Shaping public policy legitimate chamber function

Much has been made in the aftermath of the latest municipal election of the efforts of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce to shape public policy.

Some claim there’s a nefarious plot afoot for the chamber and its newly formed Western Colorado Business Alliance to fill elected positions with its hand-picked candidates and then exert control over local government — sort of like a Grand Valley Illuminati. Perhaps Dan Brown can write about the chamber in his next novel.

The Grand Junction City Council went so far as to vote to withdraw city membership from the chamber. Of course, two of the four council members who favored dropping chamber membership were incumbents who’d just lost to challengers endorsed by the chamber. Jim Doody, another council member who pursued the move to withdraw from the chamber said he views the chamber’s increasingly proactive efforts as a “conflict of interest that poses ethical concerns.”

Consider, though, the fact chamber endorsement doesn’t guarantee the success of a candidate, much less the subsequent voting record of those who are elected. In the contentious municipal election, Duncan McArthur received the chamber endorsement in District E and still lost to Harry Butler, who famously didn’t spend a single dime on his campaign.

Moreover, there’s a much larger issue at stake here. The chamber has a right to try to shape public policy as much as any other group or individual. And given its mission to advocate on behalf of businesses, active participation in policy deliberations and elections is an essential function. That’s not a conflict of interest. That’s the whole point, isn’t it?

While we don’t march in lock step with the chamber on every issue, we couldn’t agree more in this case with Diane Schwenke, president and chief executive officer of the chamber. As Schwenke told the Business Times for a story in this issue, it’s not enough to just take positions on public policies. Effective advocacy also involves supporting those candidates who’ll actually listen to the chamber and the broader business community. Some of those candidates who offer the best understanding of what businesses need are, not surprisingly, business owners and managers themselves. And some of those have been involved in the chamber.

We suspect that what’s been expressed as outrage or put forth as a conspiracy theory is actually surprise over the efforts of a local business organization to fight on behalf of the interests of the members it represents.

While we’ve all become used to the machinations of environmental groups and labor unions, we’re less accustomed to business groups taking stands on policies and endorsing candidates. We expect businesses, especially small businesses, to keep on struggling in the face of not only economic, but also regulatory, challenges and to suffer in silence. Given the stakes involved, that’s not likely to continue.

While ribbon cutting ceremonies and networking soirees are nice, shaping public policy constitutes a legitimate core function for the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce. More power to the chamber as its continues to advocate on behalf of an essential part of this community.

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