GJ Chamber’s political efforts aren’t unprecedented or inappropriate

If you thought the past-due resignation of an embattled member of the Grand Junction City Council would quench the cauldron that is politics in the G.J. these days, hold the phone. There’s a replacement to pick, and recriminations to print and reprint. This saga isn’t over yet.

To read the telling of it over the last several days, you’d think it was the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce that committed an act of domestic violence.

As most readers know, the Grand Junction chamber raised and spent money on behalf of a slate of City Council candidates last spring through a separate organization made up of chamber members.

All but one of those candidates won.

One of the winning candidates, to the disgust of everyone, committed an act of domestic violence after the election.

Ergo, Dianne Schwenke, head of the chamber, is the devilllllll.

Ergo, too, all of the candidates that the chamber supported are bought-and-paid-for stooges of the devillll.

On the matter of whether Schwenke is, in fact, Satan, my strong hunch is that she is not. Schwenke does play hardball, and that can be immensely irritating when she’s not on your side. Trust me, I know better than most.

But Schwenke guides an organization with a viewpoint. She runs a chamber of commerce, the job of which is to promote commerce, and when a chamber experiences unreasonable interference from elected leaders in the flow of commerce, it is the chamber’s right to say so.

A chamber that refuses to engage in political matters might as well re-organize as a coffee klatch.

The comical fallacy in all this is that the chamber’s overtly political behavior is unprecedented or inappropriate.

The Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, essentially the statewide chamber of commerce, interviews and endorses candidates every election. It, too, has a separate arm called a political action committee, through which it supports candidates and causes.

This fall, virtually every chamber of commerce, trade group and nonprofit in Colorado will be asked to get political and endorse a $1 billion tax increase for schools.

Thus far, the largest contributor to the effort to pass the massive tax increase is the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union.

It turns out that liberal groups also raise and spend money on behalf of causes and candidates in which they believe.

Take, as further example, Tim Gill, a billionaire and gay-rights activist, who promised to raise and spend whatever it took to defeat legislative Republicans if they killed the civil-unions bill last year. They did and he did.

This is America. When politicians do things that citizens or groups of citizens don’t like, it is their right to do and say something about it.

This inevitably invites a conversation about campaign finance, which is a fair discussion to have. But while we do, can we dispense with the Polyannish pretense that the involvement of a local chamber of commerce in a local election is somehow unprecedented or tawdry?

Which brings us to a discussion about the council vacancies, and how they should be filled. The great thing about politics is its inevitable ebb and flow. Some days you have a strong hand to play, and some days you don’t.

These days, because of the actions of its former colleague and the backlash that ensued, the hand of the City Council is decidedly not strong.

Given that, the smart move for the council now is tactical retreat — call an election, and let the voters fill both vacancies.

It won’t stop the carps from carping, but, who cares? It would be a powerful show of good faith to the sensible types in town.

If the council takes this road, the chamber should unabashedly support the candidates that share its viewpoint. Some will agree, others complain, and the voters will decide. In other words, the system will work exactly as it should.

Josh Penry is a former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.


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This is the Josh Penry I want to read.

The Chamber only put up a slate and supported them. The voters elected them and bear responsibility for the ensuing dysfunction. The interests of business and city residents aren’t always incompatible, but a purely business perspective can represent limited thinking, not just limited government.

The coming year will be illuminating, and I hope Penry continues to comment.

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