The Latest: Arizona teachers gather at Capitol for 3rd day

PHOENIX (AP) – The Latest on Arizona’s statewide teacher walkout (all times local):

12:05 p.m.

Arizona teachers are lining up to meet with state lawmakers on the third day of their statewide teacher walkout.

The educators who convened on the state Capitol hope to meet with lawmakers to discuss why they want increased funding for Arizona public schools.

The state’s Republican-controlled Legislature is working on a budget plan that doesn’t meet most of the teachers’ demands. But it does start giving teachers raises as part of a 20 percent teacher pay raise by 2020, and begins to restore money that can be spent on supplies and capital needs.

Arizona Education Association president Joe Thomas says he believes teachers will be rallying at the Capitol again tomorrow. But there’s no end date for the walkout. Thomas says it depends on what’s in the budget.


9:45 a.m.

Thousands of Arizona teachers are gathering at the state Capitol for the third day to protest low pay and school funding as many schools around the state remained closed.

Monday’s rallies come as the Republican-controlled Legislature is expected to begin work on a budget package negotiated with GOP Gov. Doug Ducey that boosts teacher pay and some funding but falls well short of educators’ demands.

The budget deal gives the first installment of a 20 percent teacher pay raise by 2020 and begins to restore some of the nearly $400 million in recession-era cuts to a fund that helps schools pay for books, school buses and other capital expenses.

Republican House Speaker J.D. Mesnard says he expects that budget legislation will be passed by the end of the week.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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Trump may try to claw back as much as $60 billion from spending bill

The White House is ignoring warnings from worried Hill Republicans and moving ahead with plans to cut billions of dollars from the massive spending bill that Congress passed in late March, after President Donald Trump has spent weeks grousing about the legislation.

Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney — himself a former congressman — is taking the lead on developing the rollback proposal, according to eight current and former administration officials and Republicans close to the White House. The White House expects to release it around May 1, according to one administration official.

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These officials anticipate the White House could propose slashing anywhere from $30 billion to $60 billion dollars from the $1.3 trillion dollar spending bill passed for this year — even as Republican lawmakers are openly asking the president not to re-open the negotiations.

“The president is frustrated with omnibus. I also know that his base is frustrated with the omnibus,” said Paul Winfree, who served as Trump’s director of budget policy and deputy director of the Domestic Policy Council until he resigned in December to return to The Heritage Foundation. “The main question is: How big will they go?”

The White House has not reached the point yet of circulating a list of areas to cut — though administration officials and congressional aides anticipate the suggestions will involve cuts to foreign aid and nondiscretionary domestic programs targeted in the president’s recent budget.

In a statement, Mulvaney said the administration “will work with like-minded partners on Capitol Hill to see how we can reduce wasteful Washington spending within the law.”

Aiding Mulvaney is House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who is vying to replace Rep. Paul Ryan as he retires from his leadership position as speaker of the House. But Rep. Steve Scalise, the House majority whip, is also interested in the job — potentially complicating the process of trying to cut money from the spending bill, as both men try to curry favor with the president and within their own caucus. Any cuts would also have to pass muster in the Senate, where Republicans hold a 51-49 majority.

Even after Congress passed the spending package, narrowly averting a third shutdown this year, Trump surprised aides by threatening to veto it at the last minute over its increase in domestic spending, which he derided as “a waste of money.”

One administration official said the omnibus bill remained on the president’s mind because he views it as another instance of Washington working in a predictable, dysfunctional way, with lawmakers promising to cut spending, build a border wall, or repeal Obamacare, only to do nothing in the end.

Some Republicans have preemptively warned the White House not to try to re-open the omnibus bill. House Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-N.J.) said it would amount to Trump going back on his word and veteran appropriator Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) told POLITICO the idea is “unrealistic and dangerous.”

White House officials stressed that Trump was not the first president to attempt such retroactive cuts under a 1974 law that allows the president to propose to Congress rescinding certain budget authority. Congress then has 45 days to pass a law codifying the cuts, known as rescissions, or the spending remains in effect.

