However, he is now coming clean and disavowing his support for subsidies. While it is easy for a Republican presidential aspirant to become a born-again conservative when facing an ever more conservative primary electorate, however, it took guts for Pawlenty to go after ethanol while in the belly of the beast; Iowa. Ethanol is not a high profile issue at this point (although it should be) and Pawlenty could have easily avoided the political risk of mentioning it during his announcement.
Here is what he had to say regarding ethanol and political courage:
"The truth about federal energy subsidies, including federal subsidies for ethanol, is that they have to be phased out. We need to do it gradually. We need to do it fairly. But we need to do it.
Read the full text of his speech here.
Now, I'm not some out-of-touch politician. I served two terms as Governor of an ag state. I fully understand and respect the critical role farming plays in our economy and our society. I've strongly supported ethanol in various ways over the years, and I still believe in the promise of renewable fuels - both for our economy and our national security.
But even in Minnesota, when faced with fiscal challenges, we reduced ethanol subsidies. That's where we are now in Washington, but on a much, much larger scale.
It's not only ethanol. We need to change our approach to subsidies in all industries.
It can't be done overnight. The industry has made large investments, and it wouldn't be fair to pull the rug out from under it immediately. But we must face the truth that if we want to invite more competition, more investment, and more innovation into an industry - we need to get government out. We also need the government out of the business of handing out favors and special deals. The free market, not freebies from politicians, should decide a company's success. So, as part of a larger reform, we need to phase out subsidies across all sources of energy and all industries, including ethanol. We simply can't afford them anymore.
Some people will be upset by what I'm saying.
Conventional wisdom says you can't talk about ethanol in Iowa or Social Security in Florida or financial reform on Wall Street.
But someone has to say it. Someone has to finally stand up and level with the American people. Someone has to lead."