SEDALIA - First they shared a warm handshake, and then Missouri governor candidates Jay Nixon and Kenny Hulshof outlined similar ideas Thursday for a state energy policy focused on biofuels and renewable energy.
The gubernatorial candidates spent the day leading entourages of supporters and opposition party observers around the Missouri State Fair, beginning at the Governor's Ham Breakfast - a staple of Missouri politics that allows politicians a chance to meet Missouri's rural voters.
The political breakfast attracted an early rising and bipartisan cadre of state and federal lawmakers, Gov. Matt Blunt and top-ranking state officials and their staffs. But the breakfast's headliners were Nixon and Hulshof, easily picked out of a crowded breakfast tent as they moved among diners, many of whom joked about "low" gas prices that danced around $3.45 on the main highway into the fairgrounds.
But even as gas prices are dropping, state energy policy has emerged as a general election issue after Hulshof and Republican state Treasurer Sarah Steelman spent much of their primary campaigns debating whether Missouri should be requiring ethanol-blended gas.
Both Nixon and Hulshof include ethanol and biofuels in their state energy plans.
Nixon, essentially uncontested in last week's Democratic governor primary, opened the general election campaign with a television ad this week that criticizes Hulshof's votes in Congress for legislation allowing tax incentives for oil companies.
Nixon said that Hulshof's votes show a pattern of siding with oil companies and contrast with his efforts to go after gas stations that unfairly raised prices in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina. The focus on Hulshof's record in Washington is the continuation of a theme that started in the primary when Steelman tried to paint the congressman as a Washington big-spender.
"He chose to be on big oil's side; I chose to be on the people's side," Nixon said.
Hulshof acknowledged to reporters Thursday that the votes referenced by Nixon did include tax breaks that oil companies could use but said that the legislation also included tax incentives for ethanol, renewable energy and hybrid vehicles.
"The bulk of those tax incentives were for conservation," he said.
After the ham and eggs breakfast, Hulshof joined Blunt and U.S. Sen. Kit Bond in calling for a comprehensive energy policy that includes more drilling, conservation and developing new energy sources such as wind.
David Klindt, the vice president of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperative, said the utility trade group is looking for common sense proposals from the candidates but is focusing on national energy policies.
At the state level, he said the biggest affect the governor likely will have is through regulation, making his selections for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Public Service Commission particularly important.
While the two candidates have drawn sharp distinctions on their policy views, they generally agree on state energy policies.
Each said Thursday that they support a state law requiring most Missouri gasoline to be blended with 10 percent ethanol when the alternative fuel is cheaper.
Both candidates also want to explore expanding wind and nuclear power. But neither would directly say whether he supports changing a state law that bars utilities from charging customers during the construction of power plants and other infrastructure. AmerenUE, which is considering building a new $6 billion reactor in mid-Missouri, has already met with lawmakers about overturning the law.
Hulshof would only say that "I support AmerenUE's expansion."
Nixon voiced general support for consumer protections and said he thinks it is important for Missourians to benefit from the power being generated if they help pay to build another nuclear reactor.