By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
It’s also hard to imagine Zucker as the political type. Though he attended the University of Wisconsin from 1968 to 1972, when Madison was a radical hotbed (the legendary Vietnam protest documentary The War at Home was filmed then and there), Zucker was, by his own admission, ”never much more than a weekend rioter.“ His politics are still middle-of-the-road.
Since then, not much has changed. Yet everything has changed. In 2000, Zucker found out that his 11-year-old daughter, Katie, had juvenile diabetes. Immediately, he began researching the disease and hunting for hope. In the summer of 2001, he started hearing about something called stem cells and how they might be able to not just provide better treatment, but actually cure the disease. That summer he also heard that the Weldon Bill had passed, that President Bush was limiting research to 60 mostly moribund cell lines and that the Brownback Bill was heading for a vote in the Senate where only seven members were in favor of keeping the research legal.
”As a director,“ says Zucker, ”I tend to be calm. I don‘t want to be another Hollywood maniac. I try not to get carried away or lose my cool. What was going on with stem cells made me very angry.“
Through sad coincidence, Zucker and his wife, Janet, had gotten to know Douglas Wick (the producer of Gladiator, Stuart Little and Working Girl), and his wife, Lucy Fisher, the former vice chairman of Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group. Wick and Fisher also have a daughter with juvenile diabetes. The foursome had been active in the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, but wanted to be at the forefront of the stem-cell debate and felt that if they started their own organization they could not only act quickly, they could bring the full weight of Hollywood to bear on the situation.
Together they hired a lobbyist and went to Washington. They took their daughters and Caltech stem-cell biologist David Anderson along. They called this new group CuresNow. This was in the summer of 2002. To give you an idea of how strong the love affair between D.C. and Hollywood is, what did CuresNow do to get in to see senators?
”Um,“ says Zucker, ”I just called up and said this is Jerry Zucker.“
They looked at their trip as an educational crusade. They punched below the waist. ”We would walk in to a senator’s office with my daughter and her insulin pump attached to her belt and ask them what was more important -- my daughter‘s life or the life of a couple of cells?“
In a sense, CuresNow was fighting against the work of its founders’ business. In the minds of many, stem cells are directly linked to cloning, and the public perception of cloning is directly linked to Hollywood. ”We spent the better portion of the 20th century making mad-scientist movies,“ says Zucker. ”One of the first senators we met -- I can‘t tell you his name -- went on and on about how if we let this technology go forward someone will try to create a new Hitler. How much of that is real fear and how much of that is Hollywood?“
As they suspected, most of the politicians didn’t really know what they were voting on. The Hollywood crew explained things slowly, and slowly began making headway. One of their early converts, who remains their strongest ally on the right, was Utah Republican and pro-life advocate Orrin Hatch. Centenarian Strom Thurmond joined their cause. Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle agreed not to put the Brownback bill on the floor for a vote until CuresNow had a chance to talk to everyone who would listen.
Hatch, alongside several other senators (Feinstein, Kennedy and Specter), introduced his own bill that banned reproductive cloning but allowed therapeutic cloning. Neither his bill nor Brownback‘s could gather the votes needed to pass. Instead, Brownback tried attaching anti-cloning to several other bills, but CuresNow was making headway. The word was getting out, and none of the anti-cloning amendments have met with success. Currently, 60 senators favor stem-cell research, and the Senate vote is still pending.
Since the recent Republican gains in Congress, CuresNow knows that its Washington work is not done. But Zucker and company are spending an equal amount of energy in California because it’s here that lines are being drawn and the first major battle for stem-cell research is being fought.
”California is the country‘s biotech leader,“ says Zucker. ”We have brilliant scientists and a receptive state government. I want to see California as a safe haven for stem-cell research. We have a history of leading the nation in fights such as this. We have a great chance to add to that history.“
The 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads: ”The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.“ Politically, this is the typically Republican turf known as states’ rights. It exists as a barrier to top-down, Washington-mandated policy. It is the legal reason California was able to legislate lower emission standards than the national standards mandated by the Clean Air Act. The rest of the nation followed California‘s anti-emission movement; car manufacturers, to their dismay, had to comply. California Democrats had used one of the Republicans’ favorite weapons -- states‘ rights -- to spark a state-by-state subversion of the GOP’s big-auto agenda.