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Learning all things ag

HANFORD — You know you’re doing something right when you hear a child say they wished they could learn more.

That was the sentiment overheard Thursday — wishing the day would last longer — from students leaving the Kings Fairgrounds after Farm Day.

Around 2,400 third-graders from all over Kings County took a field trip to this year’s Farm Day, which is a collaborative effort between the Kings County Farm Bureau, the Kings County Office of Education and the Kings Fair.

From tractors to bees and the dairy industry to the importance of water, there were almost 60 exhibits covering all things agriculture. That is what Farm Day is all about — teaching students the positive contributions farming and the ag industry make to the community.

Dusty Ference, executive director of the Kings County Farm Bureau, said Farm Day is the organization’s biggest program of the year. In its 15th year, the event's goal is to continue to bring exposure to an industry that not only drives the county, but the Central Valley as well.

Ference said the great thing about the event is that it doesn’t matter if the kids are growing up on farms or growing up in the city, they all have something to learn. He said his favorite part is seeing the students’ reactions at the exhibits.

“To watch kids experience something new and interesting is exciting and exhilarating,” he said.

Some new exhibits included a water well drilling rig and a station where students planted tomato plants to take home and transplant in their own yards.

The Kings County Office of Education made sure every third grader in the county was invited, including those in home school. Every class was able to visit at least six exhibits, including at least one animal exhibit. Most of the exhibits were science-based, interactive and hands-on.

“All of the exhibits are amazing and they’re all about our community,” said Margie Newton, program director of Career Education at Kings County Office of Education.

Newton said the day would not be possible without the help and support from many people in the community, including over 100 student volunteers from 4-H and FFA, and presenters who took time out of their work days to talk to the children.

“Everybody is amazing and knowledgeable,” Newton said. “They’re doing their little part for Farm Day.”

Todd Barlow, Kings County Office of Education superintendent, said farmers have always been committed and invested in making sure the products they raise are able to provide for the community and the nation.

“Nobody gives back more to their community or to their planet than farmers do,” Barlow said.

While he said it’s important to begin this kind of education to students at a young age, it’s never too late to learn.

“I go around and even I learn quite a bit,” Barlow said laughing.

Battle of the Badges returns to raise money and fists

HANFORD — Marqus Blevins of the Kings County Sheriff's Department faces what may be his toughest in-ring challenge yet as he steps in the ring at this year’s Central California Battle of the Badges.

The annual night of United Combat Association fights pits members of the military, law enforcement and first responders against each other in the sweet science of fisticuffs. The event raises money for local charities — and gives local fighters and the agencies they’re a part of bragging rights for another year, when they win.

In what’s being called a superfight, current heavyweight and light heavyweight champion Blevins will face Camp Pendleton firefighter Chris Dubiansky, the UCA Super Heavyweight Champion.

“It’s a great privilege to fight in my hometown,” Blevins said.   

Dubiansky will drop down in weight to challenge Blevins for his heavyweight title, hoping to duplicate some of Blevins' own dual-title success.

At last year’s event, Blevins made history by becoming the first fighter to hold two UCA titles simultaneously — and he’s now entertaining thoughts grabbing another.

Dubiansky’s super heavyweight belt won’t be on the line for the fight, but Blevins said that if this heavyweight fight is close and goes his way, he’d consider jumping up a weight class for a super heavyweight rematch.

“It’s crossed my mind. It would be nice,” he said. “I’m a dual champion now. Going for three would be really ambitious, but if the option is there and it’s appealing, why not?”

The undefeated fighter told the Sentinel last week after a training session at the Hanford Police Activities League (PAL) Gym that he’s at “full steam” and training now is just fine-tuning his game plan.

“Luckily this time, I didn’t have to cut any weight. I’m the smaller guy,” he said.

He’s hoping that being the “smaller guy,” which may be one of the few times in his life Blevins could be described in such a way, will lead to having an advantage when it comes to speed, while retaining power.

The boxer is currently finalizing a deal to participate in his first mixed-martial arts fight, which would take place in May.

Fighters train anywhere from three to six months, event organizer Nichole Martinez said.  The fighters will train before work, after work, on weekends — really anytime they can fit in some sparring rounds in between their shifts and family time.

Proceeds from the event, which is scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday, April 6 at the Hanford Civic Auditorium, will go toward multiple charities, including the Fallen Officer Resource Fund and the Widows and Orphans Fund.

Martinez said that the charities are really at the heart of the event and is the main reason the fighters sign onto the weeks and months of training.

