Mesa County’s dominant political party: the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce

Good morning, Diane Schwenke. And how was your weekend?

If you missed it, front and center in the Sunday Daily Sentinel was Charles Ashby’s article regarding the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce and its foray into local politics. Coupled with an editorial on important community and economic development questions a few days earlier, the Sentinel has, in recent days, offered an in-depth look at some basic questions regarding policy decisions and business.

It was more than a little gratifying to see repeated in the top left-hand corner of the editorial page what inquiring eyes have seen more than once at the bottom of that same page … the questions about perspectives regarding business and the community that have also been played back to me in many community conversations.

In my own space, you’ve read several times the lament that the chamber, once guided by the principle that what’s good for the community is good for business, now admittedly operates with the attitude that what’s good for business is good for the community.

That, I’ve argued, is more than a matter of semantics, something that’s been demonstrated very well as the chamber has evolved into as much a local political party as a business organization.

In the editorial, the Sentinel made an excellent case for government participation in projects such as the Avalon Theatre redevelopment, arguing persuasively that such investments have an impact in business and employment beyond the facility’s operating bottom line. The local economic equivalent, if you will, of the old “guns and butter” arguments regarding defense spending in another era.

And, in the process, the editorial reinforced the perspective that “what’s good for the community is good for business.”

Back now to the chamber as an emerging local political party. And, yes, I know the Western Colorado Business Alliance headed by my friend and fellow former JUCO host Mike Anton is legally (wink, wink) a separate organization.

How did it happen that the organization that was once an umbrella for differing opinions and a bastion of goodwill between businesses and their customers morphed into a “my way or the highway” entity seemingly indifferent to anything but the bottom line?

The same way, really, that the local Republican Party has become dominated by the kind of folks whose primary focus these days seems to be the ability to pack heat in public and openly break the law, with the knowledge and tacit encouragement of the Mesa County Sheriff’s office and the Grand Junction Police Department, on the courthouse steps on the Fourth of July.

That’s by allowing those with loud voices and forceful attitudes to dominate, whether in caucuses and county assemblies or in the chamber’s government affairs committee, while others with differing opinions either remain silent or opt out of the process. Gradually, those more belligerent folks take over leadership positions and change the course of the organization. Those more in the mainstream take cover and focus their efforts elsewhere.

That’s how, in the case of the chamber, you don’t even offer a longtime member, in the case of Harry Griff, the opportunity to roll an admittedly heavy rock uphill before announcing a stance on Brady Trucking.

And how it becomes OK for a chamber executive to hand-deliver the news that the Western Colorado Congress is no longer welcome as a dues-paying member and for the chamber to endorse for the state legislature an ineffective backbencher over a longtime member expected to become the speaker of the house.

I’m not particularly worried about the so-called “chamber-mades” on the City Council. If we can survive Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter, we’ll be all right long term, especially as new council members individually come to grips with municipal realities as opposed to group chamber-think.

What I am worried about, given experience as a local business operator and my involvement in local and statewide economic development efforts, is this: What happens to our community’s long-term economic prospects if we continue to present a business climate intolerant of dissenting opinions, insistent that the only bottom line has a dollar sign in front of it and single-minded in its politics?

Jim Spehar writes as a native of Grand Junction who’s had his feet in both business and politics in his hometown. Your comments are welcome at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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