by J Scott Christianson, Columbia Daily Tribune Columnist
According to the song, the devil went down to Georgia looking for a soul to steal. He challenged Johnny to a fiddling contest and bet his fiddle of gold against Johnny’s soul. But after the devil had done his best, Johnny took up his bow and said, “Sit down in that chair right there and let me show you how it’s done.”
That line rings in my head any time someone mentions the politics of stem cell research in Missouri. As you might recall, a group of folks went to the voters in 2006 with the Amendment 2 referendum to change Missouri’s Constitution to ensure that Missouri’s General Assembly didn’t restrict stem cell research beyond the restrictions imposed by federal laws. Many Missouri Democrats latched onto Amendment 2 as a wedge issue that they could use to divide the Republican Party, candidates and officeholders. After being on the receiving end of many an issue that divided Democratic voters — abortion, gun control, gay rights — Democrats saw their chance and took it.
And, by and large, Amendment 2 was an effective wedge for splitting up the Republicans. Then-Sen. Jim Talent flip-flopped on the issue, and no matter how much he tried to explain his position, it only seemed to make matters worse. Gov. Matt Blunt broke with Missouri Right to Life and supported the amendment. His action caused the president of Missouri Right to Life to declare that Blunt could no longer be trusted as an ally in the group’s cause and that there was “very little chance” that her organization would support a re-election bid by the governor in 2008. In the end, the amendment passed, and Missouri elected more Democrats than it had in a long time.
Now, in the run-up to the 2008 election, here comes the right wing of the Republican Party and Cures Without Cloning with their own stem cell amendment, saying, “Sit down in that chair right there and let me show you how it’s done.” Promising to allow voters to have their cake — no destruction of fertilized eggs — and eat it, too — lifesaving stem cell research — the Cures Without Cloning amendment will not only divide Democratic voters but will provide a great “get-out-the-vote” issue for Missouri’s Republican base. Think about it. Who doesn’t want to have their cake and eat it, too? Only a fool, that’s who!
I can already imagine the political ads and postcards: “Won’t you please call Jay Nixon’s office and ask him why he only favors stem cell…