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The National Journal released an article that questions if Senator Tim Johnson (D. SD) will be joining his colleagues Jay Rockefeller (D. WV) and Tom Harkin (D. IA):

http://www.nationaljournal.com/...

Tim Johnson of South Dakota was the lone Democratic senator from a conservative state facing reelection in 2014 not to sign a bipartisan letter calling on President Obama to green-light the Keystone XL pipeline. It’s a signal that, combined with recent statements, he’s less attuned to his own reelection and may be considering retirement.

Other Democrats in similar political circumstances as Johnson have begun taking steps to insulate themselves from attacks from the right. For instance, nine Democratic senators from Republican-leaning states signed the Keystone letter to Obama, including Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, and Max Baucus of Montana, who cowrote the letter. - National Journal, 1/31/13

The National Journal implies that since Johnson is the only Democrat from a red state to sign onto this call to move forward with the Keystone XL Pipeline might be enough to indicate that Johnson is eyeing to retire.  But here's the thing, sections of the pipeline are located in South Dakota and has the most to gain economically from the construction of the pipeline.  So the fact that Johnson isn't pushing Obama to finish construction on the pipeline could be a signal that Johnson is calling it quits.  But let me throw you some information first.  Did you know that Johnson is the only red state Democrat to vote 99% of the time to expand Obama's agenda?

http://www.usatoday.com/...

WASHINGTON, DC - Sept. 05: Wife Barbara by his side, Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., in wheelchair, arrives to a warm welcome at his office in the Hart Senate Office Building. At the door is Rep. Stephanie Herseth-Sandlin, D-S.D, and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.; behind them are Johnson's aides. Democrat Tim Johnson of South Dakota was welcomed back to the Senate later Wednesday by colleagues of both parties who hailed his recovery from a life-threatening brain hemorrhage Dec. 13. The official embrace came at mid-afternoon, when senators adopted a resolution (S Res 306) extending “their warmest welcome” and expressing “their personal happiness at his return” and “their very best wishes for his continued health.” Johnson responded with a brief set of remarks in return, declaring, “My speech is not 100 percent. The doctors tell me it will get there. But my thoughts are clear. My mind is sharp. And I’m here to be a voice for South Dakota.” The 60-year-old senator said, “My ability to think is paramount, so I hope now as I return to my office people will focus on their work more quickly than I walk these days,” Johnson said. “This has been a long and humbling journey, a journey that has taken longer than some people have liked — and I count myself among them.” He said, “I believe I have been given a second chance at life,” and vowed to use that second chance to continue his work for his state and nation. “It’s great to be home,” he concluded, to a standing ovation from his colleagues. (Photo by Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly).
One of the Democrats to support Obama the most — and who is up for election in 2014 — is Sen. Tim Johnson of South Dakota. CQ found Johnson supported Obama nearly 99% of the time on issues where the president's position was clear. That puts Johnson up there with Democratic senators such as New York's Charles Schumer in terms of presidential support.

Johnson hasn't said whether he'll run for another term in South Dakota, a state that has been trending Republican. Former governor Mike Rounds, a Republican, has already announced his Senate bid. - USA Today, 1/22/13

The National Journal argues that if Johnson were to decide to retire now, it would free him up to vote any way he wanted filling out his term:
Thus far, Johnson has sided with Obama on the pipeline issue, put. Johnson is on record backing the State Department review process proposed by Obama. The State Department review is expected to end in March. If Johnson decides he won't run again in 2014, it would make it easier for him to side with the president against the pipeline.  - National Journal, 1/31/13
Ok, so Johnson is a red state Democrat who has been a loyal vote to help pass Obama's agenda.  But is that really enough to claim that Johnson will retire because he won't distance himself from the President on certain issues like Mark Begich of Alaska or Kay Hagan of North Carolina?  I'm not buying that:

http://rapidcityjournal.com/...

If you've followed the events over the last four years in Washington, D.C., you saw Johnson - considered a moderate over most of his long, successful (zero defeats at the polls)  political career - trending left on key issues, in large part because of the Obama influence.

And he did so fearlessly in a state where left-trending Democrats can end up in trouble.

