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Trump's tariffs could sow trouble for GOP in farm districts


In the aptly named Harvester Restaurant, wheat farmer Roy Dube makes clear he’s no fan of President Donald Trump’s trade policy.

“We get him elected into office and he pulls us out of trade agreements,” Dube said last week as local farmers gathered to hear Democratic House candidate Lisa Brown.

Dube says China is buying less wheat from eastern Washington farmers and that Trump’s policies have opened the door for Australia and Canada to wrestle away business. His frustration extends to his congressional representative, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, who is the highest-ranking Republican woman in the House and running for an eighth term.

“I’m concerned that Cathy McMorris Rodgers didn’t put up more resistance,” Dube said.

The U.S. tariffs on agriculture products Trump has sown have grown into an election-year threat to Republicans in rural districts that are heavily reliant on exports for their economy. With the livelihoods of farmers at risk, opposition to the tariffs could make a difference in some races and help determine which party takes control of Congress.

McMorris Rodgers has made it clear she opposes the president’s actions on tariffs, but so far, the Republican-controlled House has not taken up legislation to block them. Democrats characterize GOP lawmakers as unable or unwilling to check Trump, who has declared that “tariffs are the greatest.”

“My opponent, though she would say she’s concerned and talking to the administration about these issues, she’s still mostly a cheerleader for the president,” said Brown, a former state legislator.

Facing what appears to be the tightest re-election race of her career, McMorris Rodgers is emphasizing that she has encouraged the president to “move from tariffs to agreement.”

“I have made it very clear that I don’t support the across-the-board tariffs, that we should take a more targeted approach,” McMorris Rodgers told The Associated Press.

Clues that the president’s trade policies will play a role in the November midterm elections can be seen in Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s travel schedule. Over the past few months, he has been to eastern Washington to join McMorris Rodgers in meeting with farmers. He has also been to California’s Central Valley to meet with farmers in the districts of Republican Reps. Jeff Denham and David Valadao. He also went to Iowa, where Republican Reps. David Young and Rod Blum are both in close races.

The battle for the Senate could also be affected by the tariff issue, particularly in North Dakota, Indiana and Missouri, where Republicans hope to knock off three Democratic incumbents.

The president has tried to allay farmers’ concerns with an aid package of up to $12 billion to help them weather the trade war.

J. Read Smith, a rancher near St. John, Washington, said he shares Trump’s goal of seeking a level playing field in trade.

“But antagonizing our trading partners is not the way to do it,” said Smith, who emphasized that he is not a Democrat. “I’m an American.”

Aaron Flansburg, who runs a diversified farm near Pullman, Washington, said he’s skeptical the tariffs will change the way most farmers vote.

“Farmers often vote for Republicans,” Flansburg said. “Whether that will change, I have my doubts.”

McMorris Rodgers said it’s her sense that voters are willing to give the president time to negotiate better agreements.

“Yes, there’s a lot of uncertainty. There’s a sense that we need to get these trade agreements into place as soon as possible, but there’s also a recognition that for too long America has not taken action, especially against China,” she said.

The United States is scheduled to slap tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports Monday, adding to the more than $50 billion worth that already face U.S. import taxes.

China retaliated with its own tariffs on U.S. products. The world’s two biggest economies are clashing over allegations that China steals technology from American companies.

The Trump administration also imposed a 25 percent tariff on imported steel and a 10 percent tariff on imported aluminum that included imports from the European Union, Canada and Mexico—and just about everyone else—in the name of national security.

Those tariffs also drew retaliation. For example, the EU targeted bourbon, a key industry in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s home state of Kentucky—and where Republican Rep. Andy Barr and Democratic challenger Amy McGrath are battling in a close election.

Overall, about 6 in 10 Americans disapprove of how the president is handling trade negotiations with other countries.

Farm groups have testified in congressional hearings that retaliatory tariffs increase the cost of their products for customers abroad, giving foreign competitors an edge.

“The current tariffs, continuing back-and-forth retaliatory actions and trade uncertainties are hitting American agriculture from all sides and are causing us to lose our markets. Once you lose a market, it is really tough to get it back,” said Kevin Paap, president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau.

Rep. Ben Ray Lujan, D-N.M., who is overseeing Democratic efforts in House races, pointed to Iowa as a state where he believes the administration’s tariffs could backfire. He said primary turnout was up in part because small family farmers and the businesses they buy from are worried.

“I really believe that in those districts, you’ll see people come forward and hold everyone accountable not standing up for them,” Lujan said.

GOP lawmakers from Iowa, including Young and Blum, signed onto a letter calling on the president to act quickly to save rural economies. Blum also wrote Trump separately urging him to “consider the consequences tariffs have on American manufacturers.”

When the president visited Blum’s district a few days later, he thanked him for his “political courage” on trade.

“You’ve taken some heat for it in the short term, but in the long run, the farmers, the manufacturers, the employers are all going to be better off,” Blum told the president.

His Democratic challenger, Abby Finkenauer, has seized on that thank you.

“There is no way he should stand there and thank the administration for throwing the livelihoods of Iowans in flux,” Finkenauer said.

Republicans are putting their faith in the economy.

Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma said that he personally views tariffs as damaging in the long term but that it’s not an issue that constituents bring up.

“As long as the economy overall is doing well, it’s hard to see losing on tariff issues,” Cole said.

