Candidates know it well: It’s the economy, stupid

Given the stubbornly slow recovery in Mesa County and elsewhere in the United States, it’s hardly surprising business development and job growth remain the predominant campaign issues in races for everything from the courthouse to the White House. As a strategist of former President Bill Clinton put it so eloquently way back in 1992: “It’s the economy, stupid.”

But even as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney ratchet up the rhetoric in the presidential contest, it’s at least equally important to find out what the candidates for the Mesa County Commission and Colorado Legislature have to say about businesses and jobs. The recent candidate forum hosted by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce was particularly instructive.

Most of the candidates running for two empty seats on the county commission and two seats in the Colorado House of Representatives touted their credentials as small business owners, including efforts in running a farm, a construction firm and a law practice. Tim Menger, a Libertarian running in House District 54, went out of his way to praise entrepreneurs even though his own experience as a business owner was short-lived.

It’s an important perspective for those running for elected office to have also run a business and to know from personal experience the hard work and sacrifice required in signing the front of a paycheck instead of just the back.

Candidates for both the commission and State Legislature also touted their positions on issues affecting businesses and were asked directly what they’d do to promote job growth. Their answers reflected some differences in what they see as the role of government in that task.

Rose Pugliese, a Republican running for the county commission in District 3 put it bluntly: “What we can do is stay out of the way of business.” Pugliese said she’d work to limit county regulations that hinder hiring. There’s already been substantial progress in that regard under the administration of the three current commissioners.

Ray Scott, a Republican running for the Legislature in House District 55, advocated the same approach and proposed a measure reducing state regulations across the board.

But other candidates offered other ideas. Jana Bingham Gerow and John Justman, commissioner candidates in District 1, said they’d work closely with local chambers and economic development organizations to promote job growth. John Leane, a third commissioner candidate in District 1, proposed a detailed plan that includes efforts to increase tourism, create a county “concierge” for business development and dole out cash bonuses for businesses that increase staffing.

Rather than get out of the way of business, David Edwards insisted there’s an important role for government in encouraging business development and job growth. Edwards, a Democrat, faces Pugliese in the District 1 race.

Dan Robinson, a Democrat running against Scott in House District 55, offered a novel idea: reduce the time the Legislature spends in session and use the savings to offer low-interest loans to business. Robinson also suggested summer seminars at Colorado Mesa University for baby boomers and seniors as a way to increase tourism.

Clearly, candidates realize the importance of business and economic issues to their success of their campaigns. Now it’s up to voters to do the same in making their choices.