You have to admire his convictions there, particularly as he considers a run for his fourth U.S. Senate term - territory previously known in South Dakota only by former Republican Sen. Karl Mundt.

Obama came along after Johnson survived a brain hemorrhage and cancer bout, and after his wife, Barbara, had been through the cancer war herself.

So it wasn't just the president, I think, that made Johnson so bold. It was his life, and his experience in taking on challenges that made politics pale in comparison. - Rapid City Journal, 1/24/13

So it's fair to say that Johnson genuinely likes Obama but I think Obama would give Johnson his blessing if he wanted to retire.  He's been a trustworthy colleague in the Senate and he's earned his retirement.  Plus you have to consider who Johnson is going up again.  Mike Rounds (R) was a really popular governor and he rose from obscurity in the 2002 GOP primary thanks to Super PAC cash:

http://www.dailykos.com/...

Rounds might very well owe his political career to the state's loose campaign finance regulations.

He benefited from large PAC contributions as a fledgling gubernatorial candidate in 2002. Rapid City lawmaker and philanthropist Stan Adelstein funneled $60,000 to Rounds' campaign via two contributions from the Building Rapid City PAC, which was almost entirely funded by Adelstein. Of that $60,000, $25,000 came at a critical point late in a three-way primary race when Rounds was gaining momentum but running out of money.

Candidate Rounds also received more than $200,000 in 2002 in two separate contributions from Adelstein's A Better South Dakota PAC. While that PAC was organized by Adelstein, it was funded by a series of $5,000 contributions from several individuals.

Adelstein's fortune hasn't reached the heights of Sanford's, but he has been actively involved in South Dakota politics on both sides of the aisle since taking over the family construction business as a young man in the 1950s.

Rounds won a Cinderella victory in that three-way GOP primary in 2002, and went on to easily win the general election and serve two terms as a popular governor, from 2003 through 2010. - The Center For Public Integrity, 10/24/12

Not to mention Rounds has the South Dakota government working in favor of his campaign:

http://www.dailykos.com/...

Rob Skjonsberg, Mike Rounds crony
Rob Skjonsberg, Mike Rounds Crony (Right)

PIERRE — Gov. Dennis Daugaard on Thursday appointed an associate of former Republican Gov. Mike Rounds’ to a board that awards state economic development loans, a move the state’s top Democratic Party official called a blatant effort to help Rounds’ campaign for the U.S. Senate.

Daugaard, a Republican, appointed Rob Skjonsberg, of Pierre, to the state Board of Economic Development. Skjonsberg worked eight years in the banking industry before becoming Rounds’ chief of staff in the governor’s office in 2003. He later worked at POET, an ethanol producer, and is currently chief of staff at Rounds’ real estate and insurance company in Pierre. Skjonsberg also is a partner in a political consulting firm that is helping Rounds’ campaign for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson, who has said he will announce later whether he will seek re-election. - The Daily Republic, 1/4/13

Rob Skjonsberg was the Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at POET, which is one of the largest ethanol producers in the country and is based in South Dakota.  The ethanol industry is a huge driver of South Dakota's economy.  Now Johnson has a predominantly green voting record on the environment but has a very pro-ethanol voting record as well.  But Rounds is the preferred candidate of POET because he will gladly do their bidding in the Senate.  So POET has a lot invested in this race but that doesn't mean Rounds isn't vulnerable.  Lets not forget that he signed an abortion ban passed by the South Dakota legislator:

http://www.dailykos.com/...

Gov. Michael Rounds of South Dakota signed into law the nation's most sweeping state abortion ban on Monday, an intentional provocation meant to set up a direct legal challenge to Roe v. Wade, the 1973 United States Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal.

The law makes it a felony to perform any abortion except in a case of a pregnant woman's life being in jeopardy.

Mr. Rounds, a Republican, said in a statement after signing the legislation in Pierre that it was the right thing to do. The law will force a legal showdown before it ever comes into effect, an outcome its supporters, eager to overturn Roe, intended.

