GOP gubernatorial candidates debate environment

by K.C. Howard

Republican gubernatorial candidates convened at the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs building Monday to discuss their visions for Minnesota’s environmental future.

The Minnesota League of Conservation Voters and Humphrey Institute co-sponsored the event, marking the second of three partisan gubernatorial forums focusing on conservation issues.

Approximately 60 audience members gathered in the Cowles Auditorium to watch House Majority Leader Tim Pawlenty, R-Eagan, and online grocery store entrepeneur Brian Sullivan duke out the differences in their environmental ideals.

But as both candidates laid out their policies, they realized they had a lot in common.

“I didn’t hear anything that I remarkably disagreed with Tim on,” Sullivan said.

Pawlenty concurred, but said, “I have a record.”

University political science professor Bill Flanigan said the key difference between the two is experience.

“If someone’s been around politics and knows the issues better than someone who hasn’t, that’s likely to be a terrific advantage for the experienced person,” Flanigan said.

Sullivan took the lead 52 percent to Pawlenty’s 36 percent in an informal statewide gubernatorial poll conducted during the March 5 precinct caucuses.

However, the 1st Congressional District, located in southern Minnesota, polled Pawlenty in the lead at 53 percent to Sullivan’s 47 percent Saturday.

Pawlenty, who has been in the state Legislature for 10 years, has said his life experiences as a representative and University graduate make him the strongest candidate.

Unlike DFL gubernatorial candidates who debated environmental policies last week and unanimously denounced the use of coal-fire power plants, Pawlenty and Sullivan were not ready to give up on the controversial energy source.

Pawlenty said coal-fire plants are not his first choice and as governor he would take a look at hybrid plants that use coal and renewable sources.

“It might not make sense economically, but we need to pursue renewable fuels,” he said.

A Harvard graduate, Sullivan has said his debut into state politics gives him an advantage as a candidate who knows how to start businesses and create thousands of jobs.

Sullivan said Minnesota needs to increase the use of clean-burning coal.

“We don’t have renewable sources that are capable of picking up the slack,” he said.

The questions and candidates’ responses are posted online at