Ron Brownstein brings up a group of people we haven’t heard much from when it comes to the discussion about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal. Back in 2012, the U.S. Conference of Mayors passed a resolution endorsing TPP at their annual meeting. And recently their president, Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, CA, and vice-president, Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore, MD, sent a letter to Senate leaders urging them to pass Trade Promotion Authority (TPA – or so-called “fast track”).

You might wonder why Democratic mayors would disagree so strongly with their counterparts in Congress. Here is Brownstein’s answer to that:

The U.S. Conference of Mayors, which is dominated by Democrats, has endorsed the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal and the trade-promotion authority for Obama. Providing Obama with expedited legislative authority and completing the Asian deal, which would lower trade barriers among 12 countries including America, “is a critical step to ensuring that the United States and its metro economies remain leaders in the global market place,” conference president Kevin Johnson of Sacramento and vice-president Stephanie Rawlings-Blake of Baltimore, each African-American Democrats, wrote to Senate leaders on May 12.

Houston Mayor Annise Parker, also a Democrat, was even more emphatic in a conference call with reporters. “We live on trade,” Parker said of her city. “It is important to our economy, it keeps people employed, and we absolutely believe it’s our future.”

New data released May 13 by the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program helps explain the mayors’ tilt toward trade…Brookings found that fully 86 percent of U.S. exports now originate from urban areas. Moreover, exports drove more than one-quarter of all metro area economic growth from 2009-2014. “This has metro leaders and elected officials placing an increasing focus on exports as a way to grow and maintain their regional economies,” said Bruce Katz, the Metropolitan Policy Program’s codirector, in an email. In their letter to Senate leaders, Johnson and Rawlings-Blake indicated the conference’s own forecast projects that exports will account for one-third of metro areas’ economic growth in coming years…

Brownstein goes on to point out a shift in public opinion on trade.

The unexpected result is that a series of recent surveys have found that Democratic partisans now express more support for free trade than rank-and-file Republicans—inverting the historic party stereotypes. In last month’s national NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, a 43 percent to 26 percent plurality of Democrats said that free trade has done more to help than hurt the United States, while Republicans narrowly split in the opposite direction (33 percent said it helped, 36 percent said it hurt)…

The change also reflects the Democrats’ diminishing electoral reliance on blue-collar whites generally dubious of free trade and their increasing dependence on both the college-educated whites and minorities who are more open to it.

All of this suggests that the views about trade among local politicians and in the general public are much more complex than how they’ve been stereotyped in the media lately – as well as the current battles over TPP/TPA in Congress.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.