"In the history of the world, the true test of a civilization is how well people treat the most vulnerable and most helpless in their society," the governor said. "The sponsors and supporters of this bill believe that abortion is wrong because unborn children are the most vulnerable and most helpless persons in our society. I agree with them." - New York Time, 3/7/06

Rounds took a hit in the polls and voters were able to get the abortion ban repealed by successfully pushing to get the ban on the ballot and the voters overwhelmingly repealed the ban in the 2006 election.  Rounds still won re-election in 2006.  South Dakota Republicans have been trying to pass abortion bans both before and after 2006 but South Dakota voters keep voting against these bans:
South Dakota state legislator Larry Rhoden is as loyal a pro-life crusader as you are likely to find in the Rushmore state. Rhoden worked enthusiastically in 2004 to pass a state bill that would ban nearly all abortions. When that failed, he continued to push the issue--helping to form an abortion task force that would give legitimacy to the ban effort, and helped lead the efforts on another abortion ban bill that passed the legislature but failed when referred to a statewide vote as a ballot initiative in 2006. He even lent his support to the most recent incarnation--a ban including exceptions for rape and incest--that failed as a ballot initiative again this past Election Day.

But after two defeats at the ballot box, the conservative Republican is ready to throw in the towel. "I would question the wisdom of anybody that wanted to bring it forward again," says Rhoden, who makes his living as a rancher in the sparsely populated western corner of the state. His personal view on abortion hasn't changed, but as a policy-maker, Rhoden makes it plain that he wants no part of any more abortion bans. - CBS News/The New Republic, 9/22/09

But current Governor Dennis Daugaard (R. SD), Rounds former Lt. Governor, has continued to push Rounds legacy of making abortion illegal in South Dakota:
Women who want an abortion in South Dakota will face the longest waiting period in the nation – three days – and have to undergo counseling at pregnancy help centers that discourage abortions under a measure signed into law Tuesday by Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

Daugaard, who gave no interviews after signing the bill, said in a written statement that he had conferred with state attorneys who will defend the law in court and a sponsor who has pledged to raise private money to finance the state's court fight. Officials have said estimated the cost of defending the law at $1.7 million to $4.5 million. - Huffington Post, 3/22/11

Plus Rounds is not loved by South Dakota's Native American tribes:
For me, his delay in seeking a disaster declaration for aiding the SD reservations devasted by ice-storms and blizzards in Dec. 2009 and Jan. 2010, were especially hard to accept.  After filing the request in March 2010, the Presidential declaration followed and aid was given.  But the delay was tragic. - meralda's diary, 2014 Senate race - SD, 11/29/12
Here's the story meralda is referring to:
Unfortunately, there was a delayed response in the Governors office submitting the disaster declaration, for the Christmas blizzard that immobilized the entire state of South Dakota for several days. FEMA was in the field across South Dakota assessing damages, when the January ice storm and blizzard hit causing a crisis in many areas and devastating Cheyenne River Reservation. - NDN News, 3/10/10
Why would Rounds delay federal disaster relief for South Dakota's Native Americans?
Money.  

That's what this is about:  The state of South Dakota, under the auspices of the Rounds administration, does not want to spend any extra state money to get federal disaster assistance for the reservations.  

And now that private aid is pouring in, thanks in large part to the efforts of Kossacks over the last two weeks, the governor's office has the perfect excuse not to move forward with the federal disaster process.  Inadvertently, we may just have given him exactly what he wanted:  Time to wait out the weather and public sentiment.  (Not that we had a choice in the matter; lives were at risk.  But the fact that some folks are now in a better position thanks to private efforts should in no way excuse the state of South Dakota from its obligations to its citizens.) - Aji's diary, Why is S.D. Gov. Mike Rounds Denying Federal Aid to Indian Reservations in Crisis?, 2/16/10