“Many presidents have used rescission authority,” said White House legislative affairs director Marc Short. “Even Bill Clinton used it multiple times and I think it’s a perfectly appropriate mechanism for the executive branch to send back to Congress opportunities to save taxpayer dollars.”

Short nevertheless said that rescissions are not a long-term solution to the problem of massive spending bills.

“What we’ve always been asking is for Congress to do its job and to complete appropriations bills on time,” Short said. “When they don’t, you’re left in a position where the president is asked to sign a giant omnibus or shut down the government. One way to fix this is for Congress to actually have a normal appropriations process.”

The House typically passes appropriations bills, but appropriations legislation usually can’t get passed on the Senate floor, where Democrats have enough votes to block bills. The White House expects the new Senate appropriations chairman, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), to work with Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to change that, although Republicans’ slim majority makes it unlikely.

Trump has threatened not to support another omnibus going forward. ”I will never sign another bill like this again,” Trump said shortly after signing the omnibus in March. ”I’m not going to do it again. Nobody read it. It’s only hours old. Some people don’t even know what is in — $1.3 trillion — it’s the second largest ever.”

His criticisms, levied hours after he issued his veto threat, echoed those that Democrats and Republicans alike regularly lob at omnibus spending bills, which contain all the discretionary funding for the government in one piece of legislation, as opposed to the 12 separate bills that the appropriations process calls for.

But, with Democrats uninterested in working with Republicans ahead of the midterms, the regular appropriations process likely won’t work this year, either. Congress is expected to pass a continuing resolution, maintaining current funding levels, by the next deadline on Sept. 30, 2018. That bill will almost certainly fund the government through the 2018 midterms.

“Theoretically, the Congress should be able to pass individual spending bills and I imagine the House, if not all of them, will pass a good chunk of them. However there’s the Senate and the Dems over in the Senate are going to do the same thing they did in this situation,” said a senior GOP Hill aide. “They have more leverage when you do an omnibus. …. Not to mention they could take the House and try to push any spending bill into the new year.”

“Is he never going to sign an omnibus again? I find that very unlikely,” the aide added. “And frankly, you know, the terms are not going to be as good if the Dems control at least one of the chambers. They’re going to have even more leverage than they have now.”

CLARIFICATION: This story has been updated to clarify the Senate appropriations process.

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EU makes last-minute attempt to avert US trade war | Business

The EU is making a last-ditch effort to avoid a trade war with just hours to go before tariffs on European steel and aluminium exports to the US are due to come into force.

Cecilia Malmström, the European commissioner for trade, is due to speak to the US commerce secretary, Wilbur Ross, later on Monday, but EU sources said they fear the White House is set to continue to make impossible demands.

Theresa May, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel spoke by phone on Sunday to agree that the EU would hit back in response to the imposition of tariffs on European traders.

Merkel said Europe was “resolved to defend its interests within the multilateral trade framework”.

A Downing Street spokesman said the leaders had spoken of “the vital importance of our steel and aluminium industries and their concern about the impact of US tariffs” and “pledged to continue to work closely with the rest of the EU and the US administration with the aim of a permanent exemption from US tariffs”.

The US administration imposed import tariffs of 25% on steel and 10% on aluminium in March on the grounds of national security.

The EU, along with Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Mexico and South Korea, were granted a temporary reprieve, due to come to an end on 1 May.

The main focus of the import tariffs is China, with whom the US has a $502tn (£365tn) trade deficit. However Donald Trump has been scathing about the current terms of trade with Europe.

The EU, in response, has insisted that it will only discuss terms of trade with the US once it has received a permanent and unconditional exemption to the steel and aluminium tariffs. Trump has reportedly expressed his irritation that he cannot negotiate bilaterally with the key member states, rather than work through the EU institutions.

In their last phone call, Ross was rebuffed by Malmström after he demanded that the EU voluntarily limit exports of steel and aluminium to 90% of the average 2016/17 level, reducing European imports by 16.3%.

Speaking on Sunday in Abu Dhabi to Bloomberg TV, the Austrian chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, said a trade war would be “extremely negative” for both sides.

