SACRAMENTO -- La Donna Porter, the controversial doctor who starred in a tobacco-industry-backed ad opposing a June ballot measure that would boost cigarette taxes, has been removed from a state medical panel.
After critics complained about her ties to the tobacco industry, Gov. Jerry Brown approved her removal Thursday from the Proposition 65 Developmental and Reproductive Toxicant Identification Committee, along with four others who had been previously appointed by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The committee identifies toxicants known to be harmful to fetuses and infants.
Plans had been in the works to overhaul the seven-member panel, administration officials said, but intense pressure began building to remove Porter after news reports revealed that the 46-year-old family physician at San Joaquin Hospital near Stockton had done previous work for the tobacco and chemical industries.
"Changes had been under discussion long before the Proposition 29 ads," said Sam Delson, deputy director at the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, which oversees the committee. "But it's fair to say attention to those ads may have focused attention on reviewing this panel and making changes."
Porter became the face of the No on 29 campaign when it released a constant stream of ads featuring her in her doctor's smock for three weeks. The ad was pulled Wednesday in what the campaign said was a planned rotation with another ad using an actor wearing a lab coat. Former Senate leader Don Perata, a co-chairman to the Proposition 29 campaign, was jubilant over Porter's dismissal. Perata had cosigned a letter seeking her removal, as did Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.
"I'm absolutely delighted the governor acted so quickly," Perata said. "It was quite a statement. When people appointed to a position are obviously not qualified, they should summarily be removed.
"This was a real slap in the face" to the No on 29 campaign, Perata added.
Beth Miller, spokeswoman for the No on 29 campaign, countered that Porter had served "honorably and capably in her tenure," and that the criticism and removal was "just another example of Campaign 101: When you can't win on the issue, you attack the opponent's messenger.
"The fact of the matter is that Dr. Porter has been harassed, threatened, stalked and abused simply because as a volunteer who received no compensation (she) had the audacity to speak her mind on a public policy issue that many others, including the Los Angeles Times editorial board, agree with."
Porter as well as the No on 29 campaign said the doctor had not received any money to appear in the ad.
Brown has not taken a position on Proposition 29, which would raise tobacco taxes by $1 a pack, and this week he declined to talk about the June 5 election with this newspaper.
The governor recently received a $26,000 campaign contribution from Philip Morris USA, which along with R.J. Reynolds has contributed nearly $40 million to the No on 29 campaign.