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Local group should abandon U.S. chamber

The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

When an Aspen Skiing Co. executive spoke up at last month’s Aspen Chamber Resort Association board of directors meeting to explain why the local business organization should sever its ties with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, his plea seemed to fall on deaf ears.

A few Aspen chamber leaders spoke of a willingness to discuss the matter further at the board’s late-April retreat. Some board members indicated that they wanted to do more research on the national organization’s support for conservative candidates and lobbying efforts against climate change and health care reform. But no one, save for Aspen Mayor Mick Ireland, agreed with Skico Senior Vice President Dave Perry that the time for the local chamber to distance itself from the national chamber is now.

“I think that our affiliation, even though small, with that organization is not in line with our principles and our values in this community,” Perry said. “Personally, I think the very fact that we’re affiliated with them is embarrassing.”

On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with Aspen chamber board members wanting to take more time to study the matter. But the issue of whether to remain involved with the group didn’t just arise last month – or last year, for that matter. It’s been a cause for concern at least since the fall of 2009, when the board approved a resolution by a 12-2 vote opposing the national chamber’s stand against climate-change legislation.

Board members who believed the resolution was hasty said the group’s members should have been surveyed first. It took more than two years to conduct such a poll, and the results showed that 77 percent of the local membership (the response rate for the survey was about 11 percent) preferred to remain connected with the national group.

Perhaps the rank-and-file of the local chamber haven’t looked into the matter as thoroughly as the board members who passed the resolution a few years ago. Perhaps there is a sizable disconnect between the average chamber member and the board. Perhaps Perry and Ireland stand apart from their board cohorts in pressing the issue, and no one is quite sure whether to follow their lead. Questions abound, and the answers weren’t exactly flowing inside the chamber’s meeting room at The Gant last month.

What is more clear, judging by national media reports over the past few years and the U.S. chamber’s own position statements, is that the national group is led by ultraconservatives who oppose the mere concept of man-made climate change. Oil and gas companies, their lobbyists and others can continue to rail against so-called liberal environmental policy – or bury their heads in the sand – but climate change no longer is considered a fringe theory. It’s been deemed fact, supported by an overwhelming majority of the world’s scientific community.

The national chamber’s position in that area, as well as its support for elected officeholders and candidates whose views are at odds with the Aspen community on this crucial issue, seems to beg for local action. It’s a bit of a mystery as to why the local chamber board, and the members on the whole, appear reluctant to take a step forward in supporting Perry and his company. The very essence of the area’s economic well-being is dependent on finding solutions to the problems surrounding climate change. It’s a no-brainer.

We trust that the local chamber’s board members will take this issue seriously during the upcoming retreat. That the national group provides a measure of meaningful training to local chamber officials and staffers is not germane to the discussion, in our view.

In the meantime, we’d like to suggest that the rank-and-file do more research into the national group’s political leanings and activities with the goal of providing more input to the board on how to tackle the matter. The future of Aspen, as well as winter resort destinations around the globe, is at stake, and no one can afford to bury their head in the sand any longer.


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