He said: “I admit, I am concerned that there could be some new trade barriers. If it comes to that, I hope that we as the EU can come to agreement very quickly on a common and clear position.

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“I hope that this won’t unleash any negative spiral that leads to a trade war and that, rather, the US will reconsider its ideas about trade barriers.”

In Australia, the foreign minister, Julie Bishop, said she was also pushing for a permanent exemption.

“The prime minister and other ministers have been relentless in our advocacy for Australia and we will continue to ensure that we receive that exemption,” Bishop said.

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When Do Consumer Boycotts Work? – Room for Debate

Social Media Boycotts Succeed When They Reflect a Movement


Boy, oh boycotts! Do they work?

Trick question. It all depends on what you mean by “work.”

If the aim is to hurt company sales, boycotts rarely succeed. But if the aim is to undermine companies that stand in the way of a movement, there is a greater chance that a boycott may tarnish a brand.

To get a boycott off the ground, awareness and consideration of the issue must spread. Intent to boycott must be followed up by action. Finally, once a boycott is underway, the leaders of it must find ways to sustain the effort.

That can be hard, considering the number of people involved in a boycott inevitably decreases over time.

Mostly, that’s because people have busy lives and plenty of their own personal problems. News of a boycott has to cut through the personal. It has to withstand the constantly changing streams of information on the internet to truly gain traction. And memory fades fast. The accelerated 24-hour news cycle has become a sort of Catch-22 for boycotts: Social media can be very useful for spreading awareness of a boycott — but the hourly nature of the news cycle can bury it within the next day or week.

Social media can be very useful for spreading awareness of a boycott — but the hourly nature of the news cycle can bury it within the next day or week.

Even if a boycott stays in the news, strong opinions are not the same as action. It’s always easier for someone to express outrage than inconvenience him or herself. In a world where everyone is a one man/one woman P.R. department on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter, “moral peacocking” — outrage on social media that is not combined with action — becomes convenient and costless.

Outrage comes and goes, and so do boycotts. Companies may suffer short sales dips, but social media boycotts seldom hurt the business bottom line of organizations in the long run.

However, there is a very strong exception. If the ultimate source of a boycott is constantly featured in the 24-hour news cycle — say, because he is president of the United States — and continues to engage in controversial and outrageous behavior, the boycott has an increased chance of living beyond its usual few days.

If the boycott reflects a movement — rather than a moment — it can change the world around it.

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Boycotts Force Corporations to Confront Consumer Ideals


In the book “The Naked Corporation,” Don Tapscott and David Ticoll examine novel business risks that have popped up with the internet. The democratization of free information and rise of social media means business practices can be discovered and scrutinized on a much wider scale.

“You’re going to be naked,” the authors warn businesses, “so you’d better be buff.”

At a minimum, that means considering customers and employees beyond tomorrow’s profit margin.

As people take to the streets to protest the actions of the new president, C.E.O.s of corporations are being challenged to take a stand — something many have been reluctant to do in the face of market pressures to keep one’s head down and focus on the numbers.

The challenge today for all corporations is clear: Citizens are looking for leadership on issues of real consequence, and they are aligning their dollars with their ideals.

But for some businesses, taking a stand is good for the brand. Tech C.E.O.s are speaking out forcefully against the visa ban because they depend on the best skills and talent, no matter the nationality. Other tech employees may believe it is morally wrong to turn away refugees and legal residents — or, at least they are confident that their customers feel that way. There’s safety in numbers of course, and its best when corporations can articulate why an issue matters to their business bottom line.

Still, cultivating positive brand identity has become undoubtedly important for consumer-facing companies. Take #DeleteUber. The real aim of the boycott that went viral seemed to be to punish a business — for placing profit over community and/or for appearing to support President Trump’s refugee ban on seven Muslim-majority countries. The boycott could not reverse President Trump’s executive order, but it did cause Uber’s C.E.O. to drop out of President Trump’s business council.

The power and speed of social media has allowed campaigns to evolve from focusing on the consequences of a product — like the legendary Nestlé infant formula boycott in the 1970s — to labor-related issues that are within the control of the corporation. From there, they have spread to include more complex global concerns like child labor and climate change. Boycotts over an issue like deforestation could require a radical kind of agency from a company if it had to disrupt its entire supply chain to make real progress.

