PORTLAND (AP) – Former Texas Governor Ann Richards accused the Bush administration Wednesday of allowing ideology instead of science to guide federal limits on funding for stem cell research.

Speaking at a campaign rally for Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry days after the third anniversary of President Bush’s decision to limit funding of embryonic stem cell research, Richards said ideology should never invade policy.

“I really do not believe in politicizing scientific issues,” said Richards, who lost her re-election bid for governor to Bush in 1994. “Scientific research should not be held back because of right-wing political ideologies.”

Richards, who was also scheduled to speak Wednesday in New Hampshire, said it is dangerous when ideology supplants scientific truth, especially when research holds the promise of helping millions affected by debilitating disease.

To emphasize the point, Richards told those at the rally about Miriam “Ma” Ferguson, a Texas governor during the 1920s. The driving issue then was whether to punish school children for speaking Spanish, she said.

“They asked Ma how she stood on the issue, and she said if the English language was good enough for Jesus Christ, it was good for the schoolchildren of Texas,” Richards said. “There are still people who believe Jesus Christ spoke English. And they all voted for George Bush.”

Religious groups oppose stem cell research in which culling of stem cells kill developing embryos. They equate the process with abortion and do not want Bush to be the first president to fund the research – even with limits.

But proponents of the science, including former first lady Nancy Reagan, argue that such research could lead to cures for diseases such as diabetes and Alzheimer’s. Former President Reagan suffered from the latter for a decade before his death June 5 due to related pneumonia.

“People like Christopher Reeve hope very much indeed that we open up the scientific research so that we all have an opportunity of the benefits that can come to people who have life altering conditions,” Richards said.

With polls showing overwhelming support for stem cell research, Kerry has promised to give scientists more freedom.

He has used the word “ban” to describe Bush’s actions to limit the research.

Republican officials, however, say Democrats are distorting fact. About $25 million was given to limited embryonic stem cell research during 2003, they said.

“It’s politics as usual from the Democratic party,” said Dwayne Bickford, executive director of the Maine Republican Party. “(Bush) has provided no road blocks to private or state funding of stem cell research.”

While Bush has restricted federal dollars to fund the research, he has not stopped private funding of stem cell research. Researchers and Democrats, however, have said the research has struggled without federal backing.

“Private funding didn’t get us to the moon,” said Jesse Derris, a Kerry spokesman. “And private funding is not going to find us an answer to every question we have.”

AP-ES-08-11-04 1456EDT

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