CEDAR FALLS — Kirsten Anderson is on a mission.
WASHINGTON — The world’s two biggest economies stand at the edge of the most perilous trade conflict since World War II.
And Iowa is on the front lines of the brewing trade war
The nation’s second-largest producer of soybeans woke up Wednesday to news China has proposed a 25 percent tariff on one of its key crops.
Less than a day after the Trump administration released a list of $50 billion worth of Chinese goods it planned to slap tariffs on, China responded. The list included proposals to place a 25 percent levy on U.S. imports of soybeans, aircraft, chemicals and more.
On Monday, China proposed new tariffs on pork, fruit and ethanol. China said the tariffs were in response to a 25 percent duty Trump placed on foreign steel and aluminum coming into the United States.
“It’s not good for anybody. This is what I would call the nuclear option for both sides,” said Grant Kimberley, director of market development for the Iowa Soybean Association. “This is mutually assured destruction for both countries, going down this road.”
The announcement from China sent waves throughout financial markets in the United States. The Dow Jones industrial average closed 231 points lower Wednesday and prices for soybean futures were down almost 40 cents as of midday.
But there is still time to pull back from the brink.
China did not say when it would impose tariffs on 106 U.S. products, and it announced it is challenging America’s import duties at the World Trade Organization.
“There’s a little bit of wiggle room, a little bit of time here, that I hope both sides will come back to the table and negotiate,” said Kimberley, who farms corn and soybeans northeast of Des Moines.
Iowans worried about how the proposed tariffs would hurt farmers already facing economic pressures.
“Times are hard enough on our farmers. Then to have China push back on tariffs on our soybeans and our ethanol ... it’s very very worrisome. Farmers are upset and rightly so,” U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, said while in Tipton Wednesday.
Ernst had a call scheduled with President Donald Trump later Wednesday to discuss the tariffs.
China is the top importer of soybeans in the world, using the oilseed to make animal feed, according to Reuters. U.S. soybean exports to China were valued at $12 billion last year. Kimberley estimated about 30 percent of U.S.-grown soybeans go to China. Iowa farmers produced more than 561.6 billion bushels of soybeans last year, second only to Illinois.
Iowa State University economist Dave Swenson said the tariffs not only will affect prices Iowa farmers receive for their products, but slow investments, such as new pork production plants.
Farm income is expected to come in around $59.5 billion this year, down from 2016 and half what it was in 2013.
“What it’s doing on the farm sector is going to make a bad situation worse. That’s the consequences of this right now,” Swenson said.
Effects of the tariffs could ripple out to other industries, Swenson added, as farmers would have less money to spend on equipment and supplies.
“The crops are going to go in, but discretionary expenditures, capital expenditures, those are the kind of expenditures that farmers are not going to be able to make or they’re going to have to put them off,” he said.
The United States also still renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico, the largest two customers of exports from Iowa. Trump repeatedly has said he may cancel the agreement and has threatened to do so as a negotiating tactic with Mexico over immigration.
“Mexico is doing very little, if not NOTHING, at stopping people from flowing into Mexico through their Southern Border, and then into the U.S. They laugh at our dumb immigration laws. They must stop the big drug and people flows, or I will stop their cash cow, NAFTA. NEED WALL!” Trump tweeted Sunday.
The tariffs China announced Wednesday include a 25 percent duty on aircraft. While Iowa does not have any major aircraft manufacturers, companies such as Cedar Rapids-based Rockwell Collins are suppliers to those manufacturers and would be indirectly affected, ISU’s Swenson said.
Iowa lawmakers worry about how a trade war would affect the state. Many also have said this week they believe China should be held accountable for unfair trade practices, however.
“The President’s across-the-broad actions have put Iowa’s farmers in the crosshairs as China has announced plans to impose retaliation tariffs on pork, soybeans and other products that are produced in Iowa. These actions would be catastrophic to our economy,” U.S. Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, said in a statement to The Gazette.
“However, after years of illegal and unfair trading practices, I believe that China needs to be held accountable for their actions. President Trump must open a dialogue with China and our other trading partners to find a narrower path forward that creates a win-win for both Iowa’s farmers and workers.”