But some companies see real market advantages in this consumer trend. Levi Strauss and Starbucks, for example, have gotten out ahead on issues like H.I.V./Aids and water scarcity to help cultivate positive brand identity. They didn’t wait for a protest or boycott: They took a preemptive moral stance.

For mass market brands, like Pepsi and McDonalds, that road can be more treacherous. Still, to address consumer demands — often articulated by a sophisticated NGO working to corral public opinion — companies typically tie their brand to big social issues, like human rights. These initiatives can require real changes for companies, however, including a change in how they source their products.

The challenge today for all corporations is clear: Citizens are looking for leadership on issues of real consequence. These issues are no longer confined to the ballot box. And consumers are aligning their dollars with their ideals.

The answer for businesses may require new forms of association in which courageous C.E.O.s can stand up and be counted.

There is a challenge for consumers, too. They must distinguish between the companies that truly push positive social change and those that just pay lip service to it.

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Hope I save before I get old

IF YOU reach the age of 65 in the OECD, you can expect to live for another 19 years  or so (more if you are a woman, less if you are a man). If you stop work earlier than 65, and live a bit longer than average, you could easily be retired for 25-30 years, almost as long as you were in work. But people find it very hard to get interested in pensions (even Mrs Buttonwood), even though their financial future depends on them; retirement is too distant a prospect and the issue seems too complicated.

This blog has written a lot on the subject so it is time to summon some farewell thoughts. The executive summary: pensions are more expensive to fund, employers are less willing to do so, so you will need to save more (a lot more) and/or retire later. 

All pensions are paid for by the next generation. This may seem counter-intuitive; aren’t we contributing money every month? State pensions are paid for by current taxpayers (yes, there is a US Social Security fund, but it is invested in Treasury bonds, which are a claim on taxpayers). Most state pensions run on a pay-as-you-go system; this year’s benefits are paid for out of this year’s tax revenues. When it comes to private sector pensions, many schemes have a fund, which is invested in bonds, equities, property etc. But what gives those equities, bonds and properties value in 2030, or 2050, when the pensions get paid? It will be the workers and taxpayers of 2030 and 2050 who will generate the income needed to pay the dividends on the equities, the interest on the bonds and the rent on the properties. As a consequence of this…

Pensions are a heavier burden when the elderly population expands, relative to the working cohort. In other words, fewer young people are supporting more retirees. In 1950, there were 13.9 people in the OECD aged over 65 for every 100 of working age (20-64). As of 2015, that figure had doubled, to 27.9; by 2050, it will have nearly doubled again, to 53.2. In some countries (Greece, Italy, Japan, Portugal, South Korea and Spain), the ratio will be more than 70 by 2050. In part, this is down to lower fertility rates (below the 2.1 needed to keep the population growing) and in part because of improved longevity. Since 1970, the life expectancy of the average OECD retiree aged 65 has risen 4-5 years. At its heart, this is why state retirement ages have been trending upwards. On top of this…

Even ignoring longevity, paying pensions has become more expensive. A pension is an income and the yield on income-producing assets has fallen. In other words, the amount of income that can be generated by a given savings pot has declined. The way that savers can guarantee an income in retirement is to buy an annuity; in Britain, the income from a £100,000 annuity has dropped from £15,000 in 1990 to £5,000 today, a decline of two-thirds. That explains why annuities are unpopular, and why the British government stopped the requirement for people to buy them. But the alternative is to put your money in cash, where rates are even lower, or in riskier assets like equities. The latter may generate a higher income but there is a risk of capital loss (imagine if you had retired in 1929 in America, or 1989 in Japan). 

Companies that provide defined-benefits (DB) pensions face exactly the same risks as individuals. There is a market for offloading a corporate pension liability; it is called the buyout market and it involves the insurance sector. The cost of a buyout has risen sharply as yields have dropped. Accountants and regulators can see this and have required companies to account for the risk; that implies higher contributions. So private sector employers have retreated from DB pensions and offer defined-contribution (DC) pensions instead. These don’t guarantee to pay anything; the worker gets a pot on retirement. The employee now carries the investment and longevity risk. 

