by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
For more than 30 years, Iowa’s obsession with its ethanol fuel industry has played an outsize role in its presidential caucuses. The winner of every caucus in both parties during that period has strongly backed federal subsidies or mandates for the corn-grown fuel. That winning streak could end this year if Senator Ted Cruz takes Iowa. Polls currently show him with a narrow lead.
In 2008, Fred Thompson told me he didn’t see merit in subsidizing one fuel over another, but in Iowa’s GOP caucus that year “opposing ethanol was like pushing against a mountain.” Hillary Clinton voted against ethanol a total of 17 times in the U.S. Senate, saying she found it “impossible to understand why any pro-consumer, pro-health, pro-environment, anti-government member” could vote for ethanol mandates. In 2007, as she announced for president, she took a sharp turn on the Road to Des Moines and embraced ethanol. This year, she calls ethanol “a success for Iowa and much of rural America.”
But on the Republican side, two candidates have broken ranks. Senator Rand Paul, true to his libertarian principles, supports an immediate phase-out of subsidies. And Cruz addressed the Iowa Agriculture Summit, run by ethanol and wind-subsidy interests, in March 2015. His message: The federal mandate on ethanol, which has cost consumers at least $10 billion since 2007, had to end.