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Ansley reinvents himself in agriculture commissioner race

by Keith Barber

Ronnie Ansley hopes the fourth time is the charm. In 2000, Ansley lost his bid for lieutenant governor to current Democratic gubernatorial candidate Bev Perdue. In 2002, he lost to Brad Miller in the Democratic primary for US House District 13. Then, in 2006, he lost his bid for a seat on the NC Supreme Court.

This time around, Ansley, the Democratic candidate for NC Commissioner of Agriculture, is taking a hands-on approach in his race against Republican incumbent Steve Troxler. Three weeks ago, Ansley kicked off his “Murphy to Manteo” tour of the state to hear directly from voters their concerns as they relate to the state’s number-one economic engine: agriculture. Understandably, the state of our economy is the preeminent issue on voters’ minds, Ansley said. The other consistent theme Ansley encountered during his whistle-stop tour was a lack of understanding of why agriculture is so important to the state’s economy. During his campaign stops, Ansley said he regularly pointed out that agriculture is still the state’s top industry, contributing $73 billion annually to the economy.

“A lot of people didn’t have a clue what the agriculture department did,” said Ansley. “Part of it is educating.  I talked about our biofuels initiative, going green and working to build new jobs in North Carolina.”

Ansley joins the growing chorus of voices calling for the state to invest in biofuels and green jobs. Earlier this month, Troxler was named to the Biofuels Center board of directors. The non-profit advisory board based in Oxford, is comprised of 35 members, including senior executives from agriculture, the forestry industry, the university and community college systems, finance, state government, the petrochemical industry, environmental organizations, non-profits and the biofuels industry, according to the non-profit organization’s website.

Cellulosic technology, which allows for the conversion of natural materials into fuel, is the key to the future of the state’s biofuels industry, he said, and public-private partnerships will also be essential. NC A&T University and NC State University have already taken the lead in alternative energy research, so the infrastructure is already in place, said Troxler.

“We have to do it in a way that’s efficient, that keeps the cost at a level comparable to oil imports,” he said.

Ansley echoed his opponent’s sentiments, stating North Carolina has all the resources it needs to become a leader in the alternative fuels industry.

“We have the perfect infrastructure. We have the research facilities; the educational facilities, the banking facilities; everything we need except for leadership to bring everybody together and that’s what I think I bring to the table,” he said.

North Carolina could join other states that have already invested in alternative sources of energy, Ansley said, which would be a win-win for the state’s economy.

“We are going to have an economic boom like has never been seen because you’re going to change energy across the board,” Ansley predicted. “Instead of depending on fossil fuels and the countries that have the bulk of the supply, you’re now going to be able to grow your own fuels.  That’s going to be huge, so I’m very excited about that. What that does in terms of the economy, not just research, but with biofuels, you create jobs, green jobs. You grow locally, manufacture locally and sell locally.”

The Biofuels Center is taking the lead in that area. Mandated by the NC General Assembly, the nonprofit is charged with creating a new renewable fuels industry sector in North Carolina to reduce the state’s dependence on liquid fuels imports, and implement North Carolina’s Strategic Plan for Biofuels Leadership. The strategic plan sets the ambitious goal of 10 percent in 10 years. By 2017, the state hopes to produce 10 percent of its liquid fuels from locally grown feedstocks — a total of about 600 million gallons of biofuels a year.

Troxler, a native of Browns Summit, said the development of an alternative energy economy is important but it represents only one area of influence for the Department of Agriculture.

“Food safety, water resources, preservation of farm land — there are many issues out there,” Troxler said. “Having been the commissioner for the past four years, I understand all the issues and that experience is important.”

When it comes to alternative sources of energy and growing the state’s agriculture business, this issue appears to be at the top of the list. That’s why the work of the Biofuels Center is so crucial, Troxler said.

“We are looking forward to the Biofuels Center to be a catalyst to solve the questions around biofuels development so that we can help keep farmers on their farms and grow North Carolina’s $70 billion a year agribusiness industry,” he said.

Despite the candidates’ nearly identical positions on the development of a homegrown alternative energy industry, Ansley appears to be in striking distance of Troxler in the state’s polls heading into the final days of the campaign. In a press release issued on Oct. 7, Public Policy Polling of Raleigh had Troxler clinging to a slim, 51-49 lead over Ansley. Troxler clearly has the advantage, amassing a campaign war chest of more than $200,000, while Ansley has raised just over $15,000, according the NC Board of Elections website.

During the Dixie Classic Fair earlier this month, Ansley joined other Democratic candidates for state office in speaking directly to voters. Like Troxler, Ansley made an appearance at the NC State Fair last week. On Monday, Ansley unveiled his top 10 innovative solutions for “Growing New Ideas for North Carolina’s Future.” Ansley is also in the midst of releasing a series of YouTube videos. Ansley continues to hammer the alternative energy message and rebuilding the state’s economy with the introduction of green jobs.

Troxler’s experience in the area of biofuels and the introduction of the green economy could ultimately make the difference in voters’ minds, but Ansley is a fighter. During his visit to the Dixie Classic Fair, Ansley was suffering a relapse of Bell’s Palsy, which temporarily paralyzed one side of his face. Ansley’s physician the condition, which he previously experienced in his early 20s, would wear off in a few days. Still, Ansley refused to put his campaign on hold. Rather, he joked about his condition with voters at the Dixie Classic Fair, saying, “I’m probably the only politician you’ll ever meet that only talks out of one side of his mouth.”  

To comment on this story, e-mail Keith T. Barber at keith@yesweekly.com.

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