What you put in is not always what you get out. That is pretty clear for public pensions. People may have to contribute for a set number of years. By and large those who earn more, pay more into the system whereas the pension is either a flat rate, or a benefit that pays a higher proportion of final salary to the lower-paid. In the case of private sector DB pensions, it is the employer who usually makes the biggest contributions and is on the hook for any shortfall.* Were workers to get their own contributions back (plus investment return) they would get a disappointing pension.

But in a DC scheme, what you put in matters hugely. Employers may match contributions but even in a generous scheme, you would do well to get 15% of payroll. The cost of a DB equivalent is 25-30% or more. The running costs of a DC scheme are usually higher. So a DC employee cannot expect to get the equivalent of DB benefits (two-thirds final salary after 40 years). Worse still, the vagaries of the market mean two people who contribute exactly the same cash amount over their lifetime could get wildly different pensions. So you need to save more (at least another 10% of salary), and/or prepare to retire later. This is not really complicated; it is just maths. Alas, very few people get it.

* There are some who would argue this point, on the grounds that pension contributions are deferred wages. While that is technically true, people don’t act as if it were so. If it were, people who work for companies that offer DC pensions (where employers contribute much less than in DB) would get much higher pay than those in DB schemes. They don’t. Note also that if the company goes bust, guarantee schemes like the PBGC and PPF cap the amount of benefit, regardless of how much you contributed. 

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What If Tariffs Cost Trump The Farm Vote?

In 1977, Jimmy Carter made an improbable journey from Georgia peanut grower to Democratic president in part by playing on his humble roots and receiving support from America’s farmers. Yet this bedrock voting constituency abandoned a fellow farmer to back Ronald Reagan four years later, after Carter punished Moscow for invading Afghanistan by cutting off grain sales to the Soviet Union. U.S. farmers were already struggling with collapsing crop prices, and the embargo may have been the final straw. Farmers threw their support behind Reagan, who had promised to lift the hated restrictions.

This might seem like ancient history, but it’s still relevant to — and well-remembered in — today’s Farm Belt, where farmers are once again torn between devotion to a president and anger at the tariff policies he’s imposed that are set to wreak havoc on agricultural prices. Although farmers overwhelmingly supported Donald Trump in 2016, discontent over tariffs and trade policy could induce farmers to oppose his bid for re-election — and their strategic location might just enable them to thwart it.

First, Trump did really well in the states that have more farmers:

In particular, there are three states that Trump won by narrow margins in which a mass farmer defection could prove pivotal: Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. In each of these states, the number of farmers far exceeds the president’s margin of victory in 2016. If all three states saw significant ag defection, a Democratic challenger could pick up a total of 46 Electoral College votes — enough to tip the balance even if Trump performs up to his 2016 standards in every other state in the union.

Where farmers could make a difference

Number of farm operators and Trump’s vote margin, for states that Trump won in the 2016 presidential election

state Trump Vote Margin No. farm operators Difference
Michigan +10.7k 80.3k -69.6k

Wisconsin +22.7 111.1 -88.3

Pennsylvania +44.3 92.3 -48.0

Alaska +46.9 1.2 +45.7

Arizona +91.2 33.6 +57.6

Montana +101.5 45.2 +56.3

South Dakota +110.3 49.0 +61.3

Florida +112.9 74.5 +38.4

Wyoming +118.4 19.7 +98.8

North Dakota +123.0 45.0 +78.0

Iowa +147.3 131.5 +15.8

North Carolina +173.3 73.8 +99.5

Utah +204.6 28.8 +175.7

Georgia +211.1 61.9 +149.3

Nebraska +211.5 75.9 +135.6

Mississippi +215.6 55.6 +160.0

Idaho +219.3 40.6 +178.7

Kansas +244.0 92.9 +151.1

South Carolina +300.0 37.1 +263.0

West Virginia +300.6 32.2 +268.4

Arkansas +304.4 69.7 +234.7

Louisiana +398.5 41.6 +356.9

Ohio +446.8 115.7 +331.1

Missouri +523.4 152.8 +370.6

Indiana +524.2 89.8 +434.3

Oklahoma +528.8 121.6 +407.2

Kentucky +574.1 114.2 +459.9

Alabama +588.7 64.1 +524.7

Tennessee +652.2 101.6 +550.6

Texas +807.2 375.9 +431.3


Of course, 2020 is unlikely to be an exact replay of 2016. But these swing states in the Midwest are a good bet to be competitive again, making any erosion of Trump’s support among farmers a big worry for the president.