Man opens fire at his Wisconsin office, 3 seriously hurt


A heavily armed man opened fire on his co-workers at a Wisconsin software company Wednesday, seriously wounding three people before being fatally shot by police as employees ran from the building or hid inside, according to investigators.

Middleton Police Chief Chuck Foulke said officers shot the man within eight minutes of receiving calls about an active shooter at WTS Paradigm. Foulke said the man was armed with a semi-automatic pistol and extra ammunition and fired at officers before he was shot.

Foulke said three people were seriously injured during the attack, while a fourth person was grazed by a bullet.

“I think a lot less people were injured or killed because police officers went in and neutralized the shooter,” Foulke said.

The police chief said the motivation behind the attack was unclear and investigators didn’t yet know whether the gunman targeted his victims. He didn’t release the suspect’s name but said he was an employee of WTS Paradigm and lived in nearby Madison.

Foulke said the investigation was ongoing but noted: “We have reason to believe the suspect was heavily armed with a lot of extra ammunition, a lot of extra magazines.”

Judy Lahmers, a business analyst at WTS Paradigm, said she was working at her desk when she heard what sounded “like somebody was dropping boards on the ground, really loud.” Lahmers said she ran out of the building and hid behind a car.

She said the building’s glass entrance door was shattered.

“I’m not looking back. I’m running as fast as I can. You just wonder, ‘Do you hide or do you run?’” she told The Associated Press.

She said she knew one co-worker had been grazed by a bullet but was OK. She didn’t have any other information about the shooting but said it was “totally unexpected. We’re all software people. We have a good group.”

University Hospital in Madison confirmed Wednesday afternoon that it was still treating three victims from the shooting, saying one was in critical condition and two were in serious condition.

Police conducted a secondary search of the office building after the shooting to ensure there were no more victims or suspects—and officers discovered some people still hiding in the building, which also houses Esker Software.

Gabe Geib, a customer advocate at Esker Software, said he was working at his desk when he heard what “sounded like claps.” He said he then saw people running away from the building at “full sprint.”

“We knew at that point that something was going down. A ton of people were running across the street right in front of us,” he said.

Geib said he and his colleagues were still huddled in their cafeteria, away from windows, more than an hour after the shooting.

Jeff Greene, who also works at Esker, said police told those gathered in the cafeteria to go to a nearby hotel to make a statement about what they saw.

Three yellow school buses full of more than 100 people, including witnesses, were unloaded at a hotel about 5 miles from the office building. Some people hugged as they were reunited with loved ones. Others stopped to pet a dog that had been brought by someone picking up a worker.

WTS Paradigm makes software for the building products industry. A Wisconsin State Journal profile from 2014 listed company employment at about 145 employees and noted the company was looking to move to a larger location at the time.

The company’s website was down Wednesday.

A shopping center next to the building was temporarily put on lockdown at the direction of police.

Obituaries and death notices for Sept. 20, 2018

Beauford “Boots” Bacon

Floyd Douglas Blazier Jr.

Donald L. Nash

Barbara Susan O’Leary

Susan C. Propst

Cynthia L. Starks

Phyllis J. “Philly” Tober

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Generac boosts production of generators for hurricane victims

Providing emergency power to people who have endured devastating storms is nothing new for Generac Power Systems.

So it’s no surprise that the company’s facilities in Whitewater and Jefferson have ramped up production of generators to meet demand spurred by Hurricane Florence’s sweep through the Carolinas.

The production increase has been “significant,” Generac spokesman Art Aiello said Wednesday.

The company—which is headquartered in Waukesha and makes a variety of generators—did not hire more workers because it recently expanded its workforce, Aiello said. Generac instead called on all employees to temporarily help when needed, so more employees have hopped on the production floor and answered phones.

Aiello said Generac’s Whitewater facility was running three assembly shifts Wednesday, while the Jefferson facility was running two. Generac also has a production facility in Eagle.

He couldn’t disclose the exact number of generators the facilities have produced since Hurricane Florence struck last week. But he said the company was prepared because of its “rigorous process” for churning out product during powerful storms.

Last year brought several devastating hurricanes, and Aiello said he believed those vulnerable to Hurricane Florence knew they should prepare early. That pushed Generac to pump out generators for its retail partners—including Lowe’s and Costco—before the storm made landfall.

The company also was quick to provide information for those who might be unaware of the value of emergency power equipment, Aiello said.

“This is an area of the country, the Carolinas, that had not been affected by a storm like Florence in some time,” he said. “It’s an area where people might have been aware of the need, but they had not thought about implementing an emergency power system.

“When there is a storm, most people who may have found themselves caught off guard will turn to their retailers,” Aiello said. “In fact, that’s the way most people get their introduction to emergency power.”

So along with making more generators, Generac posted emergency preparedness information on its website and sent 10 employees to the Carolinas to help with generator maintenance and service.

The workers left Friday in four vans and a truck. Aiello said each employee had volunteered to travel to an area affected by the hurricane to help retailers and service partners.

People thrust into a natural disaster sometimes forget simple protocols when preparing, Aiello said. He said Generac and its employees have tried to help by doing what they do best: providing ample products and information to their retail and distributor partners.

“Folks have to go through a situation like this before it becomes real to them,” he said. “From a production standpoint, (we) make sure there is product available—but also information so they can more effectively weather a storm in the future.”