China’s trade practices have “an impact on our economy and on manufacturing, so we need to figure out a way to hold them accountable,” Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican, said Monday. She added the United States needs “to make sure we don’t have unintended consequences by getting into a trade war.”
Iowa’s senior U.S. senator, Republican Charles Grassley, said Wednesday he warned Trump China would retaliate against U.S. agriculture.
“The United States should take action to defend its interests when any foreign nation isn’t playing by the rules or refuses to police itself. But farmers and ranchers shouldn’t be expected to bear the brunt of retaliation for the entire country,” Grassley said in a statement.
But Grassley also said the country needs to protect its intellectual property.
“On my recent congressional delegation trip to China, I urged Chinese government officials to rein in unfair trade practices and policies, including the theft of U.S. intellectual property, which have adversely impacted American businesses. I’m concerned that my urging fell on deaf ears,” Grassley said.
U.S. Rep. Rod Blum, R-Iowa, said he is supportive of “negotiating better trade deals for U.S. workers” but is “very aware that trade wars will most likely be deterimental” to Iowa.
“I’ve taken every opportunity to inform the president and his administration that trade wars will disproportionately harm Iowa’s economy. I’m not assuming the worst, though as I am confident in President Trump’s deal-making ability,” Blum said in an emailed statement.
Gazette reporters Erin Jordan and Mitchell Schmidt contributed to this article.
WATERLOO — For an auctioneer, it’s not so much the speed but the enunciation and accuracy that is most crucial.
Allen Freerks has mastered his craft of declaring bids and enticing sales in a soothing, monotone voice after almost 40 years in the business.
On Wednesday morning, he lured the crowd at the Waverly Sales Co. into a game of call and response during the first official day of the 2018 spring Waverly Midwest Horse Sale.
“You’ve got to be around it a while to pick it up,” he said.
Freerks began ringing for another auctioneer in the 1970s before first attending his Waverly show in the 1980s.
One of the premium events of its kind in the country, the four-day Waverly Midwest Horse Sale commenced Wednesday without a hitch.
The bi-annual buying and selling of horses and other farm animals, collectibles and equipment in attracts thousands to Waverly twice a year.
“From Canada, Florida and every place in between,” Freerks said.
Many describe the event as a destination.
“It’s a mini vacation for me,” said Justin Demo, who made the trek to Waverly from his farm in central Minnesota.
Even though last year’s temperature on opening day was around 72 degrees, the frigid temperatures this year didn’t seem to faze anyone.
For Wilber Helmuth of the Hazleton Amish community, the cold delayed his work in the field, granting him free time to enjoy the show. Helmuth has been attending the show for 15 years to buy and sell items for Helmuth Family Farm, where he produces organic corn, oats, hay and soybeans.
The owner of Waverly Sales Co., Sharon Dean Beyer, took over the operation from her late father, Bill Dean, three years ago. Dean was remembered for building additional structures for the property that was originally built in 1947 and hosting the sales in a circus tent.
Times have changed, and a new generation is beginning to take over some of the responsibilities.
“And I’m just really glad to see it. They’re doing a darn good job,” Freerks said.
Though the sale no longer includes cattle or pigs, there are still plenty of horses, mules and ponies.
But the draft horses are what carry the sale these days, according to Freerks.
Draft horses, large horses bred for work like pulling carts or plows, include a variety of breeds such as Friesian, Belgian, Clydesdale, Percheron and Shire. A single horse can bring $25,000 to $30,000 and higher, according to Beyer.
A few years ago a draft horse sold for $60,000.
“That’s a down payment on a house,” Beyer said.
The sale owes its top attraction to a different animal all together.
“But our No. 1 is our chicken and noodles,” Beyer said, noting many guests mention they’ve traveled thousands of miles for the top-secret recipe. Food is served at the event from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Beyer said she’s met a lot of people over the years, including some celebrities.
“Some are in disguise or plain clothes; you wouldn’t even recognize them. But I know one time Loretta Lynn’s husband, Mooney (Lynn), was here,” she said.
