Trade Issues Bubble To Top Of Ohio Campaigns.

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The battle for votes in this year’s mid-term elections will likely turn on several key issues. In races for Governor and U-S Senate candidates jobs and international trade issues have bubbled up to the top. WOSU’s Tom Borgerding reports international trade rules often help and hurt major segments of Ohio’s economy.

In the race for U-S Senate in Ohio, trade is being used as a wedge issue. Democrat Lee Fisher airs ads saying his Republican opponent, Rob Portman’s support of free trade agreements hurts Ohio workers.

Portman counters, Fisher has headed Ohio’s top development post during a time Ohio has lost jobs to other states

Trade is also front and center in the race for Governor where Democrat Ted Strickland and Republican John Kasich both have voting records on the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA. Kasich supported it. Strickland opposed it.

All four candidates are betting they have a winning message in the battle for votes. To get a sense of the effects of trade on Ohio short trips to Circleville and Columbus’s west side are instructive. 55 year old Bill Crabtree of Columbus is a lifelong resident of the west side. He lives on Coolidge street about a block away from the union hall formerly used by the United Auto Workers members who worked at the now defunct Delphi Parts plant. Crabtree says many of his family members worked at Delphi.

“My parents did, my father-in-law, my brother-in-law did, both of my brother-in laws, my aunt, my uncle. My family worked there.”

Not anymore, Crabtree says the North American Free Trade Agreement doomed the Delphi plant. He says the much of the work making trim and trunk and door locks for G-M cars is now done in Mexico.

“A lot of the work went to Mexico. I know a man that was sent down there to train those people. He had six months left to go and they told him that, it’d take a year to train them, and he had to spend two months down there, come home for two months, go back for two months, until he got his six months in or he wouldn’t get his retirement.” Crabtree says.

Even though Crabtree holds strong feelings about NAFTA and despite democratic candidate appeals he’s unlikely to cast a vote in this year’s election. He says he’s too busy doing repair or remodeling work on some of the modest west side homes that have been foreclosed. By contrast, Circleville farmer, Steve Suver is eager to cast a ballot. Suver’s been farming for 42 years and currently has 800 acres of corn and soybeans. Its harvest time and he says international trade agreements help his bottom line.

“Free trade is something we depend on to compete.”

Suver blames U-S tax policy, not free trade agreement, for loss of Ohio manufacturing jobs.

“I don’t want to see us go back to protectionism because then its like these guys you know, we can sell to them but they can’t sell to us. Its been that way for years especially with Europe and now we’re getting more of those markets opened up and prices have come up and gone better.” Suver says.

Suver estimates the increased demand for farm commodities resulting from free trade agreements boosts the price per bushel for his corn and soybeans. He expects to harvest about 20,000 bushels of soybeans this fall and an extra dime per bushel might mean the difference between breaking even or making a profit.

“On the farm, my particular part of the farm it takes about $200,000 to invest every year.” Says Suver. “So I put that in the ground out there every year. Well, you know, the weather determines it, the government determines it. The world trade prices determines whether I make any money at all, you know.”

Suver says he’s sorry about the factory worker that lost his job but he says free trade agreements are not the problem. Suver wants to elect candidates that will lower corporate tax rates. He’s more likely to align himself with republican candidates and he’s more likely than Bill Crabtree to vote in this mid-term election, Ohio State University economist Carl Zulauf says normally there are too few farmers to make a difference in trade policy. But, in 2010 he says, farmers are more likely to go to the polls than laid-off factory workers. Zulauf says the election results will go a long way in determining future trade policy and its effects on Ohio.

“And that’s why we have congress. One of the purposes of congress, one of the purposes of the state legislature is to weigh these different competing views on a particular issue.” Says Zulauf.

Tom Borgerding WOSU News.

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