So what’s getting in between Trump and farmers?

Trump raised farmers’ alarm bells when he bandied about the idea of pulling out of NAFTA and cutting off free trade with Canada, one of the biggest importers of U.S. agricultural products. As farmers’ groups bought pricey airtime to run ads that attempted to dissuade policymakers from exiting the North American trade deal, a more immediate threat to the farm economy appeared on the horizon this month: In reaction to protectionist manufacturing tariffs leveled by the U.S., China — another big destination for U.S. agricultural products — retaliated, placing 15 percent tariffs on numerous agricultural exports and a 25 percent markup on pork products.

When Trump responded by announcing plans for $100 billion in additional tariffs, China threatened more of its own, including one on the U.S.’s top agricultural export, soybeans.

In a recent Senate Finance Committee meeting on Trump’s tariffs, Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley said that farmers in his state “still remember President Carter’s grain embargo.” Grassley reached the Senate in those same 1980 elections. “That’s 38 years ago, but that’s still in the memory of farmers,” he said.

Indeed, the Iowa senator knows his audience. The average age of U.S. farmers has been increasing over the past several decades, rising from 51 in 1982 to 58 in 2012 — the most recent year for which data is available. The average age is now likely to be close to 60 years old, which means that the bulk of U.S. farmers were old enough to vote when they abandoned Carter as a group in 1980.

Data on how farmers voted at that time is elusive, but anecdotal evidence suggests that the share of farmers who backed Reagan was high. A member of Reagan’s agricultural transition team put the number at “at least two-thirds,” and The Washington Post described the farm sector as “one of the most solid blocs for Reagan.” The New York Times concluded that “many farmers who had voted for Jimmy Carter in 1976 supported Mr. Reagan” in 1980 “because they felt Mr. Carter had broken a campaign pledge never to establish an embargo on agricultural products except in a case of extreme national emergency.”

Flash forward to 2016, when 67 percent of farmers voted for Trump. Farmers were no doubt drawn to his deregulatory message and motivated by their perception that any Obama-era economic recovery had left them behind. In all regions, farmers are overwhelmingly Republican voters, regardless of the size of the operation.

But after months of controversy over farm labor visas, falling commodity prices and withdrawal from free-trade agreements, a recent survey conducted by Agri-Pulse, one of America’s leading agricultural news sources, adds weight to Grassley’s warning. The survey — conducted from Feb. 26 through March 9, before the most recent tariff battles — indicates that farmers are losing patience with the president. Although 67 percent said they had voted for Trump, only 45 percent said they would support his re-election.

There are fewer farmers today than there were in 1980. The number has shrunk by about 15 percent — from the approximately 2.4 million farms dotting the U.S. countryside to about 2 million today. Farmers now represent around 1 percent of the U.S. population. But the geographic distribution of these farmers, as well as their voting habits, could turn them into a powerful anti-Trump force ready to pop up in 2020 and alter the balance of the elections.

These Midwestern states are typically extremely close in presidential elections. They certainly were in 2016. And Trump would be more vulnerable there in 2020 if farmers abandoned him. Farmers are good voters in general, and in 2016, an estimated 74 percent of them turned out to vote in competitive states in the presidential elections. In Michigan, Trump won by 10,704 votes, and there are approximately 80,000 farmers in the state. And somewhere around 67 percent of them (let’s call it 40,000) voted for Trump if they were consistent with national projections. All it would take is for slightly a little more than one in four of those farmers to jump ship to turn the tables against Trump. The numbers are similar in Wisconsin. (Trump won Pennsylvania by a bit more.)

