MEMO TO REPORTERS: Scott Walker: Stifling Innovation, Economic Growth

May 26, 2014

Despite the fact that the University of Wisconsin-Madison is widely recognized and praised as the birthplace of stem cell research, Scott Walker remains opposed to the promise of regenerative medicine and its potential to not only improve quality of life for thousands of Wisconsinites, but its economic benefits as well.

Instead of relying upon the latest and most comprehensive scientific evidence, which concludes that embryonic stem cells are viewed as having more promise than adult stem cells to cure diseases because they have the unique ability to transform into other cell types, offering more and greater opportunities for breakthroughs and advancements, Walker has turned his back on embryonic stem cell research based solely on his personal beliefs.

Researchers agree that limiting embryonic stem cell research would have a negative impact on the hope to find cures for devastating afflictions such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease, Parkinson’s, heart disease and spinal cord injuries.

According to a 2010 Economic Impact Study by the independent life sciences advocacy organization Bio Forward, bioscience is a driver of Wisconsin’s economy. Key findings of the study include:

  • Between 2004 and 2009 bioscience employment grew by nearly 3% in contrast to the rest of the economy that shrunk by over 3%.
  • The average bioscience worker has earnings that are 64% higher than the earnings of a typical Wisconsin worker.
  • More than 640 bioscience businesses have created nearly 24,000 private sector jobs with a total economic impact of close to $7 billion.
  • 53 counties report having at least one bioscience employer.
  • Bioscience employment in Wisconsin generates additional income in Wisconsin. The direct employment of 23,919 private-sector bioscience workers generates a total of $6,035,606,392 as the earnings of employees and the needs for other goods and services from the employers work their way through the Wisconsin economy. The impact of the academic bioscience research adds another $739M to that, bringing the total to $6.8B in income generated.
  • Direct bioscience employment in Wisconsin generates additional jobs in Wisconsin. The direct employment of 23,919 private sector bioscience workers creates a total of 63,300 jobs in the state (including the original 23,919). The direct employment of 4,470 academic researchers creates another 4,470 jobs through economic multiplier effects. The total number of jobs created by academic and private-sector biosciences is 72,240.
Scott Walker says he’s committed to leveraging public, taxpayer dollars to create more high tech jobs, yet he’s turning his back on Wisconsin’s bioscience industry, a world leader in worker expertise and scientific innovation with a $7 billion economic impact statewide.

Clearly, investments in stem cell research are a win for the millions of people suffering from serious debilitating diseases and for Wisconsin’s economy. Unfortunately, Scott Walker is again motivated not by what’s best for Wisconsinites and our economy or even scientific fact, but by a rigid ideology that panders to the extreme right-wing.

Walker Refused to Stand for Biotech in Venture Capital Bill
A dispute erupted in the Legislature regarding the venture capital bill and whether it would include investment in biotech firms.  Democrats vowed to include biotech companies in the bill while Wisconsin Right to Life, a group opposed to embryonic stem cell research, pledged to oppose the bill if that happens. When asked about his stance, Scott Walker “pointedly declined to wade into” the dispute.  He said, “There’s more than enough potential projects out there even in a couple industry clusters…we just need to go forward.”  [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,5/14/13]
The Republican bill originally excluded the biotech industry from the list that could receive state money.  They did this despite the fact that the University of Wisconsin-Madison gets more than half its $1 billion-plus of research spending for life sciences work.  Those projects include embryonic stem cell research which is opposed by social conservatives including Scott Walker.  [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,5/10/2013]
Biotech executive Paul Radspinner said that leaving his industry out of the bill would send a bad message to companies.  He was speaking as the president and CEO of Madison’s FluGen Inc. but he has also served as a WEDC board member.  He went on to say that “If we’re being held hostage, if biotech is, to this special interest, no bill is better than any bill in my mind. It’s a horrible precedent.” [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 5/10/2013]
Meanwhile in Washington, D.C., Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin announced that her very first bill would boost capital available to the biotechnology and life sciences industry.  She also took a moment to comment on the state version of a venture capital bill that was pushed through the Assembly by Walker and his allies.  She said that she would “hazard a guess” that biotech was excluded from that Walker-supported bill for political reasons.  It should be noted that the following groups endorsed Sen. Baldwin’s bill:  BioForward, the Wisconsin Technology Council, Wisconsin Innovation Network and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 8/7/2013]
Scott Walker did eventually sign venture capital legislation into law and it did in fact exclude biotech firms from receiving a flow of state money from the program.  Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca said that he was troubled that the new law discourages investment in biotech, which is one of the fastest-growing and most promising industries.  [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 7/18/2013]
In April 2014 Walker indicated that he may be open to lessening the restrictions on the state’s venture investments.  It seems that this new openness may have been partially a reaction to Mary Burke’s call to eliminate the biotech ban. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 4/13/2014]
Walker Said He Would Sign a Ban of Embryonic Stem Cell Research
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on Tom Barrett’s and Scott Walker’s positions on stem cell science during the 2010 campaign for governor. The title of the story was, “Future of Stem cell, research depends on next governor.” The story reported that Scott Walker told abortion opponents in the spring of 2010 that he would sign a bill banning embryonic stem cell research. Later when questioned by the media specifically about that position, he reportedly refused to answer. Instead he spoke only generally about his opposition to using embryos saying, “I’m going to put the money behind adult stem cells – not embryonic.”  Walker also declared that federal stem cell grants should go only for work on adult stem cells. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 10/15/2010]
Walker went on to pledge during the 2010 campaign that if he were elected governor that he would shift funding from embryonic stem cell research to adult stem cell research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. David Gamm, a stem cell researcher at UW-Madison responded saying that Walker’s position was “ridiculous” and “not practical” and that “This is basically ignorance.” He went on to say that the state would lose millions in federal grants and he would rather “…pick up my funding and go somewhere else.” [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel,  10/12/2010]
Scott Walker garnered a “False” rating from PolitiFact Wisconsin based on his statement that that “Scientists have show us (that) the greater possibilities, the real science movement, has been with adult stem cell research.  It has not been with embryonic.” He added, “That’s not a political statement; that’s a statement of scientific fact out there.” [PolitiFact Wisconsin, 10/21/2010]
Walker’s Extremism on Social Issues Informs Opposition to Science, Innovation
Scott Walker has always identified as an extreme “Pro-Life” politician and has always garnered the endorsements of both Wisconsin Right to Life and the even more extreme Pro-Life Wisconsin.  These groups have continually opposed stem cell science at every turn and continue to do so on a policy level in Madison. 
Prolife Wisconsin will only endorse candidates that support a full ban on embryonic stem cell research and they have a long history of endorsing Scott Walker, including in his various runs for governor. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 10/12/2010]