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Governor's race: Another running mate stumbles on E-85

ST. PAUL -- Republican Marty Seifert became the first major governor candidate to announce a running mate Thursday, a northern Twin Cities suburban county commissioner who stumbled on a question that badly damaged another governor ticket's campaign four years ago.

Rhonda Sivarajah, 44, grew up near Cambridge, in east-central Minnesota, and has been an Anoka County commissioner seven years.

Seifert, from Marshall, and Sivarajah, from Lino Lakes, said they agree on politics, but bring different backgrounds to the race.

A state representative, Seifert was raised on a corn farm and has lived in southwestern Minnesota all of his life. He was an educator and now runs a small business.

Sivarajah operated a motel and worked in the human services area before becoming county commissioner.

When opening up Thursday's news conference for reporters' questions, Seifert quipped: "Yes, she knows what E-85 is. Now on to the next question."

He was making light of Democratic lieutenant governor candidate Judi Dutcher's 2006 failure to explain the ethanol-gasoline fuel blend. Many observers say the gaffe and how governor candidate Mike Hatch handled it eventually cost them the election.

When a reporter actually asked Sivarajah about E-85, she stumbled through her response, at one point saying that the fuel blend is "mandated." When challenged by a reporter, she revised her answer to say that the state is moving in that direction.

Minnesota now requires most gasoline to contain 10 percent ethanol, a fuel now mostly made from corn, but is moving toward requiring a 20 percent blend. E-85 is not required and there has been no discussion to do so.

Seifert and fellow state Rep. Tom Emmer of Delano are the GOP governor front-runners.

Davis reports for the Woodbury Bulletin and other Forum Communications Co. newspapers.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.