Local AK chamber joins departures from US Chamber

September 18, 2011 - 11:05 AM

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — The chamber of commerce in a picturesque and quirky Alaska town is dumping its affiliation with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce over the national organization's right-leaning platforms.

The decision by the Homer Chamber of Commerce is good news for Carri Thurman, co-owner of Two Sisters Bakery in the fishing community of 5,000. A former member, Thurman left the local group out of frustration over its affiliation with the U.S. Chamber, particularly the national organization's "politicizing" against climate change legislation. Now she's ready to rejoin her peers.

"I plan on taking them a bouquet of flowers and congratulating them on their choices," she said.

Homer is not alone. Other local chambers around the country have parted ways or distanced themselves from the U.S. Chamber over its Republican-friendly objectives on hot button issues including global warming and health care. Apple Inc. resigned its membership, and Nike Inc. left its position on the national organization's board over the climate change issue.

Some U.S. Chamber of Commerce critics also object to what they see as multimillion-dollar support for Republican candidates and lobbying for the Republican agenda.

The U.S. Chamber says its positions and endorsements are based on what's best for businesses and job creation, not on party affiliations. The organization, which maintains a "Myths and Facts" sheet on its website, says it has more than 300,000 members and represents the interests of more than 3 million businesses and industry associations, and state and local chambers.

North Carolina's Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce resigned from its membership in late 2009. Chamber president Aaron Nelson said some members assumed his group was aligned to the national chamber's positions. For that reason, it was getting harder to recruit and retain members.

"What was happening on the national level was not things our local members wanted," Nelson said.

The Homer chamber's executive director encountered the same attitudes when he took over the helm in June.

Monte Davis has lived in Alaska for nearly four decades but is new to Homer, which bills itself as the halibut fishing capital of the world. The town is a popular tourist attraction known for the Homer Spit, a 4 ½-mile long gravel bar extending from the shoreline that surrounds the harbor boat dock and holds a collection of restaurants, tourist shops, adventure booking shops, halibut cleaning stands and the Salty Dawg Saloon with its distinctive lighthouse tower. Homer is also known as an artist community and launching point for remote nature destinations. A popular bumper sticker calls the community, "A quaint little drinking village with a fishing problem."

Making the rounds, Davis found a handful of local businesses that refused to join the chamber because of its affiliation with the U.S. Chamber, even though the national group is not a parent organization of local or state chambers as some believe. Davis brought up the issue before the Homer Chamber's board of directors, who had addressed the idea before but retained membership. In their August vote, the board decided to sever ties with the U.S. Chamber.

Davis is writing a letter to the U.S. Chamber about the membership resignation. He said it is an economic decision as well. The Homer Chamber was paying $450 in yearly membership dues and losing paying members of its own. But to his way of thinking, the U.S. Chamber is a lobbying group for big business.

"From a purely commerce point of view, you know, it didn't make sense for us to belong anymore," Davis said. "It doesn't behoove us to be a member of that organization anymore. They certainly do not represent the interests of small towns, small businesses and individuals."

The U.S. Chamber does not base its positions or endorsements along party lines, but on what is most beneficial to businesses, said spokesman JP Fielder.

The chamber is not against clean energy, but to barriers blocking responsible development and global competiveness, an element the organization has not seen in climate-change legislation, Fielder said. As for endorsements, the chamber has supported Democrats as well as Republicans, he said.

"We're looking at candidates and where they stand on business issues. On the policy front, we're looking at how policies will have an impact on U.S. businesses," he said, noting the huge banners that spell out the word "JOBS" outside the chamber's Washington, D.C. headquarters. "Everything that happens in this building is focused on economic growth, and in turn jobs."

Among supporters is the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce in Colorado, a founding member of the U.S. Chamber, which was created in 1912 on the impetus of President William Howard Taft.

Colorado Springs Chamber president Dave Csintyan said his group is aligned with the national organization in some areas, such as support for small businesses, but not in others. Because the U.S. Chamber is not a parent organization, there's no imperative to have high alignment with it, he said.

"We do not wake up every day checking in with where the U.S. Chamber is on certain things," he said. "What we work locally is sometimes totally disconnected with where the U.S. Chamber may be in the issues they're working. But there are equally many, many touch points that are valuable to us and they are a great resource for our organization and for our communities."

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Online:

http://www.homeralaska.org/

http://www.carolinachamber.org/

http://www.uschamber.com/

http://www.coloradospringschamber.org/