If Klein’s new $5.5 billion initiative is to appear on the ballot in November, it must gather 632,212 signatures by April 21. Just for fun, ask a signature gather how much money Klein’s Americans for Cures is seeking. That done, ask how many life-saving cures and therapies the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM), the state stem cell agency, produced with the $3 billion taxpayer money it got in 2004. 

K. Lloyd Billingsley is a Policy Fellow at the Independent Institute and a columnist at American Greatness.
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