September 30, 2014

Pawlenty’s hard-truth: time to phase out ethanol subsidies (audio)

Former Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty promises to make truth-telling the hallmark of his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, including some hard truths audiences may not want to hear. 

Pawlenty formally kicked off his campaign Sunday with a video posted on the Internet, then followed that with a speech today on a rooftop terrace in downtown Des Moines.  

“I want to thank you all for coming. I was going to apologize for the sun beating down, but frankly after being in Minnesota all spring with a lot of wet weather and cool weather, it feels good to me. I hope it feels good to you,” Pawlenty said. “I’m excited about this race. We are going to win it and It’s going to start right here in Iowa.”

Pawlenty called for “big time” cuts in federal spending, including an end to federal subsidies for corn-based ethanol fuel.

“The hard truth is there are no longer any sacred programs,” Pawlenty said. “The truth about federal energy subsidies — including federal subsidies for ethanol — is that they need to be phased out. We need to do it gradually. We need to do it fairly, but we need to do it.”

awlenty, as governor of Minnesota, reduced state subsidies for ethanol. According to Pawlenty, it’s time to do the same on the national level “on a much, much larger scale.”

“It can’t be done overnight. The industry has made large investments and it wouldn’t be fair to pull the rug out from under them immediately, but we must face the truth that if we want to invite more competition, more investment and more innovation in the industry, need to get the government out,” Pawlenty said, to applause.

Iowa produces nearly a third of the ethanol in the U.S. converting over a billion bushels of corn into more than 3.6 billion gallons of ethanol each year. Pawlenty presented his proposal to end ethanol subsidies as an example of his commitment to avoid making “fluffy promises of hope and change” and his pledge to outline a “new approach” to governing.

“Now some people are going to be upset about what I’m saying. Conventional wisdom says you can’t talk about ethanol in Iowa or Social Security in Florida or financial reform on Wall Street, but someone has to say it. Someone has to finally stand up and level with the American people,” Pawlenty said. “Someone has to lead. I will.” 

Pawlenty is a Minnesota native who served two terms as that state’s governor, yet he chose Iowa as the site of his presidential campaign kick-off. Graham Gillette, a one-time GOP operative and former Des Moines school board member, considers that a wise move.

“It’s smart for him to do this and I also think it’s smart for him to run what he laid out here in his travel schedule over the next few days, that he’s going to be around in different states,” Gillette says. “He needs to do that, maybe more than everybody else, as a governor without the national profile that some of the others have.” 

Many in the crowd were evaluating Pawlenty as a candidate they might support. Susan Foster of Des Moines says Pawlenty is the first candidate she’s seen and heard in person.

“I was impressed with what I heard today, especially his stands on education and especially on Israel,” Foster says. “…I just think our country is in crisis and he seems like the right man, at this point…to lead us out of that crisis.”

Foster’s mother, Sharyl Foster, plans to go to the Iowa Republican Party’s Straw Poll in August and cast her vote for Pawlenty.

“He has kind of a quiet strength,” Foster says. “I like that about him…I think he’s very trustworthy.” 

The president of the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association issued a statement, a couple of hours after Pawlenty’s call for phasing out federal subsidies for ethanol. Walt Wendland said the ethanol industry welcomes “reform” of what he called the “current ethanol incentive,” but Wendland stressed that the “massive amount of federally-funded petroleum incentives” must be targeted as well.  He went on to challenge Pawlenty to go to Houston, Texas — the heart of oil-producing country — and deliver a speech outlining his plans to “phase out petroleum subsidies.”

Listen to Pawlenty’s speech: PawlentyMay23 (mp3 runs 20 minutes).