Local political blogs also point out that South Dakota Democrats have their fair share of issues to go after Rounds with:
you have to further wonder whether the Democrats will turn the campaign into a referendum on how Rounds managed state government during his eight years in office. The 10 percent budget cuts that his successor, Gov. Dennis Daugaard, felt necessary to impose; the difficulties now surfacing within the South Dakota Retirement System because of policies encouraged during the 2000s; the deadlock over and shifting fate of the Homestake underground laboratory project; the second state-government jet that was purchased under the Rounds administration; the mini-controversy over Valhalla in Custer State Park; even the size and uses of the new governor’s mansion are just some of the topics that will be considered by Democrats. - Pure Pierre Politics, 9/13/12
So yeah, Rounds has his share of baggage.  But a right-wing candidate in a red state with great name recognition, high political connections and unlimited campaign funding running in a midterm election might be enough to get him elected.  The Senate seats have historically been Republican held seats but when Democrats have occupied those seats, they've been able to hold them for a while.  Johnson has a long history of winning close races in South Dakota.  He narrowly unseated incumbent Senator Larry Pressler (R) in 1996 and he won a very close re-election in 2002 against current Senator John Thune (R) in a good year for Republicans.  Johnson easily defeated his opponent in 2008 a few years after recovering from his brain hemorrhage.  Plus Johnson has over $3 million in the bank so he would start off with a big war chest.  But is it enough to fight back against Rounds unlimited Super PAC campaign cash?  That might be why Johnson is waiting until the spring to make his decision.

You also have to consider the fact that Johnson is in a pretty powerful position as Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee.  Johnson has been adamant about confirming Richard Cordray, President Obama's recess appointment, for the director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that Republicans in the Senate are eager to weaken:

http://www.dailykos.com/...

President Obama has made fewer recess appointments than Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush so it's clear that this is just Republican obstructionism and and conservative backlash aimed at weakening the CFPB.  But Johnson, the Senate Banking Chairman, ain't having it:

http://www.fa-mag.com/...

Senator Tim Johnson, the South Dakota Democrat who heads the Senate Banking Committee, said the case would be appealed. A better approach, he said, would be to confirm Cordray to the job.

“The courts are going to have to decide this matter, and I expect that the Administration will appeal the DC Circuit decision,” Johnson said in an e-mail. “However, it shouldn’t have had to come to this. The Senate should confirm Richard Cordray without delay.” - Financial Adviser, 1/31/13

Johnson has also made it clear that he is focused on raising the debt ceiling and raising taxes as well as getting a finalized farm bill passed.  A retirement could motivate him to keep up his fight so he can at least leave the Senate after achieving his goals.  Plus it would free him up to vote for both President Obama's gun control legislation and immigration reform plan.  Johnson has already stated that he supports universal background checks and that's a good thing for Obama's gun control proposal:

http://www.dailykos.com/...

The Senator’s office confirms to me that he believes background checks should be in the mix. That means he’s very likely to support Obama’s final background check proposal — also a step forward, because he represents a red state, and because he recently signaled discomfort with government action on guns.
But the assault weapons ban is not even the centerpiece of Obama’s proposal. Universal background checks are, and if Obama gets that it will be a major achievement in its own right. Given that huge majorities — including of Republicans and gun owners — favor universal background checks, you’d think Dems up for reelection could support them. Right?

The picture is mixed. Thus far, only two Dems up for reelection next year are supportive of background checks, while the others either won’t say yet or have not responded to my questions. - Washington Post, 1/22/13

Retirement would also free up Johnson for voting for immigration reform which he hasn't stated his stance yet:

http://www.argusleader.com/...

A bipartisan group of senators Monday unveiled a broad outline for comprehensive reform of U.S. immigration policy. President Obama also laid out his basic points for an immigration overhaul a day later.

Despite some differences, both plans allow a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million immigrants living illegally in the United States.

Thune, a Republican, and Johnson, a Democrat, told reporters on separate conference calls that the existing immigration policies in place are broken and must be fixed. But while the South Dakotans said the Senate framework is a good first step, they were reluctant to support the plan.

“The devil is in the details and we’re waiting for legislation to be drafted,” Johnson said. “I’m hopeful that some kind of comprehensive legislation is possible.” - Argus Leader, 1/31/13

Johnson did vote for the DREAM Act so I'm sure he'll be on board with immigration reform.  I guess the Keystone XL Pipeline is the real major issue Johnson would be pressured on so the fact that he hasn't joined other Democrats from oil states either indicates that he could be retiring but he could also just trust President Obama and the Secretary of State's final decision.  So yeah, it's hard to tell if Johnson is ready to call it quits or is pretty confident about his odds on winning re-election.    

