Dutcher caught short on E-85 question

Dutcher campaigning with Hatch
Judi Dutcher and Mike Hatch campaigned recently at St. Cloud Technical Community College.
MPR Photo/Laura McCallum

The campaign blunder came earlier this week, when an Alexandria television reporter asked Democrat Judi Dutcher, who's running for lieutenant governor, about E-85. The awkward exchange then appeared in a news story on KSTP-TV.

"E-85.. the JOBZ zones you're talking about?" Dutcher asked.

"Well, I'm just basically talking about E-85 in general, how it's turned around a lot of economies out here, saved some small towns," the reporter said. "Can't even comment on it, sorry. It's like you asked me the College Quiz Bowl question: what is E-85? What is it?" Dutcher said.

Boy, you'd really not only have to be in the private sector, but you'd have to be under a rock to not know about ethanol and E-85.

Dutcher is the running mate of Mike Hatch, who's in a dead heat with Republican incumbent Tim Pawlenty in the race for governor. Pawlenty jumped quickly on the misstep. He issued a statement accusing Dutcher of stunning ignorance and a lack of awareness about E-85 and ethanol. Pawlenty later softened his tone in a telephone call to reporters.

"I like Judi Dutcher. She's someone I have respect for," Pawlenty said. "But you need to know, if you're going to be lieutenant governor, the importance of ethanol and renewable fuel in Minnesota. And to have someone who want to be in one of the highest offices in Minnesota who doesn't even know what E-85 is, is a very concerning development and revelation."

Pawlenty says Dutcher's lack of knowledge is also a blow to the credibility of the state. E-85 is the term used to describe a motor vehicle fuel of 85 percent corn-based ethanol and 15 percent gasoline. Ethanol is big business in rural Minnesota, providing thousands of jobs. State taxpayers also subsidized the industry last year to the tune of $18 million.

Democrat Mike Hatch says he's a strong supporter of ethanol and other renewable fuels. He says Pawlenty's reaction was off target.

"The governor is running against me for governor, and he's behind in the polls, and he's so desperate that he wants to pick a fight with the lieutenant governor, the woman, rather than me. I think the governor would be better served to take a look at my record when it comes to renewables. When in private practice, I formed ethanol plants. There's nobody who's been a bigger advocate for ethanol than me," Hatch said.

Hatch says Dutcher does know about renewable fuels. He blamed campaign fatigue for her trouble with the question.

All three major party candidates for governor support ethanol production. Peter Hutchinson of the Independence Party warns corn-based ethanol is not sustainable in the long term. He advocates the development of a new generation of ethanol made from grass.