Stem cell issue fuels flare-up in attorney general race

Attorney General debate
Jeff Johnson, John James, and Lori Swanson prepare to debate in the UBS Forum at Minnesota Public Radio.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

With only four weeks left before the election, the three major party candidates for attorney general have found a new, divisive issue to wrestle with. An MPR listener called in to ask where Republican Jeff Johnson, DFLer Lori Swanson and John James of the Independence Party stand on stem cell research.

Johnson, a three-term state representative, says he supports the approach of limiting the use of embryonic stem cells to existing lines. But he began his response by scolding Lori Swanson.

John James
Independence Party attorney general candidate John James.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

"It really doesn't have anything to do with the attorney general's race, although, Lori, I know you had a press conference yesterday because you think you found a wedge issue," he said.

"I did not have a press conference yesterday," Swanson replied.

"You talked to the press. They called me," Johnson said.

Jeff Johnson
Republican Party attorney general candidate Jeff Johnson.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

Johnson doesn't see the relevance of stem cell research to the attorney general's office, but Swanson does. As state solicitor general, Swanson says the issue came up just a year ago.

"In 2005 we were asked by some conservative members of the House of Representatives for a legal opinion on whether the University of Minnesota was violating the law because it conducted stem cell research using privately donated money," she said.

Swanson supports stem cell research, even the use of embryonic cells. She says Johnson backed legislation that would have penalized the University of Minnesota financially for conducting embryonic research.

Lori Swanson
DFL attorney general candidate Lori Swanson.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

Johnson says the bill was intended to start a conversation on the controversial issue. Swanson's boss, Mike Hatch, who's running for governor, raised the stem cell issue in a debate last week.

John James, the Independence Party candidate, supports a wide range of stem cell research. He's also calling for a broader role for the attorney general's office. James says the state is a lacking leadership in public safety.

"The attorney general is probably the most likely person in state government, at the executive level, to take the lead and get us focused on doing all we can to drive the crime rate down and do it in a way that doesn't waste money," he said.

James is the only one of the three major party candidates who flatly opposes the death penalty.

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