POLITUCAL TELLIGENCE Not Up To Snuff OVERKILL An ambitious group of right-to-lifers is taking credit for preventing construction of a proposed $41 million bioresearch center at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. They thought they were striking a righteous blow in their fight against embryonic stem cell research. As it turns out, they may have killed off a research facility for entirely the wrong reasons. In the final days of the Legislature’s just completed special session, Joe Pojman, the executive director of Texas Alliance for Life, rallied his religious right soldiers to oppose state funding for the proposed facility. The money was tucked into a bill allowing for $1.86 billion in tuition revenue bonds for the state’s universities. Pojman told his legions that scientists might conduct embryonic stem cell research at the Houston facility. Not surprisingly, the prospect of state funding for such researchin which stem cells are taken from discarded embryosdidn’t sit well with the antiabortion crowd. Pojman’s group made so much noise about the addition of the bioresearch center that the University of Texas System officials withdrew their request for the facility. They were forced to remove it for fear that the revenue bond bill wouldn’t pass, jeopardizing higher education projects for every university system in the state. One problem: Pojman and his activist friends seem to have misunderstood the work that would be done at the proposed bioresearch center. A university spokesman said the facility planned research not on the controversial embryonic stem cells, but rather on adult stem cellsresearch that doesn’t rely on embryos and that the religious right generally supports. “As I stated from the very beginning of the project concept, only human adult stem cell researchnot embryonic stem cellswas planned to be conducted in the biomed ical research and education facility at UTHSC,” Anthony P. de Bruyn, assistant to the vice chancellor for external relations and assistant director for public affairs for the university system, wrote in an e-mail to the Observer. But a pledge from UT didn’t deter the Texas Alliance for Life and its assault on the proposed bioresearch center. And it certainly wasn’t going to dissuade Pojman from taking some credit for killing the idea. In a May 12 e-mail after UT had withdrawn the proposal, Pojman wrote to his supporters, “After state representatives received a large number of pro-life calls from constituents, an unprecedented pro-life victory occurred yesterday in the Texas House.” Maybe a hollow victory. MOUTHPIECES FOR MOUTH CANCER The tobacco tax hike in Texas’ new school-funding regimen falls chiefly on cigarettesnot chewing tobacco. “Smokeless” chaw and snuff fall into a softer pouch between this tax law’s teeth and gums, codifying an official state preference for mouth cancer over lung cancer. Part of the Legislature’s just-passed es the state tax on a pack of smokes from 41 cents to $1.41a 244 percent increase. The same legislation imposes a tax hike on smokeless tobacco of just 14 percent. The cigar industry dodged a tax increase altogether. There is no strong public-health rationale for these discrepancies. Texas lobby records suggest that state Republican leaders may have presented the $1 cigarette hike as untouchable while leaving themselves open to persuasion from the smokeless tobacco lobby. Tobacco lobby spending doubled in Texas over the past decade from $1.4 million in 1995 to $2.9 million in 2005. Philip Morris’ Marlboro Man outspent smokeless tobacco giant U.S. Tobacco 2001, when UST made a failed push for another special tax break in Austin [“Double Dippin’,” June 22, 2001]. But in the first quarter of this year, smokeless tobacco interests increased their lobby spending 88 percent in Texas, leaving behind the cigarette lobby, which slashed its expenditures in this period by one-third. The fact that the once-powerful cigarette lobby disarmed in the face of a $1-a-pack tax increase almost certainly means that state leaders presented this tax as a done deal. Instead of muscling lawmakers with lobbyists as it did in the old days, the cigarette industry lashed out at legislators and even its own customers. The Dallas Morning News reported that to block the tax hike until he heard a Philip Morris ad trashing lawmakers for abandoning common sense. Capitol insiders also said that some desperate cigarette lobbyists resorted to arguing that the proposed tax would prompt some smokers to switch from tobacco to crack. This Big Lie insults the industry’s own customers. Even as the lung-cancer lobby went into remission early this year, the mouthcancer lobby metastasized. Smokeless tobacco interests posted a net gain of 17 new Texas lobbyists in the first quarter of 2006, boosting lobby spending in the state to perhaps $1.3 million \(the exact amount is unknown since lobbyUST’s hired guns include former lawmakers Buster Brown, James Clark and Buzz Robnett, as well as former Bush gubernatorial aide Reggie Bashur and exSenate Sergeant-at-Arms Rusty Kelley. Competitor North Atlantic Trading Co., which sells Zig-Zag rolling papers and Beech-Nut chaw, hired ex-Senator Bill Ratliff. Invoking the name of a wise Star Wars character, Ratliff’s Senate colleagues called him “Obi-Wan Kenobi” back in the days before Obi-Wan went 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 2, 2006
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