SACRAMENTO -- Dr. 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'd been previously appointed by 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 the 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
Former Senate leader Don Perata, a co-chairman to the Proposition 29 campaign, was jubilant over Porter's dismissal. Perata had co-signed a letter seeking her removal, as did Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.
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.
Porter as well as the No on 29 campaign said the doctor had not received any money to appear in the ad.
Gov. 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.
Porter's newly gained high profile invited a search into her past, and this newspaper found that she'd faced two bankruptcies, in 1998 and 2008, and that her home in Wilton, a rural town 30 miles south of Sacramento, is scheduled for a foreclosure auction on May 23.
Porter had previously appeared in a tobacco-backed ad opposing Proposition 86 in 2006. And in 2002, she took the side of the chemical industry against health advocates. She became a key voice in opposing an EPA-proposed regulation of perchlorate, a water pollutant that environmentalists say has harmful effects on infants and children.
Proposition 29 proponents began to fight back this week with a TV ad of their own, titled "Smokescreen," depicting Porter's image obscured by smoke.