Under pressure from health advocates, Gov. Jerry Brown on Thursday removed a controversial physician from a state health board after she appeared in an industry-funded ad against a tobacco tax hike on the June ballot.
La Donna Porter, a physician at San Joaquin General Hospital, had served since 2005 on a state advisory panel of medical experts and scientists that identifies chemicals known to cause developmental or reproductive harm. She was an appointee of then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Brown also took the opportunity to remove five other Schwarzenegger appointees from the panel, according to George Alexeeff, head of the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, which oversees the California Proposition 65 Developmental and Reproductive Toxicant Identification Committee.
That leaves two members standing: Ellen B. Gold and Hillary Klonoff-Cohen, both Democrats. Meanwhile, at least two of the people removed - Calvin J. Hobel and Carl Keen - are registered Republicans. A third appointee removed, Linda Roberts, works for the Chevron Research and Technology Company.
Brown press secretary Gil Duran offered little explanation, other than to suggest the governor has been making his way through the various appointees from the previous administration.
Duran did not directly refer to the Proposition 29 firestorm. But he said health advocate complaints and media investigations of Porter "certainly brought this board more attention than it usually gets. It brought it to the forefront."
Tobacco companies are spending heavily against Proposition 29, a measure that would raise taxes by $1 per pack of cigarettes and a comparable amount on other forms of tobacco. The initiative would raise $735 million annually for cancer and disease research, as well as smoking prevention.
Porter criticized Proposition 29 for establishing a new bureaucracy and potentially sending research money out of state. She previously appeared in a 2006 commercial against a different tobacco tax and was a health spokesperson for a pharmaceutical-backed initiative in 2005. Porter says she has not been paid for her advocacy.
The ad's statewide run is over after two weeks, but Porter was considered a powerful spokeswoman as an African-American doctor wearing a white smock in a physician's office. Initiative proponents seemed to be particularly upset at the ad's implication that the medical community opposes Proposition 29, and they have since launched their own commercials refuting that argument.
On Monday, Proposition 29 proponents called on Brown to remove Porter from the California Proposition 65 Developmental and Reproductive Toxicant Identification Committee. On Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Proposition 29 backer, issued a separate letter calling on the governor to rescind the appointment.
In his letter, Newsom wrote, "Dr. Porter has demonstrated close, obvious and troubling ties to the tobacco industry and its marketing tactics."