One also has to consider what South Dakota would be losing if Johnson were to retire.  Native Americans would be losing big:

http://www.dailykos.com/...

WASHINGTON – Senate Banking Committee Chairman Tim Johnson (D-SD) announced that five South Dakota tribes will receive $1.3 million in grants to enhance public transit service on tribal lands. The funds were competitively awarded as part of the Federal Transit Administration’s Tribal Transit Program. Earlier this year, the Senate passed a transit bill authored by Chairman Johnson which will double funding for transit programs on Indian reservations and give tribal transit providers greater certainty for planning and capital improvements.

“These funds will help tribal members stay connected and keep local economies growing,” said Chairman Johnson. “Reliable and accessible public transit is vital for many residents of Indian Country, and I will continue working to bring transportation options and economic opportunities to every part of South Dakota.”
The Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe will receive $350,000 to continue to provide public transit service in Eagle Butte and surrounding rural areas.
The Lower Brule Sioux Tribe will receive $350,000 to continue to provide River Cities Public Transit service for tribal members who live on the Lower Brule Indian Reservation and surrounding rural areas.
The Oglala Sioux Tribe will receive $300,000 to continue public transit service in an extremely rural area of South-Central South Dakota.
The Yankton Sioux Tribe will receive $209,456 to continue to provide public transit service on the Yankton Indian Reservation and the surrounding area.
The Rosebud Sioux Tribe in South Central South Dakota will receive $120,000 to continue operation of by-request bus service to cities like Rapid City, Pierre, and Sioux Falls. - Political Wire, 12/9/12

Dr Erich Bloodaxe RN pointed out in the comments Johnson's list of achievements helping  Ziebach county (~ half of the Cheyenne River Reservation):

http://www.johnson.senate.gov/...

If Johnson retires, Native Americans could be left with just John Thune on the Indian Affairs Committee.  Thune voted against disaster relief and Rounds delayed it.  That sounds like an awful duo for South Dakota.  

Thune shouldn't have voted against the Sandy relief package.  He should've followed in the same footsteps as his GOP colleague Murkowski and Hoeven because the bill offers a great emergency alternative for Native Americans:

http://www.dailykos.com/...

The relief bill is designed to pay for Hurricane Sandy aid, not set policy. But tucked inside is a major change in protocol.

Tribal leaders can now appeal directly to the federal government for a disaster declaration – bypassing the state. Robert Holden is the deputy director of the National Congress on American Indians. He says there has been a history of governors ignoring disasters in Indian Country, so this is a welcome change.

He says not every tribe has the resources to do proper damage assessments and appeal directly to the federal government. - KTOO, 1/30/13

No doubt Democrats like Johnson and Mark Begich had an influential role on the Indian Affairs Committee to get such a provision put into the disaster relief bill.  Native American voters have the most at stake this coming election.

Now if Johnson retires, lets consider our options for a strong candidate for 2014.  First there's former Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (D) who was elected to congress in 2004 but was defeated by Kristi Noem (R) in 2010.  Heresth Sandlin is the former Whip of the Blue Dog caucus:

http://en.wikipedia.org/...

During her tenure in the House, Herseth Sandlin was assigned to committees of concern to her constituency in South Dakota. The Agriculture Committee affects the state's largest industry, and the Natural Resources Committee has jurisdiction over national forests in the Black Hills, as well as policies affecting the state's nine federally recognized Native American tribes. She was selected to serve on the Select Committee on Global Warming and Energy Independence based upon her work on issues related to biofuels and renewable energy in rural America.[5]

Herseth Sandlin voted against the Affordable Health Care for America Act.[7] In regards to voting against Healthcare Reform, she said she would "not vote for the Senate bill as is” and that she would "not vote for a package of changes that would go through the reconciliation process.”[8]

She opposed her party's leadership on some issues related to gun rights, which won her the support of the National Rifle Association.[9] On social issues, Herseth Sandlin is pro-choice and expressed opposition to Referred Law 6, which sought to ban all abortions in her home state, including those for victims of incest and rape. She supported the Employment Nondiscrimination Act in 2007. - Wikipedia

I will be writing a diary about Herseth Sandlin as soon as we get closer to knowing what Johnson's decision will be.  Her answers for Time Magazine's 2010 40 Under 40 rising political stars is worth a read though:

http://www.time.com/...

