Should the Sacramento Metro Chamber flex its political muscle?

Jeff vonKaenel

The honchos at the Sacramento Metro Chamber want to flex their political muscle.

At his inaugural speech, incoming chamber president and Five Star Bank CEO James Beckwith told the overflow, black-tie requested, Sacramento Convention Center crowd that the chamber of commerce should play a bigger political role in Sacramento. He encouraged the membership to give generously to the chamber’s PAC fund. Over the last two years, under the leadership of former Republican Assemblyman Roger Niello and his longtime political ally Dennis Rogers, the chamber has steadily become more politically active.

Is this a good idea?

I am a member and strong supporter of the Metro Chamber. The chamber does important work that benefits the business community and the community at large. Its many successful events, such as the Dinner & Business Awards, provide avenues for business networking. The Metro Edge program connects younger members through networking, empowerment and giving back to the community. The annual Capitol-to-Capitol Program sends hundreds of Sacramentans to Washington, D.C., to make the case for federal investment in Sacramento. And the Next Economy project brought together leaders from government, business and nonprofits to strategize ways to create jobs and economic growth in our region.

Metro Chamber members have a wide variety of political viewpoints, but they have been able to work together on these many important efforts. As opposed to the California or the United States Chamber of Commerce, individuals who disagreed about political issues could work comfortably together under the nonpartisan umbrella. But now, that could all change.

The recent Metro Chamber’s ill-advised backing of the leapfrog 8,000-home suburban Cordova Hills development project is a perfect example of how playing politics will split the chamber. Among the chamber’s members there are environmentalists, green businesses and progressive developers who are trying to build environmentally friendly infill urban-housing projects. While the Cordova Hills project may be good business for a small group of developers, it is certainly not an issue that will unite the chamber.

The dangers of a politically active chamber have been demonstrated by the California and United States chambers. The California Chamber of Commerce’s active role in opposing Gov. Jerry Brown’s election did not help California businesses. The United States’ chamber has promoted a political agenda for energy companies, pharmaceutical businesses and the health-insurance industry. It denies the reality of climate change and defends our unworkable health-care system, all for the benefit of a few big donors. It is a national disgrace. Unlike these organizations, the Metro Chamber is an important business and community asset.

There is nothing wrong with business leaders being engaged in the political process. There are plenty of organizations and campaigns that will happily accept their money. If Roger Niello and Dennis Rogers want to get back into politics, they should, but they should not take the Metro Chamber with them.

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About the Author

Jeff vonKaenel
Jeff vonKaenel is the president, CEO and majority owner of the News & Review newspapers in Sacramento, Chico and Reno.