RANTOUL — Two days before announcing he would not seek another term in Congress, U.S. Rep. John Shimkus (R-15) was in Rantoul last Wednesday touring Taylor Studios.

Shimkus was one of several Illinois congressmen who stopped by the Farm Progress Show in Decatur earlier in the day as Ag Secretary Sonny Perdue paid a visit.

The congressman from Collinsville said farmers by and large understand the trade issues with China even though they are being hurt by the tariffs.

“I just came from a company in Arthur that’s losing jobs to the Chinese,” Shimkus said. “It’s not fair competition but unfair competition.”

“(Farmers) are taking the brunt of this trade fight because of the commodity prices. I think the administration understands that because they’ve got the MFP (Market Facilitation Program) that is helping offset their loss. Everybody wants to buy and sell goods and compete fairly, so they’re still sticking with the president, but it’s a little more difficult.”

Farmers received $12 billion in aid last year and $16 billion this year to help offset the drop in crop prices from the trade war. Perdue conceded, however, the MFP hasn’t totally offset the commodity-price drop.

But that’s not all that’s troubling farmers. They went through a difficult planting season with wet conditions early and now a lack of rain.

“There’s some producers that are in a tough bind because they couldn’t get a crop in, and if they did it got flooded out again,” Shimkus said. “... It’s not the best time for them.”

Farmers were also riled when the president granted ethanol waivers this summer to 31 small oil refineries, saying they would not be required to mix ethanol into their gasoline. To compensate, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the administration is working on a package to offset the ethanol losses to farmers.

‘They want a win’

Shimkus said the producers’ No. 1 concern is to get the U.S.-Canada-Mexico agreement passed.

“They want a win on the book,” Shimkus said. “They want something to say we’re winning. There’s too many things out there that we haven’t closed the deal. Mexico’s passed it. Canada’s passed it. The only question is when will Speaker Pelosi put it on the floor. Most of us believe once she puts it on the floor it will pass.”

He said it also looks as if an agreement with Japan to buy more corn is in the works.

It’s been an interesting time to serve in Congress the last couple of years. Shimkus, however, said it’s not as contentious as it might seem from the outside.

He said for the most part congressional representatives on both sides of the aisle can agree to disagree, and there are friendships between Democrats and Republicans.

‘Most of us are friends’

“We get those questions, ‘You must really hate each other.’ No, we don’t. Most of us are friends,” Shimkus said. “We’ve gone through the same litmus test. We’ve all gone through running campaigns, but these national cable networks drive this discord, and the people who are totally fixed to their narrative follow along.”

Congress agreed to raise the deficit and spend more money, which President Donald Trump signed. Shimkus, however, voted against it “because it’s too much.”

“But we move forward. That’s done. I don’t belabor the point anymore. Now how do we do with what’s allotted, and how can I help bring some of that back to my district?”

Shimkus said serving in Congress has changed in the last few years — pointing to a 24/7 focus with social media.

“I worry about our culture a little bit that people are more willing to hide behind Twitter handles, and you don’t know who they are (and they can) be very mean and vicious,” Shimkus said. “It’s not ‘Love your neighbor, be respectful,’ things you learn in kindergarten. They’re just mean and vicious and unaccountable.”

Shimkus said there are fights on the floor such as the recent occasion when a resolution was put forth to condemn President Trump as a racist, which Shimkus said became “very heated.” He said it consumed the entire day, but the next day, 24 bills were moved out of committee — one on surprise medical billing, another on robo calls “that I think the public would want us to address. They weren’t controversial, not contentious. We felt pretty good after that day of frustration.”

Taylor Studios plans, designs and fabricates exhibits for museums. It is an area of interest for Shimkus, who is a regent for The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. Taylor Studios President Betty Brennan led Shimkus on an hour-long tour through the Rantoul business.

Shimkus said there are a great many impressive people on the Smithsonian board of regents, including Vice President Mike Pence, who rarely attends meetings, and Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, who always attends.

“I’m fairly embarrassed when I go into this room,” Shimkus joked. “We are looking for a national regent, and we’re narrowing down the list. All of these people are water walkers. They are astronauts who left NASA, developed their own ... multimillion-dollar corporate company. They’re smart, rich people. On the weekends they feed the poor, and we’re going, ‘I’m not worthy.’ The whole list is 25 times more qualified than I am.”

dhinton@rantoulpress.com