“They don’t hate each other; they all know they’re fighting for charity,” she said. “But, let me tell you, once they are in the ring — it’s go time. They definitely know they’re doing it for a good cause and to give back to the community."

And while there’s no animosity between fighters, friendly rivalries do pop up, she said. The most heated rivalries tend to be police officers vs. fire fighters and police vs. correctional officers.

One such rivalry will be played out during the 15-fight card when Woodlake PD’s Davy Ray Hall faces off against Avenal State Prison correctional officer Greg Azevedo.  Martinez said that there’s yet another angle to the fight that will make it a must-see event.

“That one will also be interesting to see because you’ve got a police officer and a correctional officer going at it,” she said. “But they’re also childhood friends. They’ve been friends since they were 15 years old.”

Other fights on the card include a firefighter from Miami, a sheriff’s officer from West Virginia, members of Hanford PD, Fresno PD, California Highway Patrol and other local and regional agencies.

Tickets, $30-$50, are available at

Senate slaps down Trump's border emergency

WASHINGTON — In a stunning rebuke, a dozen defecting Republicans joined Senate Democrats on Thursday to block the national emergency that President Donald Trump declared so he could build his border wall with Mexico. The rejection capped a week of confrontation with the White House as both parties in Congress strained to exert their power in new ways.

The 59-41 tally, following the Senate's vote a day earlier to end U.S. involvement in the war in Yemen, promised to force Trump into the first vetoes of his presidency. Trump had warned against both actions. Moments after Thursday's vote, the president tweeted a single word of warning: "VETO!"

Two years into the Trump era, a defecting dozen Republicans, pushed along by Democrats, showed a willingness to take that political risk. Twelve GOP senators, including the party's 2012 presidential nominee, Mitt Romney of Utah, joined the dissent over the emergency declaration order that would enable the president to seize for the wall billions of dollars Congress intended elsewhere.

"The Senate's waking up a little bit to our responsibilities," said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who said the chamber had become "a little lazy" as an equal branch of government. "I think the value of these last few weeks is to remind the Senate of our constitutional place."

Many senators said the vote was not necessarily a rejection of the president or the wall, but protections against future presidents -- namely a Democrat who might want to declare an emergency on climate change, gun control or any number of other issues.

"This is constitutional question, it's a question about the balance of power that is core to our constitution," Romney said. "This is not about the president," he added. "The president can certainly express his views as he has and individual senators can express theirs."

Thursday's vote was the first direct challenge to the 1976 National Emergencies Act, just as Wednesday's on Yemen was the first time Congress invoked the decades-old War Powers Act to try to rein in a president. Seven Republicans joined Democrats in halting U.S. backing for the Saudi Arabia-led coalition in the aftermath of the kingdom's role in the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

"Today's votes cap a week of something the American people haven't seen enough of in the last two years," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, "both parties in the United States Congress standing up to Donald Trump."

The result is a role-reversal for Republicans who have been reluctant to take on Trump, bracing against his high-profile tweets and public attacks of reprimand. But now they are facing challenges from voters — in some states where senators face stiff elections -- who are expecting more from Congress.

Centrist Maine GOP Sen. Susan Collins, who's among those most vulnerable in 2020, said she's sure the president "will not be happy with my vote. But I'm a United States senator and I feel my job is to stand up for the Constitution, so let the chips fall where they may."

Trump's grip on the party, though, remains strong and the White House made it clear that Republicans resisting Trump could face political consequences. Ahead of the voting, Trump framed the issue as with-him-or-against-him on border security, a powerful argument with many.

"A vote for today's resolution by Republican Senators is a vote for Nancy Pelosi, Crime, and the Open Border Democrats!" Trump tweeted. "Don't vote with Pelosi!" he said in another, referring to the speaker of the House.

A White House official said Trump won't forget when senators who oppose him want him to attend fundraisers or provide other help. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on internal deliberations.

"I don't think anybody's sending the president a message," said Jim Risch of Idaho, the GOP chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He blamed the media for "reaching" to view every action "through the prism of the presidency, and that isn't necessarily the way it works here."

Trump brought on the challenge months ago when he all but dared Congress not to give him the $5.7 billion he was demanding to build the U.S.-Mexico wall or risk a federal government shutdown.

Congress declined and the result was the longest shutdown in U.S. history. Trump invoked the national emergency declaration last month, allowing him to try to tap some $3.6 billion for the wall by shuffling money from military projects, and that drew outrage from many lawmakers. Trump had campaigned for president promising Mexico would pay for the wall.

The Constitution gives Congress the power of the purse, and lawmakers seethed as they worried about losing money for military projects that had already been approved for bases at home and abroad. The Democratic-led House swiftly voted to terminate Trump's order.

