The most amusing quote in a recent Salem Reporter story by Troy Brynelson came from the outgoing CEO of the Salem Area Chamber of Commerce, Nick Williams.
Departing CEO Nick Williams said community debates are more heated than he can recall.
“I’ve been fortunate to be in this work for a little over six years and I’ve never seen it this divided before, which is unfortunate because at the local level we should be able to disagree knowing we’re going to bump into people at the grocery store,” he said. “I think the overarching theme is the way we seem to have lost our civility.”
Gosh, community debates in Salem are heated!?
Hmmmm. I wonder if maybe, just maybe, Nick Williams should have looked in the mirror when he wonders who is to blame for a large share of the red hot rhetoric. Let's count some of the ways the Chamber of Commerce has contributed to a rise in Salem's incivility.
(1) The Chamber has been highly political in recent years, much more so than the Chambers of Commerce in other Oregon cities.
(2) The Chamber set out to take control of the Mayor's office and City Council in 1998, succeeding in kicking out progressive leadership in an electoral coup that lasted until recently.
(3) The Chamber has been a big backer of a controversial new bridge across the Willamette, disregarding plenty of evidence that this would be a Billion Dollar Boondoggle.
(4) The Chamber habitually endorses Republicans running for public office, even though Salem is a decidedly liberal city.
(5) The Chamber does its best to buy City Council seats.
But maybe things are changing with a new Chamber of Commerce CEO coming on board, as discussed in the Salem Reporter story, "Tom Hoffert says he will emphasize partnership as Salem chamber's new CEO." Hoffert is quoted:
Leading the chamber offered the civic involvement he said he has been looking for. He iterated in talks with Salem Reporter that businesses, employees and all else are “interlinked” in local issues.
“For me everything drives back to community partnership. The business segment is your citizenry as well, it’s not a whole different segment of the community,” he said. “They’re your neighbors, your employees or employers.”
True. I just wish it hadn't taken so long for the leader of the Chamber of Commerce to recognize this obvious fact. It seems crazy for the Chamber to have taken such strong hard-right political stances when, as noted above, Salem citizens lean liberal.
Why would a business organization choose to antagonize more than half of the population? When did supporting business become a monopoly of Republicans/conservatives? Plenty of business owners, of both large and small enterprises, are Democrats/liberals.
I think incoming CEO Hoffert would be wise to tone down the political heat at the Salem Chamber of Commerce and focus instead on what a chamber should do: further the interests of businesses.
Which means, arguably, that if the Chamber is going to take a political stand (which I don't think it should), it should set out to elect Democrats, as I discussed in a 2016 blog post.
Democratic leaders tend to be better for the economy. Today the Statesman Journal reported that Oregon unemployment hit a record low in March, 4.5%.
State employment economist Nick Beleiciks said in a release that the jobless rate shows the Oregon labor market is "stronger than it's been in decades." Beleiciks said people are "flocking to Oregon's labor force."
Oregon has a Democratic Governor and Dem majorities in both the state Senate and House. If liberals have been good for the state economy, why does the Salem Chamber of Commerce only favor conservatives for Mayor and City Council?
Likewise, on the national level the economy does much better when a Democrat is president.
“The U.S. economy not only grows faster, according to real GDP and other measures, during Democratic versus Republican presidencies, it also produces more jobs, lowers the unemployment rate, generates higher corporate profits and investment, and turns in higher stock market returns. Indeed, it outperforms under almost all standard macroeconomic metrics.”
So another question is, if liberals have been good for the national economy, why does the Salem Chamber of Commerce favor conservatives for Mayor and City Council?
Well said, Brian. What we got when the Chamber ran the city was crony capitalism. Developers and homebuilders (and by extension realtors) got whatever they wanted. That caused Salem to grow in some very unsustainable ways. That needs to end now. Nick Williams will be best remembered for leading the campaign that defeated a very modest transit payroll tax with a negative, mendacious campaign. Talk about lack of "civility." He set the standard for that.
Posted by: Jim Scheppke | December 28, 2018 at 09:30 AM