Who is your political hero/inspiration?
My grandmother had great influence on me. She was secretary of state in the 1970's, and that's when I was born. She showed me the importance of public service, and she was admired by people regardless of their political party.

What's your go-to political blog?
I would probably say the one that I go to the most is the Argus-Leader [a newspaper in Sioux Falls, S.D.] political blog. ... I feel old by you asking me that question. It's like asking "So what's the song you most recently downloaded onto your iPod?"

If you weren't working in politics, what would you be doing?
Teaching. Before I had decided to get into politics, I was laying the groundwork to have a career in the law, but that was really to lay the foundation to teach, either at the college level or law school level after my federal clerkships. I love the classroom.

What's the most overlooked issue facing America these days?
Pockets of severe poverty in Indian country that exist in our country that a lot of people aren't aware of. I represent nine sovereign Sioux tribes. In South Dakota, some of the tribes are in the most remote, rural areas of the country. They lack essential infrastructure. Some communities don't even have clean drinking water. We have among the highest rates of teen suicide. ... In terms of the nation's consciousness, I just don't think people are aware of the magnitude of the crisis. It's overwhelming.

Where do you see yourself professionally in five years?
I hope to continue to be serving South Dakota in Congress. And, personally, keeping up with the little boy who will just be starting school. - Time Magazine, 2010

Emphasis mine.

There's also Johnson's son, U.S. Attorney Brendan Johnson:

http://en.wikipedia.org/...

Johnson was nominated by President Barack Obama to be the 40th United States Attorney for the District of South Dakota and was unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate on October 15, 2009.[3] His nomination to be United States Attorney was supported by several prominent Republicans, including former Governor Bill Janklow, former State Attorney General Larry Long, former Sioux Falls Mayor Dave Munson, and a variety of state and local law enforcement leaders.[4]

In 2009, the Attorney General of the United States selected Johnson to serve as chairman of the Native American Issues Subcommittee. Two years later the Attorney General selected Johnson to serve on the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee. Johnson is a member of the Terrorism and National Security Subcommittee.

As South Dakota’s chief federal law enforcement officer, Johnson's office prosecuted several high profile child exploitation cases, including the case of an individual who received a life sentence for the human trafficking of minors. He also convened the first state-wide Tribal Listening Session, a state-wide civil rights conference, and has been an outspoken advocate on violence against women issues.

Johnson increased his office's focus on Native American issues. He worked the night shift with tribal police officers, conducted leadership training for Native American youth, and implemented a new state-wide community based prosecution strategy.[5] Johnson's focus resulted in an increase in prosecutions and a decrease in cases declinations. Some of his office's high profile prosecutions include a 17 person drug conspiracy in Pine Ridge[6] and Operation Prairie Thunder on the Standing Rock Reservation which resulted in drug charges against 17 individuals.[7] - Wikipedia

I will also be writing about Johnson's son soon.  I think they both make decent candidates but there can only be one.  With Rounds getting ready for an expensive campaign in a rural red state this early on, Johnson is going to have to make his decision soon.  Then again, this could shape up to be very similar to the 2012 North Dakota Senate Race.  With that race you had a highly funded big named, right-wing politician declared his candidacy early for Senate only to be defeated by a well known political moderate with the help of North Dakota's Native American vote who announced her candidacy a few months later.  

So in conclusion, yes retirement would free Johnson from outside groups pressuring him to vote against Obama's policies but Johnson and Obama are friends and if Johnson wants to retire, Obama will respect his wishes and give him his blessing.  But for now, Johnson has work to do and he knows what's at stake.  Can't blame him for wanting to take some time to seriously think this through.  

Originally posted to pdc on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 08:53 AM PST.

Also republished by South Dakota Kos, The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party, Climate Hawks, and Native American Netroots.

Poll

If Senator Tim Johnson (D. SD) decides to retire, who do you think is the stronger Democratic candidate to run for his seat?

58%23 votes
41%16 votes

| 39 votes | Vote | Results

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