MARTIN, Tenn. (AP) — President Donald Trump's plan to raise tariffs on foreign aluminum and steel drew concerns from most candidates for governor at a forum on Thursday, who said they worry a trade war could harm Tennessee's farm exports, particularly soybeans.
But most of the Republicans on stage at the University of Tennessee at Martin also took time to praise Trump's negotiating skills and express hope that Trump is eying a better deal.
Rep. Diane Black, who is tying her candidacy most closely to Trump, was the sole candidate to note only positives about the tariffs.
Tennessee has 1.66 million acres of planted soybeans, the largest crop in the state, and with a production value of $796 million, soybeans also are the highest valued agricultural commodity, according to the University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture. Business leaders also are worried about the potential impacts on Tennessee's auto manufacturers, and other industries.
House Speaker Beth Harwell said she's "gravely concerned," but thinks Trump is "putting America first" and that there are "good things that will come from that."
"I trust the president that he has a long-term plan of how this is going to help our nation," said Harwell, a Nashville lawmaker. "But again, I am concerned."
Bill Lee said he thinks Trump is using tariffs for leverage, even if it's troubling for grain farmers. He said the state has to prepare by identifying countries that won't be impacted by tariffs and helping farmers replace lost revenues there.
"My hope is that Donald Trump is doing one of the things that he does well, which is negotiate, and that he has thrown something out there," said Lee, a construction company owner from Franklin. "It's a leverage point for him. I do believe that."
Randy Boyd said he supports Trump, but would tell him that higher tariffs hurt Tennessee.
"Now at the end of the day, he's going to make the decision for what's best for the United States," said Boyd, the former state economic development chief, from Knoxville. "But I just gotta make sure that Tennesseans' voices are heard. And we're going to be fighting for Tennessee farmers and Tennessee workers."
Black, a congresswoman from Gallatin, said she thinks fairer trade deals will eventually come from the president's negotiations.
"I know he's bringing China to the table, in particular, it's very important with the soybeans here in our state because it is a very large crop, so I'm happy that he's doing that," Black said.
The Democrats in the race, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean and state House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, echoed the concerns about the tariffs.