This is a guest post by Jamie L. Vernon, Ph.D., an HIV research scientist and aspiring policy wonk, who recently moved to D.C. to get a taste of the action
Tim Pawlenty made a third “announcement” of his candidacy for President, yesterday, in Iowa. In doing so, he missed an opportunity to define himself as a 21st Century candidate. He could have distinguished himself from all other Republican candidates by embracing science and technology as keys to America’s future. He also could have attracted a second-look from independent voters who are seeking a modern thinker from the Republican party. Instead, he comes off looking like a stale, old, status quo, 20th Century candidate.
Why do I say this?
In his speech to the citizens of Iowa, the former Republican Governor of Minnesota took what has been described as a “courageous” position on an issue that is critical to many Iowans. He announced his intention to end federal subsidies for corn-based ethanol, if elected. Many have proposed that he is simply distancing himself from the current top Republican candidate Mitt Romney, who has made no such proposal. I believe he is making a narrow-minded play for the conservative wing of the Republican Party. After all, Governor Pawlenty justifies his proposed cuts by framing the discussion in terms of fiscal responsibility *and gives no indication of what he plans to do with those federal dollars.*
“Given the financial crisis that we’re facing, we have to phase out not only those subsidies but subsidies across all industries,” he stated.
This is where I think he missed his chance to establish himself as a truly forward thinking Presidential candidate. *Update: I totally support ending federal subsidies for corn-based ethanol. However, we must re-appropriate those funds to develop alternative energy sources.* Governor Pawlenty could have solidified support in Iowa by offering a new, cutting edge path toward prosperity for farmers who rely on the corn industry. By making a pledge to apportion some of the *former* subsidies to do research on the development of cellulosic ethanol *or other alternative fuels*, Pawlenty’s message to Iowa and the rest of America could have signaled that he is aware of the energy problems we face and he is prepared to use modern science and technology to solve them. He also could have offered a glimmer of hope for Iowa farmers looking to maintain their current standard of living. The corn stalks and leaves left over after the corn grain has been been harvested for food might have been presented as another source of revenue as food stock for ethanol production. Instead, he left farmers wondering how they are going to continue to support their employees and their families. Some would say that’s a “job-killing” policy. Does he not see the opportunity provided by scientific research in this area? Or, is there another agenda at work here?
Governor Pawlenty’s declaration also sent another ominous message to Americans. Corn-based ethanol is one of few alternative fuels that is helping us end our fossil fuel addiction. While use of corn-based ethanol has undesired effects on the cost of food and the environment, research in this area has taught us that oil need not be the energy of the future for our country. Without an alternative, we are left to assume that he wants us to be MORE, not less, reliant on the oil and gas industry. Some have argued that his position on ethanol subsidies actually confirms his political alliance with the oil and gas industry. I cannot leap to such an assumption, but he could take some sting out of the criticism if he would similarly agree to withdraw subsidies for the oil and gas industry (apportioning some for alternative energy research). Until he makes a bold statement about his desire to find new ways to power up the country, there is no denying that the oil and gas industry will be smiling (and profiting) over his decision to end corn-based ethanol subsidies.
* indicate modifications to original post.