U.S. Sen. Angus King, second from left, has lunch Tuesday with, counterclockwise from lower left: Lewiston Fire Chief Brian Stockdale, Auburn Fire Chief Robert Chase, Lewiston Police Chief Brian O’Malley and Auburn Police Chief Phil Crowell at Simones’ Hot Dog Stand in Lewiston. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

LEWISTON — Officials at Geiger are worried the largest privately held promotional products distributor in the world could suffer if the global reputation of the United States does not improve.

Jo-an Lantz, Geiger’s chief operating officer, said Tuesday that world opinion has “really shifted” against the country over the past 18 months because of the perceived bullying by and inconsistency of President Donald Trump.

There has been “a subtle backlash” against American companies as a consequence, she said.

Chris McKee, vice president of corporate programs, said he has never before heard the level of negativity about America that he has been hearing as he travels the globe.

The notion that the country is strong-arming others and perhaps acting in underhanded ways is making it “perhaps a little more difficult” to win contracts and deal with foreign firms, McKee told U.S. Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent.

King said during a tour of the distribution facility that anti-American sentiment is the sort of thing that may not be captured in a balance sheet, “yet it’s real,” nonetheless.

During a tour of several Lewiston locales, King heard in detail about a number of issues, from the advantages of offering video conferencing for veterans seeking medical help to the plague of opioids slamming Lewiston and Auburn.

He also took time to praise Simones’ Hot Dog Stand — which he’s visited regularly for 24 years — and sign a recent People magazine piece highlighting the 110-year-old Chestnut Street restaurant.

Executives at Geiger offered the most surprising feedback to Maine’s junior senator, who’s running for a second term this year.

Gene Geiger, one of two brothers who manage the company, said the $1.5 trillion tax cut adopted by Congress in December was not wise.

“It was a mistake to cut taxes as significantly as was done,” Geiger said.

Geiger said that when the next recession hits — which he figures is probably in the not too distant future — the decision to reduce revenues to federal coffers is going to make it  hard to come up with the resources the government will need to cope with it.

“We have no slack in the system,” said King, who voted against the tax cut along with U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a 1st District Democrat.

Maine’s two Republican lawmakers, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and 2nd District U.S. Rep.. Bruce Poliquin, voted in favor of it.

King said that when times are good, business people understand they need to pay down debt, not add more. “And we’re not doing that,” King said.

Geiger said he thinks that he and brother Peter benefited too much from the tax legislation compared to people who earn less.

He said that everybody is going to take a hit in  the long run and that “really bothers me.”

Geiger also said he is concerned that a lot of people are going to lose their medical care because of changes approved by both Congress and Trump that are going to push up the cost of coverage.

“Long-term for this country, we’re going in the wrong direction,” Geiger said.

McKee said he has even been hearing harsh words for the country from London Uber drivers, something he has not come across before.

Lantz said that the World Advertising Gift Exchange, a 25-country group that promotes Geiger’s industry, is also seeing problems related to Trump. She said the group has leaders that include both an American and a Russian — something she said prospective members worry about.

But it goes beyond that, she said.

She said one Austrian member argued that “Geiger is taking over the world” simply because it purchased a London firm it had long worked with. She said the Austrian worried that Geiger was playing a role akin that of a bullying Trump.

Those concerned, she said, are transferring their distaste for Trump to American businesses that have nothing to do with him.

Geiger said the kind of anxieties spurred by Trump are the sorts of intangible things that can “tilt the balance” when it comes to making a deal or not with a foreign firm.

Company officials also expressed worry that Trump may trigger a trade war that could wind up crimping Geiger’s bottom line.

Geiger said about 80 percent of the products his company sells are imported, so any increase in tariffs or restrictions on trade are a concern for the family-owned firm.

King said he is worried about how Trump is tackling trade, too.

“We should be doing it with a scalpel, not a chainsaw,” King said.

Despite the unease expressed by Geiger officials, they also indicated the company is doing well.

Jeffrey Geiger, manager  of operations, said the firm is showing steady growth.

He said the company’s solar panels provide all of its electricity. Its success in becoming carbon neutral has also become a selling point,he said.

Brad Hunter, a director at Geiger, said he appreciated King’s willingness to listen to company officials over the years. He also thanked the senator for his civility and his desire to seek moderation on Capitol Hill.

King responded that  the most common remark he hears from constituents as he travels Maine is “thank you for being reasonable.”

“When you  think about,” he said, “that’s a pretty low bar.”

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