Democratic presidential hopeful Sen. Hillary Clinton, right, talks with supporters and signs autographs during a campaign appearance in Reno, Nev., Sunday, April 29, 2007. (AP Photo / Reno Gazette-Journal, David B. Parker)
PORTSMOUTH — For the first time, the career paths of two cousins — one a state senator and the other a Washington scientist — are crossing, and it's because of the state primary.
State Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-Exeter, said it is the first time their professional lives have crossed paths, but not the first time her cousin Susan Wood has helped her in her work. Since Wood is a scientist who specializes in women's health issues, Hassan often consults her.
"I talk to her often when we have public health issues legislatively," Hassan said. "I call her about things such as the morning-after pill or how pharmaceutical data is used."
Wood is here to support Sen. Hillary Clinton's bid to become the Democratic Party's presidential candidate. She said she is doing so, in part, because she supports Clinton's approach to an issue that led Wood to resign her position at the Food and Drug Administration.
The issue was politics mucking up the question of whether the FDA would approve over-the-counter sales of the emergency contraception pill.
Wood was in favor of approving the drug, which can interrupt or prevent an unwanted pregnancy. She said the impact on women's lives is too important, and instead of making a decision using the best information and science available to them, FDA officials let the question be dragged into a very political public debate that delayed the drug being made available to women for years.
"I saw a misuse of the government process, solely for the purpose of keeping this out of the hands of women," Wood said. "I resigned because of a principle, a lack of ethics."
Hassan said she applauds Wood's decision.
"I was incredibly proud of her," Hassan said. "... Susan is a seasoned and thoughtful public servant, a federal employee who has long understood there will always be a level of politics. But at some point, the administration has to support the agency's ability to do its job. She felt the mission of the FDA had been violated.
"This issue is extraordinarily important to me because anyone's lives could be compromised by politics like this."
Wood blames the current administration for the lack of support for the work done by the FDA and many other agencies.
"It blows in from the top," she said. "The priority has to be high principles, good government. Morale in Washington is at an all-time low. Civil servants want to do a good job, but they feel they are not supported."
Wood said Clinton came in with the same position, saying the FDA had to make its decision using the real evidence available. Clinton even worked to block two commission appointments she felt would keep politics at the forefront of the decision-making process.
"She pushed for a strong, independent FDA," Wood said. "I watched her and she made a difference."
Hassan said she thinks Clinton is terrific, but she hasn't made up her mind whom to support.
"I knew (Clinton) was capable, but what I didn't expect was how personable and connected she was and how she understands the mechanics of politics," Hassan said. "Of course, I could speak about all the Democrats in glowing terms. We have a pretty good choice."