State Senator Joni Ernst co-sponsored a resolution in the Iowa Senate that urges the federal government to extend the renewable fuels standard despite the fact that she has opposed the measure on campaign trail while running for the U.S. Senate.
Ernst was asked about the Renewable Fuels Standard at a Republican candidates forum in Sioux City on December 16, 2013. The questioner asked the candidates, “I would like your opinion on what the Renewable Fuel Standard has meant… what you believe you could do to make a difference on the Renewable Fuel Standard.” Ernst stated her opposition to the Standard, saying, “We want people to choose products that work for them and not have them mandated by the United States government.” Ernst also refused to attend a Republican U.S. Senate candidate’s forum hosted by the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association.
Ernst’s recent change of heart on this issue is also evident on the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association U.S. Senate survey. In the Survey, Ernst says that she supports the Renewable Fuels Standard with no legislative changes. She indicates in the survey that she supports grants for blender pumps, tax credits for cellulosic ethanol, and an extension of the bio diesel tax credit.
In a letter that accompanied her answers to the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association survey Ernst wrote, “While I do not believe the government should pick winners and losers in our economy, and from a philosophical standpoint I do not believe in taxpayer subsidies, I do believe that if we were to end these subsidies, it would have to be done across the board, for every sector at the exact same time – meaning until and unless that day comes, I will passionately stand in defense of the RFS and other related programs.”
Ernst’s new position on renewable fuels issues is not controversial for candidate running for federal office, but her evolving stance on the issue either indicates a lack of knowledge on the subject or a willingness to change a position when pressure is applied. It is disingenuous to write on December 31st that you will “passionately stand in defense of the RFS and other related programs” when just two weeks earlier she was advocating the complete opposite position.
Of the four major Republican U.S. Senate candidates, two candidates, Ernst and Clovis have now reversed their position on the issue, while Mark Jacobs has been consistent in his support of the Renewable Fuels Standard and Matt Whitaker has been consistent in his opposition to it. Whitaker refused to answer the Iowa Renewable Fuels Association’s U.S. Senate candidate survey.
This isn’t the first time Ernst has changed her position on a fuel related issue. As a member of the Iowa State Senate, Ernst has supported an increase in the state’s gas tax to help pay for needed road and bridge repairs across the state. Ernst voted in favor of a bill in the State Senate’s Transportation Committee that would have increased the state’s excise tax by a total of ten cents per gallon in 2012.
Had the bill been signed into law, Iowa’s state tax on gasoline would have increased from 21 cents to 31 cents a gallon for regular unleaded. State taxes on ethanol blended gasoline would have jumped from 19 cents to 20 cents a gallon, and diesel fuel would have gone from being taxed at 22.5 cents to 32.5 cents a gallon.
Ernst supported increasing the state’s gas tax as late as last March but changed her tune when she began thinking about joining the race for the U.S. Senate. In an interview with the Quad City Times, Ernst told the paper that her potential bid to replace Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin in the Senate weighed on her mind when she decided to pull her support from the controversial tax increase. Ernst told the Times, “I tend to focus on my district, but we do have to look at the big picture.’”
Ernst told the Cedar Rapids Gazette that she changed her mind on the tax because the state is doing much better financially than it once was. “After years of mismanagement by Democratic governors, we now have a healthy surplus in the state,” she said. “I think there are other ways to pay for road repairs than raising taxes.”
The positions that Ernst is now supporting in regard to the Renewable Fuels Standard and the state’s gas tax may help her in her campaign for the U.S. Senate, but her evolving positions create doubt about what she really believes. Many activists go to candidate debates and forums and hear candidates give politically expedient answers to the questions asked of them. However, instead of candidates saying what they think activists want to hear, it would be far more informative if candidates provided consistent answers that helped voters understand their worldview and philosophy.
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