On Monday I did something that up until a few weeks ago I would have thought nearly impossible.

I met in person with Texas Governor Rick Perry.

Why might this have seemed highly unlikely until recently? 

First of all, I'm a lifelong Democrat, while he's a Republican. However, I learned in the lead up to the meeting that the Governor actually was a Democrat for part of his life and his father was a lifelong Democrat so I found that interesting.

Second of all, I'm a proponent of both adult and embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). Perry is a strong proponent of adult stem cell research, but publicly opposes ESCR something that I have previously publicly criticized him for.

Finally, I'm just a scientist and not even some bigwig famous one at that, while of course Governor Perry is a celebrity.

Nonetheless the meeting came together down in La Jolla, CA, catalyzed by some amazing Parkinson's Disease patient advocates and the Scripps Research Institute. 

More than anything else, since people heard about this meeting, they have been asking me "What is Rick Perry really like?"

I found Governor Perry to be an engaging person. A straight shooter. Understandably deeply committed to Texas (cowboy boots on with his suit), but open to the idea of working with California to advance stem cell research. 

The one thing that probably impressed me the most was how good a listener he was and how he would follow up with a question or comment that showed he was very engaged in the discussion. Maybe reflecting my own personal bias about politicians generally, I guess I expected a domineering personality. In contrast, Perry clearly possessed a "leader presence", but treated those of us at the small meeting very respectfully and as equals. There were just about 10 of us total.

The second question I have been getting  is "Why did you as a stem cell scientist agree to meet with a GOP Governor of a conservative state who has publicly opposed ES cells?"

My answer is that there is too much focus on what everyone disagrees upon and not enough working together in America generally and also specifically in science. Scientists are also too insular both from each other and from people from other walks of life such as politics and patients. Politics and political leaders can greatly help or hinder science so by scientists mostly avoiding politicians they are actually doing science a disservice.

More specifically, I believe Mr. Perry has what it takes to make Texas a stem cell powerhouse and in so doing help millions of people. Therefore, I'd rather work with him than be on the opposite side. My first meeting with Governor Perry left me with a generally positive impression and we have significant common ground of advancing adult stem cell research including iPS cells.

Finally, people have asked me--how did he seem in person compared to on the campaign trail?

As a person he came across as genuine and full of energy. He struck me as very focused and he sure seemed to have a great memory. I don't believe the Rick Perry of the campaign trail is a good reflection of who he is, but that may be true more generally of both Democratic and Republican politicians. I personally believe that Obama is lucky to be facing Romney rather than Perry, who I believe would have been a far more formidable opponent.

My goal of being part of this meeting was to build bridges and I think we succeed in starting that process. The Governor mentioned a second possible meeting this fall in October, which I think is a great idea.