INDIANAPOLIS — Republican gubernatorial candidate Mike Pence says the iron fist of the federal government, with its freedom-crushing mandates, has no place in Indiana, except for when the government is ordering drivers to put Hoosier corn in their cars.
Pence told a crowd of energy leaders last week that his energy plan for Indiana includes a vigorous fight against new regulations on coal-fired power plants. He has answered questions about how he would implement the new health care law by saying he would fight the federal mandate.
And, if elected in November, Pence said he would restructure the office Gov. Mitch Daniels used to lobby for federal tax dollars into one dedicated to fighting government mandates.
Unless, of course, that mandate is the one requiring 36 billion gallons of ethanol to be blended into gasoline each year.
Pence said the difference between a "good" mandate and a "bad" one depends on whether it supports Indiana businesses.
"Obviously, we go on an issue-by-issue basis," he said after his talk at the Indiana Chamber of Commerce's annual energy conference. "My view is always going to bring a bias toward what's in the best interest of Hoosiers, what's in the best interest for Hoosier prosperity. My perspective is ethanol adds to our local economies.... If we can open up more access to consumers for biofuels and ethanol, that would be a positive."
It's not surprising that an Indiana politician would support corn ethanol. Pence, Democratic opponent John Gregg and Republican Gov. Mitch Daniels all pledged their support for ethanol earlier this year at the Indiana Corn Marketing Council's annual forum at the Indianapolis Colts training facility. Daniels said the industry is "under attack" in Washington, and Gregg promised he would find a way to add ethanol and biofuel pumps to Indiana gas stations.
Ethanol is bigger business in states further west like Iowa and Nebraska but still has a strong footing in Indiana. The corn marketing group estimated earlier this year that 30 percent of the state's corn is converted to ethanol and accounts for roughly 7 percent of the national ethanol supply.
The glaring exception to the pro-ethanol crowd has been Republican Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, who in April said his opposition to government mandates took precedence over other concerns.
"Most of us, especially as Republicans object to mandates from the federal government," Mourdock said in his lone debate with U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar before the May primary. "We certainly object to it in the health care area. And yet suddenly we saw more ethanol being mandated into our gasoline and we didn't even have an argument there to be made. It's unfortunate."
Mourdock misfired on a few key points, alleging that the mandates had been added just last year when in fact they were approved by the Republican-led Congress in 2005 and increased by a Democratic-led House of Representatives in 2007.
That last measure, the 2007 energy bill, included one of the nation's most popular mandates (ethanol) side-by-side with one of its most hated measures, a bipartisan ban on incandescent light bulbs. The latter mandate so angered Daniels that he blamed President Barack Obama for the ban in his response to the State of the Union earlier this year, although it was his former boss, President George W. Bush, who signed it into law.
Support for ethanol in Washington has waned somewhat in Washington as federal debt has taken center stage. Lawmakers allowed a $5.4 billion ethanol tax credit to lapse last year after the ethanol lobby said it would no longer fight for its renewal.
But ethanol could still get a hand from a potential Pence administration.
Pence says the state could help build more ethanol pumps by limiting lawsuits against gas stations if the fuel harms cars, as oil companies and ethanol opponents claim. The idea comes from a rare example of bipartisanship in Washington called the Domestic Fuels Act of 2012 introduced in April.