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Franken: U.S. needs to make concrete investment in renewable energy

June 12, 2008
By Deb Gau
MARSHALL — Al Franken admits he’s a suburban-raised guy. But with a campaign for U.S. Senate under way, the writer and media personality says he’s been learning a lot about rural issues — enough to converse about cattle feed.

“I was at a 7th Congressional District conference, and I met a farmer who raised black angus cattle. I asked what he fed them, and he said some corn, silage, and then he let them out for the rest. I said, ‘Have you ever tried DDGs (dried distiller’s grains)?’” Franken said. “He said, ‘What’s that?’ I felt like, hey, this is the kid from the suburbs.”

The DFL candidate for U.S. Senate was in Marshall briefly Wednesday morning, on his way to Pipestone and Luverne as part of a four-day tour of the state.

He discussed some of his campaign goals, many of which he said come down to the need for change after the last few years of Republican leadership.

“People are looking for a senator who will work for them, and not for special interest groups,” Franken said.

U.S. Senator Norm Coleman, Franken’s Republican opponent in the Senate race, also visited Marshall on May 31.

“Common-sense solutions” to problems ranging from health care to education and renewable energy are needed, Franken said.

“We need an Apollo program for renewable energy,” Franken said, referring to the space race’s effect on aerospace research and science education.

“This could be a very exciting time,” he said. “I was a Sputnik kid. When Sputnik came, it scared everybody to death … We invested in math and science, we invested in technology.” The same kind of investment, he said, in ethanol and biofuels could reduce America’s dependence on oil.

“It’s good for Minnesota farmers,” he said. “Corn ethanol has been blamed for food crises, but it’s all feed corn for livestock. Then there’s the DDGs that are produced, and it’s really good feed.”

Eventually, Franken said he thought the focus should shift to producing cellulosic ethanol, combined with more fuel-efficient cars like hybrids and electric cars, and making buildings more energy-efficient.

Other sources of energy, like geothermal, solar and wind-generated power, also deserve attention.

“We should be building more turbines, and we should be building them here, not in Denmark,” which currently leads the world in wind energy production, he said. He also cited a study conducted in Texas that showed communities with local wind farms tended to keep more young people.

Franken said he’s also a strong supporter of universal health coverage and incentives for preventive care.

“We have a broken health care system,” he said. “We’re ranked 37th in the world in health care, between Costa Rica and Slovenia.” Something needs to change, he said.

“It’s common sense,” Franken said. “We need to tell the special interest groups like the big pharmaceutical companies that they’re not special anymore.”

Franken said he wants to make his campaign about issues, instead of “distractions” like negative publicity from the Norm Coleman campaign. Coleman supporters have called attention to explicit material Franken wrote for “Saturday Night Live” and Playboy, for which Franken has publicly apologized.

The campaign tactics were nothing new, Franken said.

“(Coleman) doesn’t want us to look at his record. He gave the President a blank check on Iraq,” and has acted against legislation that could help Minnesotans, he said.

On Tuesday, Franken said, Coleman filibustered a bill that included a job creation act, tax incentives for renewable energy and other items.

“It’s been negative all along. It’s been negative since November,” he said. “I don’t want this to be about distractions. Ultimately, what we care about is educating our kids, about getting health care and getting off foreign oil.”


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