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Schwarzenegger renominates stem cell agency’s leader

After a presumed front-runner dropped out of competition to run the state’s $3-billion stem cell research agency, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Thursday nominated Silicon Valley real estate investor Bob Klein to continue as chairman.

Klein, who led a successful 2004 initiative campaign to create the agency, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, has been chairman for six years.

Schwarzenegger said in a statement Thursday that Klein’s leadership has led to “advances in stem cell research that will benefit both California and the world for generations.”

The agency has funded research that led to hundreds of scientific papers and early clinical trials of treatments for rare diseases. But scientists say therapies for such maladies as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and spinal cord damage that were promised during the campaign remain years, if not decades, away.

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The agency has come under sharp criticism from legislators and government watchdogs for paying its president more than twice the salary set for California’s governor and distributing nearly $1 billion to universities with representatives on its board of directors.

In an interview last month, Klein said he would not seek, and would not accept, renomination. But his preferred successor, Canadian researcher Alan Bernstein, withdrew his name from consideration late Wednesday as the deadline neared for the governor to nominate a replacement.

“I would have preferred if Dr. Bernstein had been able to be nominated, but it’s an honor to serve this agency,” Klein said Thursday.

Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado, one of four state officials who make the nominations, announced Bernstein as his choice this week. But questions arose about the propriety of offering Bernstein the job after he had chaired a panel of experts hired by the agency to produce an impartial report on its progress.

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The report, which offered high praise for the agency’s work, was released last week.

State Treasurer Bill Lockyer declined to nominate anyone for the position, in part because of misgivings about Bernstein’s role on the review panel.

Controller John Chiang nominated former state senator and Democratic Party leader Art Torres to head the agency, whose board will meet later this month to choose the next leader.

jack.dolan@latimes.com

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