Sacramentans in D.C.

Jeff vonKaenel

Although he did not have any time at the podium, the person with the best understanding of the 44th annual Sacramento Metro Chamber Cap-to-Cap event in Washington, D.C., was Shakespeare. Not being a government official or an economist or even alive, William Shakespeare had no opportunity to explain that “All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.”

For the last six years, I have joined business owners, elected officials, government employees, nonprofit administrators and others in this annual trek to the nation’s capital, where we make the case for Sacramento. We explain why our region should receive more federal support than other regions.

For instance, we argue that we should get first priority for federal flood-protection money, because we have more people at risk than any other region. Or we explain that Sacramento is an excellent place to test out innovative energy-saving programs, because we have both a forward-thinking utility company, SMUD, and a top-notch research university, UC Davis.

But before we make our case, we have to first go through some self-examination.

In a very sophisticated process, the Metro Chamber has 14 different teams examine various policy matters such as air quality, clean and green technology, flood protection, health care, innovation and more. Each team develops position papers, which are reviewed by chamber leadership. Then, in Washington, the 14 teams, armed with well thought-out position papers, meet with government officials.

The diversity represented by the teams creates a big tent where Republicans and Democrats, environmentalists and global-warming doubters, labor and business all come together and hammer out their differences. Since the position papers have been well researched, and since they are backed by a wide variety of different groups, the Cap-to-Cap members can make an effective case for why Sacramento should receive special recognition. While the chamber is a business organization, in the past it has done a good job representing all of Sacramento.

Speaking as a member of the chamber’s 2014 Community Development team, I personally was disappointed that this year our position papers on homelessness and the Affordable Care Act, and pathways to employment were rejected. In past years, I believe they would have been accepted.

Many chambers across the country—and certainly the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—deny that climate change is real, are against health-care reform, do not care for the poor and do not support transparency in politics. I have supported the Sacramento chamber because I believed it was different. I fear the current chamber leadership is moving the organization toward a more traditional, less progressive model. I believe this will hurt both the Metro Chamber and Sacramento.

If all the world is a stage, I like playing the role of a Sacramentan in Washington. But I believe the chamber leadership should be concerned with all of our citizens, not just the ones who own businesses.

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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.