Chamber politics

This month’s Chico Chamber of Commerce publication, Business Monthly, reports CHICOPAC, the chamber’s political action committee, is changing its focus. “CHICOPAC will no longer make independent expenditures on behalf of candidates for public office,” the paper says in its lead story. Instead the PAC will concentrate on business issues. It will, however, still make candidate endorsements, though they will be made by a two-thirds vote of the board of directors instead of a separate group of individuals who used to make up the PAC. Chamber CEO Jim Goodwin has long defended CHICOPAC’s involvement in local politics, pointing out that the chamber and the PAC were two different entities. Now, I guess they are not. CHICOPAC was formed in 1998 and was immediately criticized because the chamber comes before the City Council each year to ask for community funding. And it always gets the lion’s share of the available money—in recent years that share has topped $100,000. The council, of course, is made up of the same elected officials CHICOPAC either endorses or doesn’t, and it seems it would take a super-human politician (or a super-stupid one) not to be bothered by the connection.

Over the years we’ve heard a lot of chamber members grumble—some, including the Sierra Nevada Brewery and the League of Women Voters, quit the organization—because of the chamber’s foray into politics. Then, last year, Goodwin ran the pro-Otterson Drive bridge campaign right out of the chamber offices. And once again, not all the chamber members shared Goodwin’s hearty enthusiasm to build a bridge into Hegan Lane Business Park. We suspect these sorts of things caused the chamber’s board to re-evaluate the chamber’s political involvement and maybe try to pull back on the reins a bit. Still, now that the board will decide whom and whom not to endorse, the chamber is also asking for “a voluntary contribution” that can “be included on the annual dues invoice mailed to members on their anniversary dates.” The chamber board says it wants to serve as the chamber members’ political advocate.

The local chamber probably hopes to lobby against labor laws like some of those passed last year, which the state Chamber of Commerce opposed. These new laws are many and include: the paying of prevailing wages on projects funded with government loans or grants (like restoring the Senator Theater tower); increases in workers’ compensation benefits; and allowing employees to take sick leave to care for ill family members. That’s not all. In a direct insult to the English language, a business can no longer escape a lawsuit if it tries to limit or prohibit the use of any language in any workplace. In other, words, no longer can a boss yell, “Quit speakin’ that Mexican talk, there, José!” and have any hope of enforcing that edict. It gets worse. An employer can no longer discipline an employee for conducting lawful activities outside of work! And perhaps the most heinous: Employers must now provide places other than toilet stalls for lactating women to pump breast milk or else allow them to do so at their work stations. You gotta wonder: How much longer can America stay open for business?

It’s both upsetting and sad to see KHSL and KNVN morph into a single news station. Upsetting because, as consumers of television, we the public are getting short-changed. It’s long been held—maybe even mentioned in the Federal Communications Commission bylaws—that television stations merely lease the airwaves that carry their broadcasts. Those airwaves are owned by the public; that’s you and me. So in a sense our renters are ripping us off by providing less but still occupying the same number of airwaves. It’s like a renting out two apartments to the same family but getting paid for only one. And this is sad because the decisions leading to the consolidation of the two stations are being made across the country in Connecticut, while the good folks at Channels 12 and 24 are forced make the best of what they are given. You can see it in the faces right there on your TV set. I imagine the faces behind the cameras are just as forlorn. They say it’s a matter of survival, that the changes are necessary in order to survive. Maybe. But TV news should not be held to the same capitalistic standards as TV entertainment and thus expected to help turn profits for the stations. That’s just not right.