February 4, 2006
By Mike Glover, AP Political Writer
DES MOINES - Gubernatorial candidates tangled over renewable energy at a forum Friday, with Democrat Michael Blouin highlighting the debate by lecturing party rival Chet Culver about the issue.
"It seems to me that part of the equation is building on what we do best in rural Iowa, building on the strengths of renewable energy. And with all due deference to Secretary Culver, he doesn't really know what he's talking about when it comes to that," said Blouin, a former congressman and head of the Department of Economic Development.
Culver, a two-term secretary of state, said he understands the issue of renewable fuels. He has based much of his campaign on calling for a $100 million "power fund" that he says would lure $200 million to $300 million in private investment in the state's renewable fuel industry.
"The focus of our economic development efforts will be renewable energy," said Culver. "Iowa could be one of the first states to declare our independence from the big oil companies."
The forum, held at a convention of the Iowa Newspaper Association, included three other Democratic candidates: Rep. Ed Fallon, of Des Moines, Agriculture Secretary Patty Judge and Sioux City engineer Sal Mohamad. The Republican slate included Sioux City businessman Bob Vander Plaats.
His rival, Jim Nussle, did not attend, giving Vander Plaats an unfettered opportunity to share his agenda.
"I believe in a cause, and the cause is leadership," said Vander Plaats. "We need leadership on economic development if we're going to stop the export of our most important asset -- our children."
Most candidates addressed the renewable energy issue, but Blouin and Culver displayed the sharpest exchanges.
Blouin used the forum to brag about his accomplishments, including raising more private funds for renewable energy than Culver has proposed.
"We have with four and half million dollars in state money in the last three years attracted one and a quarter billion of capital investment in the ethanol and biodiesel plants, every one of them in rural Iowa," said Blouin. "You'll never find one in downtown Des Moines."
That ability to attract private investment dwarfs "the two or three times he's talking about in his plan," said Blouin.
Fallon and Judge also said they would push for renewable fuels, but the rivals are noting differences with each other as the June 6 primary looms.
Fallon said it's inevitable that renewable fuel use will grow, but he said it's crucial not to leave development of the industry to big energy companies and utilities.
"That train is coming, but it's important to make sure the conductor of that train is an Iowan," said Fallon.
Judge said her two terms as agriculture secretary make her the most qualified to develop the industry.
"We've created thousands of jobs and added value to Iowa's resources," said Judge.