We can use the Agri-Pulse poll to look at this in a slightly different way. If only 45 percent of Michigan farmers vote for Trump, he would get 27,000 farm votes — a loss of 13,100. Without any other change, Trump just lost Michigan and has been reduced to a razor-thin margin of victory Wisconsin. If 45 percent of Wisconsin farmers voted for Trump, he’d get about 37,000 farm votes, a loss that would reduce his lead to around 5,000.

Elections, of course, don’t work this way — one group moving while all others vote the same way — but the math shows that there are enough farmers in these crucial states to make a difference should they fully sour on Trump.

One thing we can be sure of is that these Chinese tariffs will have a negative impact on the agricultural sector in all three states. The first round of tariffs included two of Michigan’s top agricultural products — hogs and apples — and two of Wisconsin’s — hogs and cranberries. Also, soy is the third-largest agricultural product for both states. They both also count corn among their top 10 products; while the first round of tariffs imposed a 15 percent duty on ethanol, a key application for the U.S. corn crop, the second round of threatened tariffs included corn as well. While corn is a major export product for U.S. farmers, the Chinese market represents a very small market share for edible corn.

Farmers may not be the massive voting bloc they once were, but as Jimmy Carter learned nearly four decades ago, presidents ignore farmers’ needs — and erode farmers’ markets — at great peril.

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Democrats strive to tighten their hold in several states

INDEPENDENCE, Ore. (AP) – Unfazed by signs banning soliciting and dogs that barked at her in almost every home she visited, a political newbie knocked on doors, handed out campaign flyers and asked voters to elect her to the Oregon Senate.

Deb Patterson, who canvassed in the riverside town of Independence on a recent Saturday, hopes to win the May 15 primary and unseat four-term Republican Sen. Jackie Winters in November. A win could propel Democrats into a “supermajority” in the Legislature, with the ability to increase state revenue without Republican support.

Democrats buoyed by anti-Trump political activism want to wrest control of legislatures from Republicans, but they’re also striving to tighten their hold in states where they have an edge – or where control is split – in order to pass legislation ranging from gun control to health care and from taxation to campaign finance reform.

Republicans also consider these states battlegrounds. In Oregon, a political action committee called No Supermajorities has received a $5,000 contribution from Koch Industries, the Kansas-based energy conglomerate of billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch who advocate for conservative causes.

“If even one Republican loses re-election in November 2018, there is no telling what kind of new taxes Democratic leaders might push through,” the PAC’s website proclaims.

A supermajority is a level that exceeds the threshold to produce a majority.

In Oregon, Democrats need just one more seat in the Senate and one in the House to reach a three-fifths supermajority in both chambers. That would give them a better shot at increasing corporate taxes in a state where corporations pay one of the lowest rates in the nation.

“We continue to have a pattern where families pay more into the tax system to support state services than do corporations and businesses,” said Jeanne Atkins, chair of the Democratic Party of Oregon. “With a supermajority maybe there’s a better chance, but of course the devil is always in the details.”

Atkins called Patterson “a serious candidate” who’s among those who might take seats from Republicans.

Patterson is a pastor at a rural church who has worked as a health care advocate and never held elected office. But after Donald Trump was elected president in 2016 and threatened the Affordable Care Act, Patterson was so upset that she decided to enter politics.

“I’m running for office because the last election took me by surprise, and I realized that people had to get active and get involved,” Patterson said after spending a morning knocking on doors. “We have to stand up at the state level to push back against the changes that are coming at the federal level.”

Heading into the 2018 elections, Republicans control 32 state legislatures, Democrats 13, and four are split between the parties, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Nebraska, unique among U.S. states, is unicameral and officially nonpartisan.

For their part, Republicans hope to snatch seats away from Democrats in November.

“Republicans have proven with the right candidate and right policies they can win in historically adverse areas,” said David James of the Republican State Leadership Committee.