Trump did tweet ahead of the vote that he would be willing to consider legislation to adjust the 1976 law at some later time.

That was enough of a signal for GOP Sen. Thom Tillis, who faces a potentially tough re-election in North Carolina, to flip his vote, according to a person unauthorized to discuss the private thinking and granted anonymity.

UK lawmakers vote to seek delay of EU departure

LONDON — In a stalemate over Brexit, British politicians have chosen to delay it.

After weeks of political gridlock, Parliament voted Thursday to seek to postpone the country's departure from the European Union, a move that will likely avert a chaotic withdrawal on the scheduled exit date of March 29.

With Brexit due in 15 days and no divorce deal yet approved, the House of Commons voted 413-202 to ask the bloc to put off Britain's exit until at least June 30. The official result was initially announced as 412-202, but was later amended to 413 in the official voting list.

The vote gives Prime Minister Theresa May some breathing space, but is still humbling for a leader who has spent two years telling Britons they were leaving the bloc on March 29.

Power to approve or reject the extension lies with the EU, which has signaled that it will only allow a delay if Britain either approves a divorce deal or makes a fundamental shift in its approach to Brexit. In a historic irony, almost three years after Britain voted to leave the EU, its future is now in the bloc's hands.

May is likely to ask EU leaders for an extension at a March 21-22 summit of the bloc in Brussels.

The European Commission said the bloc would consider any request, "taking into account the reasons for and duration of a possible extension."

May was forced to consider a Brexit delay after lawmakers twice rejected her EU divorce deal and also ruled out, in principle, leaving the bloc without an agreement. Withdrawing without a deal could mean major disruptions for businesses and people in the U.K. and the 27 remaining countries.

By law, Britain will leave the EU on March 29, with or without a deal, unless it cancels Brexit or secures a delay.

Thursday could have been worse for May. Lawmakers rejected an attempt to strip her of control over the Brexit agenda. They defeated by the narrowest of margins — 314-312 — an opposition attempt let Parliament choose an alternative to May's rejected divorce deal and force the government to negotiate it with the EU.

Lawmakers also voted against holding a second Brexit referendum — at least for now.

By a decisive 334-85 vote, they defeated a motion that called for another vote by the public on whether to stay in the EU or leave. Campaigners for a new referendum are divided over whether the time is right to push for a second Brexit vote. The vote doesn't prevent lawmakers from trying again later to get Parliament's support for another referendum.

Despite the rebuffs and the political chaos that have weakened her authority, May has signaled she will try a third time to get backing for her agreement next week. She is seeking to win over Brexit-backing opponents in her own party and its Northern Irish political ally, the Democratic Unionist Party, who fear the deal keeps Britain too closely tied to the EU.

Alan Wager, a researcher at the U.K. in a Changing Europe think tank, said May faced a struggle to overturn a 149-vote margin of defeat in Parliament this week.

"It's still really difficult to see how the numbers stack up for Theresa May, but she's giving it one more go," he said.

If May's deal is approved, she hopes to use a delay until June 30 to enact legislation needed for Britain's departure. She has warned Brexit supporters who oppose her deal that if no withdrawal agreement is passed in the coming days, the only option will be to seek a long extension that could mean Brexit never happens.

Any delay in the Brexit process would require the unanimous approval of all 27 remaining EU member states — and leaders in the bloc are exasperated at the events in London. They have said they will approve an extension if there is a specific reason, but don't want to provide more time for political bickering in Britain.

"Under no circumstances an extension in the dark!" tweeted the European Parliament's Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt. "Unless there is a clear majority in the House of Commons for something precise, there is no reason at all for the European Council to agree on a prolongation."

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said the EU needed "more decisions" from London.

The EU is also reluctant to postpone Brexit beyond the late May elections for the European Parliament, because that would mean Britain taking part even as it prepares to leave.

European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted that he will appeal to EU leaders "to be open to a long extension if the U.K. finds it necessary to rethink its Brexit strategy and build consensus about it."

In another sting for May, U.S. President Donald Trump said he was "surprised at how badly" the Brexit negotiations have been handled. Trump, who sees himself as a deal-maker, said he gave May advice but she didn't listen to him.

Speaking alongside Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar at the White House, Trump said Britain's debate over leaving the EU was "tearing the country apart."

British businesses expressed relief at the prospect of a delay. Many worry that a no-deal Brexit would cause upheaval, with customs checks causing gridlock at U.K. ports, new tariffs triggering sudden price increases and red tape for everyone from truckers to tourists.