March 30, 2006

What if?

by Chris Feeney

What if we required lawmakers to put their money where their mouth is? Most of us prefer legislators that are willing to stand behind the rules they make for the rest of us. That's why I was surprised to see the recent article on the front page of the Quincy Herald-Whig questioning the ethics of three local politicians who are supporting proposed legislation that would mandate all gasoline sold in Missouri contain at least 10 percent ethanol.

The article entitled "Ethics and Ethanol" suggested that Senator John Cauthorn and Representative Brian Munzlinger, both who serve voters in Scotland County, have a conflict of interest in supporting the ethanol mandate since both are stockholders in the Northeast Missouri Grain Processors ethanol plant in Macon.

The northeast Missouri farmers are among the 1,500 fellow corn producers that own parts of the three existing cooperative ethanol plants in the state.

Apparently there are plenty of other lawmakers who agree with Cauthorn and Munzlinger, that an ethanol mandate will be a good thing for the state.

The Senate Agriculture Committee unanimously approved sending Cauthorn's senate bill 569 to the full senate for a vote. Munzlinger's house bill 1416 has been returned to the ag committee where it is expected to receive warmer results if the mandate date is changed from Jan. 1, 2007 to Jan. 1, 2008, similar to the senate bill and allowing retailers more time to make the necessary adjustments.

If this new law does earn senate and house approval, it's going to take more than the votes of the seven lawmakers that own stock in the state's existing ethanol plants.

If it doesn't pass, it won't be because Cauthorn or Munzlinger will back off their support of the issue. Both have defended their position, stressing that ethanol is good for the entire state, particularly farmers.

The University of Missouri recently produced an economic impact study that showed that four ethanol plants in the state would produce more than 2,700 jobs, providing a $92 million boost to the state's economy. In addition, ethanol production would annually contribute $178 million in value-added income for corn producers.

"Ethanol is good for our cars, for our environment, for our farmers, and for our pocketbooks," Cauthorn stated.

Missouri ranks ninth in the United States for corn production. The state currently has three ethanol plants producing ethanol. On the other hand, the state has very limited oil production and has no gasoline refinery.

While Cauthorn and Munzlinger likely will ultimately see some financial profit from increased ethanol use, what kind of representatives would they be if they did not vote for what is in the best interest of their constituents. Check around Scotland County and I'd bet you won't find a handful of people questioning these men's ethics for supporting local farmers.

If we insist on questioning ethics along these lines, then will we expect lawmakers who are business owners to refrain from taking action that affects small businesses? Wouldn't we have to prevent legislators that are lawyers from voting on anything that impacts the court system?

That's like saying they shouldn't vote for any legislation that helps farmers, since both are farmers. Then again, there is a reason local voters sent Munzlinger and Cauthorn to represent them, and I think it has a lot to do with them being farmers. We want legislators who are like us, who support the same ideas we do, which ultimately may mean that they invest some of their own money in farmer-owned cooperatives to help all members seek increased profit from their crops. To me they have simply put their money where their mouth is and backed up what they believe in with their own checkbook.

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