Alaska Town Leaves U.S. Chamber, Citing Politics

fromKBBI

The Homer, Alaska, Chamber of Commerce has withdrawn its membership from the National Chamber of Commerce. Businesses in the small fishing village say the national Chamber does not represent their concerns about taxes or climate change. Only a handful of cities, such as San Francisco and Chapel Hill, N.C., have done likewise.

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And let's talk now about people opting out of a partnership with an industry giant. Business people often join their local Chamber of Commerce to network with others in business and have a voice in local politics. But in recent years some large corporations, like Nike and Apple, have left the national Chamber of Commerce. They are unhappy with the Chamber's outspoken political positions on things like climate change and credit card reform. And some local Chambers of Commerce have also left the national organization. The latest is the Chamber of Commerce in the tiny fishing town and counterculture haven of Homer, Alaska.

From member station KBBI in Homer, Aaron Selbig reports.

AARON SELBIG: Two Sisters Bakery is bustling as usual on a sunny weekday afternoon. Even though most of the summer tourists have gone, the place is still a popular spot for coffee, fresh-baked bread and seafood dishes. Two Sisters owner Carrie Thurman is in the back of the bakery.

A few days ago, Thurman renewed her membership with the Homer Chamber of Commerce after a two-year lapse. She had decided to let her membership go because she didn't want to belong to an organization that was tied to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's agenda.

CARRIE THURMAN: They seem to support a very right-wing stance on business and government and social issues. And my business and my beliefs don't necessarily reflect that.

SELBIG: So she went to the Homer Chamber with her concerns. Executive director Monte Davis was already frustrated with the U.S. Chamber. The national organization had ignored warnings from Homer that its activities were out of touch with many small-town Chambers of Commerce.

MONTE DAVIS: You know, these guys spend a lot of money on TV saying that we represent, you know, the Chambers of Commerce in your area and here's what we feel like ought to happen. And the Homer Chamber has several times written letters to them saying take this ad off the air in Alaska. That is not our point of view.

SELBIG: When Davis presented the issue to his board of directors, it decided that bringing Two Sisters Bakery and a few other businesses back into the fold was more important than maintaining a relationship with the U.S. Chamber.

DAVIS: They don't represent us. They don't represent our community. They certainly don't do things politically that I think most people in Homer would agree with.

BILL MILLER: I would respectfully disagree with that, but every state and local Chamber make their own decision based upon what's best for them and their members.

SELBIG: Bill Miller is a senior vice president for the U.S. Chamber. A big part of his job is trying to find consensus on sticky political issues among the more than 1,800 state and local Chambers of Commerce that have national membership. Miller acknowledges that a handful of local Chambers have defected from the U.S. Chamber in recent years, but he says they are the exception.

MILLER: Because of the activist legislative agenda that has come out of Washington over the last couple of years, we have seen more Chambers of Commerce at the local level participating with the U.S. Chamber.

SELBIG: As an example of that, Miller points to Mobile, Alabama; Bakersfield, California, and the state Chamber in Pennsylvania. He says those Chambers - unlike Homer - will now have a louder voice.

MILLER: The irony is that by disassociating, they no longer have an ability to help influence policy.

SELBIG: Back at Two Sisters Bakery, customer Jennifer Norton is sipping coffee while working with a friend. Norton applauds the bakery's decision to take a stand.

JENNIFER NORTON: I think it's important for an organization that is trying to be inclusive to respect the opinions of many if they're trying to represent many.

SELBIG: The bakery owners believe they did the right thing. They sent flowers to the Homer Chamber of Commerce and plan to host a social event for the chamber in February. For NPR News, I'm Aaron Selbig in Homer, Alaska.

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