Stolen from Rolling Stone 

Earth to Franken – IGCC is a pipedream!

Published today in the Bemidji Pioneer:

Commentary: Franken on guns, coal and forests

Brad Swenson Bemidji Pioneer
Published Sunday, February 17, 2008
The operative word the electorate seems to be embracing this election cycle is “change.”

And, in Minnesota, you probably couldn’t get a more obvious “change” than in Al Franken, a Democrat vying for the party nomination to run against incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman.

Franken has never held an elective office, has never until recently shown an interest in organized party politics (although he hasn’t been shy about which way he leans), he’s not a lawyer or a career politician and while growing up in Minnesota, Franken was born in New York and spent most of his life in New York.

My goodness, the man’s a comedian, a funnyman — a satirist.

Yet the former “Saturday Night Live” writer and actor draws a crowd most places he gathers for meet-and-greets, including 250 people recently in a Wadena café and likewise packed a Park Rapids café.

“Once they hear me speak, they know I speak from the heart, from the head and from the gut,” Franken told me a week ago as he overnighted in Bemidji on the way to a Senate candidate debate in International Falls. He’s on the trail with Twin Cities attorney Mike Ciresi and St. Thomas University Professor Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer.

He’s visiting a lot of rural towns, especially in northern Minnesota, not so much for name recognition — thanks to his “other” career — but to drill in that he understands Minne-sota and lived in Minnesota (St. Louis Park). It’s why he’s run-ning barrage of television ads now, to solidify his Minnesota connection before anyone can tag him a “Hollywood” candidate because of his entertainment friends and their money.

“Going around, I discovered it was important for people to know I grew up in Minnesota,” he said.

Minnesotans do want to know their candidate, want to eyeball him or her in person, and want to know what they say about issues important to them. In our talk at the Green Mill, just a mention of Coleman’s role as chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations and the war in Iraq wound Franken up for 15 minutes. And it must be touchy, as Sen. Coleman called me late last week to spend a half hour refuting all that Franken had said, quipping that Franken tells “half-truths and whole lies,” something sounding suspiciously like an Al Franken book title.

But what does candidate Franken know about northern Minnesota? Obviously, as a New Yorker, he hasn’t spent much time in the woods with a deer rifle. In fact, last fall Franken went hunting for the first time and had with him as his guide U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, DFL-7th District, an avid hunter and founder of the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus.

“My briefing was, ‘Shoot this,’ and a picture of a pheasant rooster, ‘Not this — Collin,’” Franken said of the second picture of Peterson. “Mission accomplished. I shot two roosters and not Collin.”

That episode aside, Franken said people have the right to have guns for collection, protection and hunting, recreation and target shooting. “I don’t think people should have artillery,” he said with a deep chuckle.

More seriously, “I think we should just enforce the laws that we have,” he said.

Franken’s been criticized of being a little light on farm is-sues, but says he’s learning. And he says he knows of the plight of northern Minnesota’s timber industry, and hopes a niche can be found in renewable energy production from the forest.

“Ag is obviously important to this state and it’s important to this country,” he said, adding that “I’ve been consulting with Collin Peterson, as well.” Peterson is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee.

“I do think that the green economy will be very good for rural Minnesota,” he said. “And also we’re talking about renewables and energy efficiency, and creating jobs through both of those.”

He’s been asked about the Iron Range’s current build-up and the need for more energy, with a “clean-coal” coal gasifi-cation plant proposed to gen-erate power. While it seems Franken may oppose the plant, he says he supports the techn-ology but is unsure if it’s appro-priate for that place at this time.

“The idea of coal gasification where you can sequester the CO2 is a technology that we ought to develop,” Franken said. “I’m just not sure at that plant is the best project. We want to get the most bang for the buck, and you want to make sure it’s sequestered properly.”

The technology is needed, he said, as China and India put up a coal-fired plant once a week. It does no good for the United States to seek a zero-carbon footprint when the other two nations continue unabated with carbon emissions.

“We need international agreements,” Franken said, such as a global cap-and-trade program to control carbon dioxide emissions, or the ability to sell U.S. clean-coal technology abroad.

On forestry, Franken says one of his strongest supporters is Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, who specializes in forestry issues. “Tom is a big champion of sustainable forests, and I think there’s tremendous possibilities of using forest products for biomass gasification.”

If it’s any indication of his willingness to learn northern issues, Franken has been also been endorsed by Assistant House Majority Leader Frank Moe of Bemidji, Rep. Brita Sailer of Park Rapids and Sen. Rod Skoe of Clearbrook. He also recently won the endorsement of former U.S. Agriculture Secre-tary Bob Bergland of Roseau, who also served as U.S. House member from the 7th District.

Brad Swenson is the Bemidji Pioneer’s Opinion page and political editor.

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