Sunday, July 12, 2015

How Will Chamber of Commerce's New PAC Affect Las Cruces?

Recently I noticed a puff piece on the Chamber of Commerce's political plans. The piece looked at first as if it were a newspaper article, an appearance which may or may not have been intentional, but it was pure rah-rah Chamber stuff. Headline: “Why it is imperative to support pro-business candidates, policies.”

“What's good for business is good for the country.” That phrase is most deeply associated with Presidents Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge and the 1920's speculative stock-market madness that brought us the 1929 Crash and the Depression that followed.

Doesn't mean the phrase can't be true sometimes; but does mean we oughtta take that kind of thinking with the proverbial grain of salt, or maybe half a shaker.

The Greater Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce and its associates want to return Las Cruces and the County to a situation where when businesses say “Jump!” city officials ask “How high?” Toward that end, a three-year plan to run candidates, a new PAC, etc.

I'm for neither jumping on that bandwagon nor shooting out its tires sight unseen. Call me an interested bystander, eyes open.

The Chamber claims its political policies would increase jobs and pay, and help the local economy generally. But what does the record show?

Organ Mountains / Desert Peaks National Monument: studies and logic indicated that the new monument would likely have at least a marginal positive affect on the local economy, as monument declarations have done to varying degrees elsewhere. The Chamber opposed this positive step for the local economy, apparently based on ideology rather than facts.

Studies vary widely, but the consensus of economists seems to be that raising the minimum wage has little effect on the overall economy but tends to do more good than harm. Chamber opposed this step.
A better-educated work-force seems to be a major point on corporations' wish-lists when locating a factory. (So does quality of life, such as the Monument and other items.)

El Paso Electric is currently seeking a rate increase. It's not in the interest of citizens or small businesses here. Haven't yet heard the Chamber's position on that.

Thus it seems fair to wonder whether the Chamber's real policies even link up with its goal to improve the economy. (It seems the Chamber is against positive steps it doesn't happen to like, such as monument or higher minimum-wage, but in favor of those that it finds otherwise convenient. The determining factor isn't “does it help the economy?” but does Chamber leadership approve?)

Meanwhile, there are also a host of value judgments our citizenry must make that place “improving the economy” among other laudable goals such as improving equality, improving the quality of life here, protecting the environment, providing necessary services to the poor and the elderly, and conserving water.

Improving the economy is important – but may not be the top priority in all decisions. For example, the drought (and the changing climate) will force on us some very tough decisions. Even businesses may have to sacrifice. Difficult choices choices require recognition of business as one important factor, but just one. These include: public safety and health as against economy and convenience in construction; and the relative responsibilities of developers and public in many situations.

We should also note that some Chamber leaders had some involvement in the recent effort to recall city councilors (for reasons that kept shifting when none of the allegations worked very well). That effort, which ultimately failed, was one of the most cynical, destructive, and fraudulently-operated political efforts I've ever seen. Gotta hope it doesn't predict future political behavior by the Chamber's new PAC.

[The column above appeared in the Las Cruces Sun-News this morning, Sunday, 13 July, and will appear on the KRWG-TV website later today.]
[This morning I'd like to feel optimistic, maybe because our desert has received a bunch of rain this week.  I'm hopeful the Chamber and its candidates and its PAC will wage a fair, honest campaign on the issues.  But I'd be a bit more optimistic if Chamber leaders would disavow what has gone on here recently, including the recall effort.]
[I should soften one point in the column: the Chamber's opposition to the higher minimum wage, while probably misplaced, isn't self-contradictory in the way that some other positions, like opposing the Monument, have been.  First of all, reasonable economists disagree on the probable overall results for the economy; and, secondly, even if the higher wage is better for the overall economy, the negative impact on businesses might be felt inordinately by small local businesses, rather than by big-box chains well-positioned to absorb a bit of extra expense.  Thus while I disagree with the Chamber leaders, I probably ought not to accuse them of contradicting themselves on that one.]
[And I do still think the publication ought to have made it clearer to readers that this was advertising, not news.  Apparently the Chamber gets a section every so often; and regular readers probably recognize it for what it is; but in better publications usually there's some clearer statement that such material is advertising.]

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