When chamber endorsements cross party lines

Don Heinzman
ECM Editorial Contributor 

For years I’ve encouraged local chambers of commerce to take stands on local political issues. Yes, even endorse candidates.

Local policy-making boards look to their chambers as representing the voice and concerns of business – like the local sign ordinance, zoning issues and school board tax levies.

I believe chambers should endorse good candidates to carry their message to the Minnesota Legislature and help get important matters passed.

The Twin West Chamber of Commerce, with 900 members representing 10 western suburbs, is one of those politically active chambers.

They are big pushers of light rail for the Southwest Corridor, believing it will relieve traffic congestion, stimulate new business and get their employees to work.

Some heavy hitters in the chamber support light rail. They include Carlson Companies and General Mills.

Naturally I read Star Tribune editorial writer and columnist Lori Sturdevant’s excellent column on how the Twin West Chamber snubbed two DFL newcomer candidates who didn’t get the chamber’s blessing even though they both favor the Southwest light rail the chamber wants.

Both have impressive business credentials. Melissa Franzen from Edina, running for the Senate, is governmental affairs chair for Target Corporation. She’s opposed in the contest by Keith Downey, a Republican.

Yvonne Selcer, running for a House Seat in Eden Prairie, was known as a fiscal hawk on the Hopkins School Board. She’s opposed in the race by incumbent Republican Kirk Stensrud.One might think that her profile would appeal to the chamber.

Alas, two Republicans, Downey of Edina and Stensrud, were endorsed over Franzen and Selcer.

Could it be that these two newcomers failed to get the endorsement because they are both DFLers?

Perish that thought, says their governmental affairs chair Judy Johnson. Johnson says proudly that of the 17 endorsed candidates three are DFL incumbents. Of the 17, three of the newcomers are Republicans.

Johnson disputes even the thought that the chamber might be favoring Republican lawmakers. She says, the chamber doesn’t follow the party line; it has a pro-business line.

The two lines just might be one.

Looking back on the endorsement interview, Selcer says she may have lost the nod when she said that the state has both a revenue problem and a spending problem.

Come to think of it though, the Republican Party line is: the state has only a spending problem.

Don Heinzman is an editorial writer and columnist for ECM Publishers, Inc.