A passion for horses has lured Sandy Holm to the event for about 25 years. A few times she rode in on one of her horses from an acreage outside Waverly.
“I used to ride all over here outside of town. It’s really making a comeback,” she said of the horse industry. “Now you’ll even notice more horses on commercials. It’s amazing.”
The sale continues today at 9 a.m. and Friday at 9 a.m.
CEDAR FALLS — Kirsten Anderson is on a mission.
The former communications director for the Iowa State Republican caucus, who’s firing after reporting sexual harassment at the Statehouse led to a $1.75 million settlement from the state, is on the road raising awareness about harassment, retaliation and bullying in the workplace.
She spoke at Lang Hall on the University of Northern Iowa campus Wednesday night to an audience of about 40. Her presentation was titled “Standing Up for What’s Right: How I Took on the Statehouse and Won.”
In an interview prior to her appearance, Anderson talked about her experience and the changes she hopes to be a part of in the future.
On May 17, 2013, Anderson turned in a memo — her fourth such complaint — describing obscene jokes, conversations and pornography she endured on the job. She was fired hours later.
“I was shocked,” she said. “In full disclosure, I had seen a lawyer the day before I turned in the memo. I thought long and hard about what I was doing and what I put into that memo. My lawyer told me it was so detailed and so potentially damaging to them, there was no way they were going to fire me.
“I was pretty upset. It felt like I cried for a week. There were a lot of immediate tears. Then I retained a lawyer and moved on.”
After Anderson’s accusations became public, then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix came under fire for not supporting an independent investigation.
“When he refused to investigate my allegations, it was unbelievable,” Anderson said of Dix. “What kind of leader are you? You’re just going to continue to ignore it? It’s not going to disappear.”
Dix resigned last month after images of the married senator kissing a lobbyist at a Des Moines bar came to light.
“When I first heard about what happened (with Dix), I thought it was really sad,” she said. “The first thing I thought about was his family. But, how he handled my situation and disrespected me, it was not surprising there would be disrespect in his personal life.”
After going through a lengthy process, including arbitration, Anderson and the state were not able to come to an agreement and she filed a lawsuit in October 2014, suing for wrongful termination, harassment and retaliation.
“I thought for sure we could talk through this,” she said. “They could see the evidence I had was pretty egregious. I copiously documented everything.”
Anderson said filing the lawsuit was a scary thing to do.
“I was married with a young son,” she said. “He was 3 at the time. I didn’t have another job. Nobody wanted to touch me. Working in politics with pending litigation — nobody wants to hire someone they think might be a potential problem later on. I basically begged for jobs. I needed to work. We needed to have two incomes.”
Anderson said the stress permeated every part of her life, especially when the matter finally went to court in July 2017.
“It was mentally taxing,” she said. “My lawyer tried to prepare me, but taking the stand, testifying in court was very nerve wracking. It put a strain on the whole family.
Anderson won her case and was awarded $2.2 million.
“When the jury came back with their award, and my lawyer told me it was twice what I asked for, I was speechless. I just felt so vindicated. I knew I was speaking the truth. I’m just glad other people could see it.”
The state appealed the decision and the $1.75 million settlement was reached.
Though Anderson was pleased with her legal win, she is disappointed there has not been a bigger impact.
“Not much has changed at the Capitol,” she said. “I thought it would. I thought this would change minds, create legislation, and it hasn’t.”
But Anderson said the #metoo movement that has arisen in response to sexual harassment is encouraging.
“It’s given me a lot more hope and optimism,” she said. “I’m hoping if we talk a year from now, there will be more success stories, more change. Sometimes movements are a flash in the pan. I want to keep it at the forefront.”
Anderson began sharing her story at public speaking engagements in November.
“The most common response I get is audience members are surprised. They didn’t realize that was happening or being perpetuated at the Capitol under their legislator’s watch on state time. They can’t believe it. That is not what legislators are sent to Des Moines to do.”
Currently, Anderson is working at a life insurance company but will leave that job April 13 to pursue her advocacy work full time. And she is considering a run for public office.
