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Mike Pence's Grand Forks visit includes meetings with airmen, ag industry

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An audience listens to Vice President Mike Pence speak at Grand Forks Air Force Base. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald2 / 3
Mike Pence speaks at Grand Forks Air Force Base Wednesday. Photo by Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald.3 / 3

Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to Grand Forks Wednesday was divided between an appreciative audience of Air Force personnel and agricultural leaders concerned about trade policy.

After his arrival at Grand Forks Air Force Base, Pence attended a fundraiser at the Hilton Garden Inn for Senate candidate Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. While at the Hilton, Pence also met privately with agriculture leaders to discuss the $12 billion farm aid program President Donald Trump announced Tuesday.

Rick Burgum, chairman for Arthur Cos., was one of the agriculture leaders who traveled to meet Pence in Grand Forks Wednesday. The company, owned by members Gov. Doug Burgum’s family, is involved in several aspects of the ag industry, including grain elevators.

“The thing that is at the forefront for anybody that is in production agriculture is getting rid of our crop this fall,” said Burgum, the governor’s first cousin. “It’s not just that the administration is going to throw $12 billion at the farmer, it’s moving the crop.”

Last year, Burgum said his company sold 16 trains of grain last year, adding each train has approximately 110 to 115 cars. This year Burgum has only been able to schedule four deliveries.

“We have no way to sell today more trains,” he said. “And we need to. … We can’t just store it all -- we don’t have the space, we don’t have the money. And we’re typical of every other elevator in the country.”

Burgum agreed with Cramer and Trump that the U.S. needs more fair trade agreements with countries like China.

“But it’s unfortunate we’re trying to fix them all at the same time, with every country,” Burgum said. “Maybe we could do it one at a time. That’s not the way they’re doing it.”

Kevin Skunes, president of the Corn Board for the National Corn Growers Association, said something similar Wednesday night, after his meeting with the vice president.

“I think we believe across the board that tariffs are bad policy,” Skunes said. “Instead of imposing tariffs, we would like the administration to be out creating new trade agreements … and get back to the bargaining table and finish up the negotiations with China so we can take all these tariffs off.”

Skunes said Pence led a round table of approximately 12 people, including agriculture leaders like himself, Cramer and donors. Pence also addressed ongoing NAFTA talks, the recent trade agreement from the U.S. and the European Union, and ethanol, Skunes said.

“With all the trade stuff that’s happening, I really wanted him to talk with more farmers and agriculture leaders,” Cramer said of Pence.

Back at the base, Airman Clayton Ethridge, 21, was one of about 100 people who heard Pence speak. He said it was his first time meeting with someone from the White House.

“I got a handshake with him, and a photo as well,” Ethridge said. He added he’s excited to show the photo to his family in Houston later this week. “That’s a really great honor to have the vice president come out.”

Pence’s remarks at the base didn’t address Cramer’s campaign for Senate, or his opponent, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D. Instead, he thanked the uniformed men and women before him, and referred to state leaders Gov. Burgum, Cramer, and Sen. John Hoeven, as “champions of all those in uniform” and U.S. defense.

During Pence’s meeting and his later speech at the base, the Democratic-NPL led another “day of action” event, similar to the one it staged during President Trump’s rally in Fargo last month. Party Communications Director Alex Rich said 187 volunteers across the state had participated, and the party was on schedule to speak with more than 9,000 voters.

Emily Allen

Allen joined the Grand Forks Herald to cover local government and politics May 2018. Call her at 701-780-1102, email her at eallen@gfherald.com or follow her on Twitter, @Emily_theHerald.

(701) 780-1102
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