The sharp differences on ethanol and biofuels between Republican gubernatorial candidate Tom Emmer and the three Democrats vying to challenge him in the fall became clear Wednesday during a farm-focused debate.
At the annual Farmfest agricultural fair in Redwood Falls, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher challenged Emmer for voting against legislation requiring a higher mix of corn-based ethanol in Minnesota gasoline and a similar requirement for biodiesel fuel. Ethanol is popular in Minnesota, one of the top five ethanol-producing states.
Emmer responded that he voted for the mandates, but then corrected himself to say he voted against the biodiesel requirement. Legislative records show he also voted both for and against the ethanol mandate in 2005.
Emmer told the audience of more than 800 that he opposes mandates in general but supports creating new markets for ethanol and biofuels.
"It's investment and jobs," Emmer told the audience. "People have made significant investment in these opportunities and the next governor needs to support that and make sure that they can continue to survive and thrive and create jobs in this state, all right? So I want to clear that up."
After the debate, he said he wouldn't cut ethanol subsidies the state has promised existing ethanol plants. But he declined to elaborate on his plans for ethanol after state subsidies end in 2013. He said he would wait to see whether the federal government adopts an ethanol mandate.
Kelliher and her Democratic rivals, Mark Dayton and Matt Entenza, all support the mandates and subsidies.
It was the first time since January that Emmer debated the Democratic and Independence Party candidates seeking spots on the November ballot. Emmer faces only token opposition in Tuesday's primary after securing his party's endorsement in April.
The Democrats refrained from attacking each other, focusing instead on Emmer and his positions.
"It's interesting when people don't — they say one thing and they actually do another," Kelliher said after raising the ethanol issue.
The two leading Independence Party candidates, former public relations executive Tom Horner and publisher Rob Hahn, outlined positions on ethanol that didn't win them any applause in farm country. Horner said he aims to phase out ethanol subsidies, while Hahn said he opposes the ethanol blending mandate.
Emmer also proposed having the state Department of Agriculture take over all regulation involving farms, including functions now done by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency and the Department of Natural Resources. The Democrats all said they wouldn't go that far.