“For now, I want to share my story. I want to talk about harassment, retaliation and bullying. How to recognize it and how people can put a stop to it and stand up for others.
“When I was fired, my co-workers, they all stayed. I recognized they couldn’t talk about me to the legislators there. They didn’t stand up for me at the time, because they feared for their jobs. My co-workers stood up for me when it counted, on the stand, when they corroborated the evidence. We are still friends. … I care about them and I know they care about me. I worry about them a lot being at the Statehouse in that tough environment.”
Anderson said she can’t say if she would do it all over again.
“I’m not sure,” she said. “But I think at the core of harassment cases, sexual or otherwise, is a lack of respect and decency and being kind to one another. If people don’t know and understand and extend those kindnesses to others, work places are going to have big problems. I know I was disrespected. It’s not right, and it’s not fair. And how do we get rid of that? How do you teach that as a parent or a mentor? How do we change it, how do we get ahead of it? My best answer is talking about it, having a real conversation about it.
“It was never about the money” she said. “It was about changing the environment and sending a message to lawmakers.”
DES MOINES — When lawmakers convened the 2018 legislative session, perhaps no issue was more pressing than sexual harassment.
The state was dealing with the fallout from sexual harassment allegations in the Iowa Capitol, and a nationwide movement was shining a powerful light on the subject.
There was pressure to act.
CEDAR FALLS — Kirsten Anderson is on a mission.
With the session winding down, lawmakers have passed no harassment legislation but have tightened policies governing behavior in the Statehouse.
This year has seen an “unprecedented amount of legislation on sexual harassment” across the country, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures, a nonpartisan organization that researches statehouse issues.
The organization’s website lists 88 pieces of legislation that have been introduced. The varied proposals would expel members, criminalize sexual harassment and mandate harassment training in legislatures, among other topics.
Iowa lawmakers have made changes to the manner in which sexual harassment in the Iowa Capitol is addressed.
The changes were sparked by allegations of harassment among employees working for Iowa Senate Republicans. Former staffer Kirsten Anderson alleged she was fired in 2013 after reporting sexual harassment on the job. Last year, the state settled with Anderson for $1.75 million.
Republican leaders this year took steps to bolster sexual harassment policies. Many were recommended by Mary Kramer, a former lawmaker and former human resources executive for Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Kramer researched the policies at the behest of Senate Republican leaders.
Kramer said it is not enough to implement new policies. She said a new atmosphere of respect and compliance must be created at the Capitol.
“I like the Chinese proverb that says when the student is ready the teacher appears. And I don’t think the students have been ready up until this point,” Kramer said on a recent episode of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press.”
Janet Petersen, leader of the Senate Democrats, said more steps must be taken.
“We continue to press Senate Republicans to ensure the Legislature doesn’t adjourn without adopting new policies and procedures to make the Senate a safe and welcoming environment for all employees, to protect Iowa taxpayers, and to protect the rights of those who raise concerns about harassment,” Petersen said in an emailed statement.
Gov. Kim Reynolds, the first woman to serve as Iowa’s chief executive, this year called for all executive branch employees to retake sexual harassment training. Recently Reynolds’ self-described “zero tolerance policy” was tested.
On March 24, Reynolds fired former Iowa Finance Authority director David Jamison over what she called “credible allegations” of sexual harassment from multiple employees. She fired Jamison just one day after allegations were brought to her staff.
“I hope this sends a strong message. I think it does,” Reynolds said. “I can’t legislate morality. I can’t pass a law that says everybody treats everybody with respect. But I can lead, and I can set an expectation. And that’s what I did.”
Democrats have pressed Reynolds to provide details of what led to Jamison’s firing, but Reynolds said she will not release those details in order to protect the anonymity of the accusers.
“For the victims of sexual harassment, coming forward is a hard thing to do. It takes courage. So at the request of the victims and to protect their privacy and identity, there is only so much that I can say about the details of the allegations,” Reynolds said. “But what I can do is emphasize, again, that sexual harassment will not be tolerated in my administration.”