Stem cell debate could flare in Neb. regents race

A long-standing dispute over embryonic stem cell research is likely to resurface during the general election race for candidates of the University of Nebraska Board of Regents.

Regent hopefuls in at least one district differ on the use of research, which has divided the board in past years and caught the attention of an influential Nebraska anti-abortion group.

The primary vote will eliminate candidates from three of four seats that are up for re-election. The nonpartisan, unpaid board has eight members plus one nonvoting student regent for each of the four University of Nebraska campuses. The top two vote-getters in the primary advance to the November general election, where they will compete for a six-year term in office.

The Board of Regents voted 4-4 in 2008 on a proposition to limit the stem cell research at the university to types allowed under President George W. Bush. The board needed a majority of its eight members to approve the measure, and many backers thought they had the necessary votes.

Outgoing state Sen. Lavon Heidemann, a Republican primary winner vying for a seat on the board, said he expected embryonic stem cell research to surface as an issue in the general election. Heidemann's general election opponent, Mike Jones, has said he supports embryonic stem cell research.

Both candidates are seeking to replace Regent Jim McClurg of Lincoln, who did not seek re-election after his vote to allow expanded stem cell research.

"It's not the only issue but is important," Heidemann said, pointing to his endorsement by the group Nebraska Right to Life. "I think that's going to pop up throughout the campaign."

The primary winners of another district _ Norfolk attorney David Copple and Columbus veterinarian Jim Pillen _ have both voiced opposition to stem cell research. One of the two will replace Regent Chuck Hassebrook, who has voted to allow the expanded research.

About $88 million in federal funding went to embryonic stem cell research in 2008, according to the National Institutes of Health, but the University of Nebraska saw none of that funding at the time because of tight federal guidelines. When the guidelines were lifted, university scholars applied for millions of dollars in research grants.

The race for the University of Nebraska Board of Regents attracted a number of well-known politicians and business executives for Tuesday's primary who have promised to keep college affordable and use the university as an engine for economic growth.

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Stem cell debate could flare in Neb. regents race

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