Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Kansas Chamber’s motives tied to big business interests

6/25/2014

Endorsements often can serve as a useful way to quickly gain an understanding of a political candidate’s views without having to dig too deeply in contrast to his or her competitor. So, for example, if the National Rifle Association endorses a candidate that person might be assumed to be a strong Second Amendment supporter. Similarly if the Kansas Teachers’ Union endorses a candidate, then it is likely that person is a supporter of education.

Such recommendations, however, can send the wrong message if the organization or Political Action Committee isn’t candid about its criteria for endorsements.

Endorsements often can serve as a useful way to quickly gain an understanding of a political candidate’s views without having to dig too deeply in contrast to his or her competitor. So, for example, if the National Rifle Association endorses a candidate that person might be assumed to be a strong Second Amendment supporter. Similarly if the Kansas Teachers’ Union endorses a candidate, then it is likely that person is a supporter of education.

Such recommendations, however, can send the wrong message if the organization or Political Action Committee isn’t candid about its criteria for endorsements.

One PAC, the Kansas Chamber, states its endorsements as being for individuals committed to reducing government spending and growing jobs. Those are noble goals, though the interpretation of how to do it is more complex than just being “pro-business” or supporting the “tenets of free enterprise” or focusing solely on the “core business issues that impact the state’s economy.”

The Kansas Chamber seemingly is all about business, but candidates’ stances on some issues, such as wind energy and a number of non-business-oriented social issues have more sway than is warranted in the group’s endorsement selection criteria. It’s easier to understand such a group’s motives if you know who belongs to the organization. A list of the Kansas Chamber’s members, however, is elusive.

The organization’s board of directors, on the other hand, includes representatives from some of the largest — and sometimes controversial — businesses and industries in the state. Those board members, as shown on the organization’s website, include individuals from BKD CPAs & Advisors, Crossland Construction Company, Lawrence Paper Company, Murfin Drilling Co., Cerner Corp., Cox Communications, Kansas Speedway, Fidelity State Bank and Trust Company, Aetna, Health Dimensions, LLC, Sauder Custom Fab, AGCO, Hy-Vee Inc., Sprint Nextel, Aeroflex Test Solutions, HollyFrontier Co., AT&T, Frito Lay, Solomon Corporation, Century Link, ONEOK, McAnany, Van Cleave & Phillips, CBIZ MHM, Florence Manufacturing, Co., John Deere, Landoll Corp., NetStandard, Ash Grove Cement, Sunflower Electric Corporation, CrossFirst Bank, Zimmer Real Estate, Adecco - The Employment People, Polsinelli Shughart, Koch Industries Inc., Kiewit Power Group, Inc., Cessna, Kansas Gas Service, Goodyear, Jayhawk Plastics, Inc., Pratt Enterprises, Inc., American Eagle, Zurich Surety, Pickrell Drilling Co., Midwest Minerals, Cobalt Boats, Spirit AeroSystems, Inc., Hill’s Pet Nutrition, Bartlett Grain, Black & Veatch and Bartlett and West.

Noticeably absent from the list of 100-plus members are local chambers of commerce groups. Ottawa, like most chambers within the state, dropped its membership in the group years ago because the Kansas Chamber wasn’t aligned with local interests. This organization clearly is an advocate for Tea Party sentiments with an emphasis on big business and not the local mom-and-pop interests.

Its endorsements still might have merit, but the public should view them through the lens of the Tea Party’s big business’ desire for no government regulation and no taxes (in other words, what suits them best rather than what’s best for the general public). The Kansas Chamber’s proudly listed legislative accomplishments during the past year include: efforts against clean energy or renewable portfolio (wind) standards legislation; overhauling the workman’s compensation system; phasing out the franchise tax over three years and phasing out the business and equipment tax. All of those decisions took money away from city and county government, ultimately resulting in higher property taxes to offset the losses. Clearly big dollars are driving these decisions — often to the detriment of everyone else.

Wind energy would seem to be a pro-business decision generating jobs, however, the Kansas Chamber clearly has a narrow view of which businesses it wants to support — particularly petroleum-based ones. Those lawmakers voting against the energy standards will find a full frontal assault against them by the PAC — including the support of new Tea Party candidates with no business experience.

Don’t be fooled by easy labels. The Kansas Chamber doesn’t have anything to do with local chambers of commerce and doesn’t deserve the credibility the name suggests. Common sense legislation that helps businesses without also hurting property owners is better for all and ought to override any endorsements from suspect sources.

Jeanny Sharp,

editor and publisher

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