In New York, Democrats dominate the state Assembly. On Tuesday, they won two Senate seats in special elections, leaving them one short of controlling that chamber. In theory they have a one-seat advantage, but a Democrat consistently sides with Republicans. If Democrats gain another Senate seat in November, they can more easily push liberal priorities like gun control, advance voting and campaign finance reform.

Sen. Andrea Stewart-Cousins, leader of the Senate Democrats, said of Tuesday’s elections: “These electoral wins are part of the ‘blue wave’ sweeping our state and nation which will help even more Senate Democratic candidates win in the upcoming general election.”

In Colorado, Democrats control the House and are one seat away from flipping the Senate. If they succeed, and hang onto the governorship, health care would be a priority, with single-payer or Medicaid for all at the top of the agenda. They would also try to strengthen gun control legislation and undo several constitutional amendments that severely restrict spending.

The national Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee is also targeting other key chambers like the Maine Senate. Democrats in Maine need only one seat to establish a majority in both chambers – if they maintain control of the House.

“We are harnessing the incredible momentum we’ve seen from volunteers and activists all over the country and we’re mobilizing record numbers of door knockers, volunteers making phone calls, and doing everything we can to elect more Democrats,” said Mara Sloan of the campaign committee.

Having a supermajority doesn’t always translate into unity, though, as both Democrats and Republicans discovered in Illinois and Kansas.

Illinois Democrats want at least four more House seats to reach the 71 needed to overturn vetoes by the governor. They’ve had a supermajority in the Senate since 2015. But from 2015-2017, they also had that magic number of 71 in the House, yet had little to show for it because three party members refused to get in lockstep with Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan.

It wasn’t until July 2017, when the Democrats’ control slipped to 67 seats, that they managed to break a two-year budget stalemate with Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner by persuading five House Republicans to join them in overriding his veto of an income-tax increase.

Illinois Democrats also diverged on social issues. For instance, some Democratic senators voted against a plan to set up a state licensing system for firearms dealers.

In Kansas, a Republican split emerged last year as the GOP-controlled Legislature sought to roll back income tax cuts enacted by Republican Gov. Sam Brownback in 2012 and 2013. The cuts resulted in the state not having enough money because tax revenues fell and promised economic gains didn’t make up the difference. Conservative Republicans blasted the proposed rollback as a tax hike. Still, it passed, Brownback vetoed it, and lawmakers overrode the veto.

In many legislatures, Republicans have used their clout to cut taxes, limit union powers and expand school-choice initiatives.

It’s a blueprint that shows Democrats can push their own agenda if they consolidate power in these states.

“I am feeling good about progressives’ chances on the ballot this fall,” Oregon Gov. Kate Brown said.


AP journalists James Anderson in Denver, Colorado, David Klepper in Albany, New York, John O’Connor in Springfield, Illinois contributed to this report.


Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

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Trump tweets he’s open to re-entering TPP ‘if the deal were substantially better’ than Obama’s

President Donald Trump is pictured. | AP Photo

The announcement from President Donald Trump earned a warm reception from many Republicans, the party that has traditionally strongly backed free-trade policies. | Evan Vucci/AP Photo

President Donald Trump said Thursday he would be open to rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal he railed against on the 2016 campaign trail, but only if the agreement was renegotiated to feature better terms for the U.S.

“Would only join TPP if the deal were substantially better than the deal offered to Pres. Obama,” Trump wrote on Twitter late Thursday night. “We already have BILATERAL deals with six of the eleven nations in TPP, and are working to make a deal with the biggest of those nations, Japan, who has hit us hard on trade for years!”

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After years of slamming the TPP, Trump told a group of farm-state lawmakers and governors that he had instructed his economic adviser Larry Kudlow and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer on Thursday to consider whether rejoining the trade pact makes sense.

The announcement from Trump earned a warm reception from many Republicans, the party that has traditionally strongly backed free-trade policies.

That the president might reconsider TPP marked a significant about-face, especially amid his steps in recent weeks to threaten significant tariffs on China as part of an effort to reset the economic relationship between the two nations. China, for its part, has threatened retaliatory tariffs that would impose significant import taxes on major U.S. exports, including soybeans, cars, aircraft and chemicals, sparking fears of a looming trade war between the U.S. and China.

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