With Election Day less than two months away, the campaigns of state Democrats and Republicans are in full swing with TV commercial spots, promotional tours – and renewed attention to hot-button issues that are likely to draw voter support. In the last two weeks, the Republican-led state House passed five bills encouraging the development of umbilical cord and adult stem cell banks, while House Democrats pushed a series of bills that would give interest-free loans to students who plan to work high-tech jobs in Michigan upon graduation. To all appearances, however, both sets of bills have little chance of passing through the state Senate. This is an election year, after all, and state legislators seem more concerned with winning through empty posturing than focusing on real policy issues.

Sarah Royce

House Democrats – especially Rep. Gary McDowell (D-Rudyard), the main supporter of the interest-free loan proposal – deny that it is only a last-minute tactic to win votes. Due to the influx of last-minute bills flooding the Legislature, however, it appears that this series of bills is only thoughtless maneuvering by worried state legislators. They also reveal an unhappy truth of election season – that candidates are more interested in winning than actually in carrying through with beneficial public policy.

If the measures, as predicted, don’t pass the state Senate, they can be reintroduced next year. They can’t, however, be automatically carried over to the next session, making it seem more likely that the legislature will drop the issues after the election. It is unfortunate that these student loan bills are not getting the attention and real support in the Legislature they deserve. Giving financial assistance to students who intend to stay in Michigan after college will only help the state’s economy by retaining a more educated workforce.

Similarly, the Republican-backed stem-cell bills appear to be motivated more by political than medical concerns. Republican support for the new bills, which would encourage research on umbilical cord and adult stem cells, appears to be a primarily a cynical move to mitigate political risk. Republicans both nationally and locally have been taking heat for their party’s opposition to embryonic stem-cell research. Rather than genuinely supporting the creation of stem cell banks to create more jobs and encourage research on the topic within the state, it seems more likely that state Republicans are hoping to snow over their constituents, confusing voters into thinking that the Republican-led Legislature supports stem-cell research without angering pro-life activists deeply opposed to research using embryonic stem cells.

A recently created non-profit group, Michigan Citizens for Stem Cell Research and Cures, aims to educate Michigan residents about the research benefits and economic payoffs of embryonic stem-cell research in the state. While grassroots organizations like this one will certainly aid Michigan by raising public awareness about stem-cell research, such efforts may bear little fruit until the state has legislators who are less concerned with their re-election campaigns and more focused on the future of the state.

Michigan’s auto industry is floundering, its manufacturing jobs are being outsourced and its college graduates are fleeing. The state needs to take advantage of any opportunity it can find to increase the education of its workforce and attract jobs. Under any other circumstances, it would be merely disappointing that its legislators have their put re-election campaigns before the well being of the state’s residents. But with Michigan’s unemployment rate tied for the highest in the country, it is simply shameful.

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