Iowa teen promotes ethanol at DNC, RNC

Source: By Kathie Obradovich, Des Moines Register • Posted: Friday, July 29, 2016

It’s hard to beat this as a summer job for a Des Moines teenager: Two weeks at the Republican and Democratic national conventions as part of an Iowa team promoting ethanol.

Otto Gunderson, 16, traveled to Cleveland last week with the America’s Renewable Future organization and he’s been in Philadelphia this week.

He’s been working in a booth near the site of the conventions with three college students, giving away water and neon-green trinkets, showing off an ethanol-powered racecar and talking to people from all over the country about the corn-based fuel.

He’s also had the chance to hang out with former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum in Cleveland and Iowa’s reality TV star from the last season of “The Bachelor,” Chris Soules. And he’s getting paid for the work.

“It’s a great, great gig,” the Roosevelt High School junior said.

At least, it was great once he finally arrived in Cleveland last week. The recreational vehicle that the team was supposed to drive died just 90 minutes out of Des Moines. The group spent two days in Iowa City waiting on repairs before renting another vehicle to keep moving.

“That was a bummer,” Otto said.

The youngest son of two politically connected parents, Joe and Mary Pat Gunderson, Otto said he’s a moderate Republican. He said it’s been interesting to see the differences in messaging about ethanol to GOP members compared to Democrats.

At the RNC, he said, they emphasized the importance to national security of ending dependence on foreign oil, as well as the jobs from the renewable fuel industry. They’ve been talking to Democrats more about the effect on the environment.

He said he thought Republicans might be more prone to argue over the value of ethanol but that hasn’t been the case. “Actually more so at the DNC we’ve had more people say they disagree with it and say they aren’t interested and they don’t support the use of ethanol,” he said.

He noted that at the RNC, the booth was located to catch people right after they left the convention on their way to concerts and other entertainment. “So a lot of people were just kind of in a better mood, heading out,” he said.

Otto wasn’t sure if he would have to report on his summer adventure when he gets back to school. But he will be giving a speech about it at one of the local retirement communities. “Because my grandparents are there,” he said.