Earlier this month, Mark Johnson (Washington Retail Association VP of government affairs) and I attended the annual Washington Chamber of Commerce Conference where one of the most significant happenings was the discussion on organizing local chamber members to help with political issues. Our association has worked to establish our local political relationships through the chambers who have the best understanding of the local political environment. We travel to various chambers and give the key note luncheon speech, we share information with them by email for their newsletters, and on occasion we ask them to contact their legislator. We also support their efforts at the local level when an issue comes up that impacts retailers.
But the conference had a number of players asking for help at the local level. There was the Association of Washington Business which is launching a new grassroots program through the chamber, called the Grassroots Alliance. Retired Spokane Chamber President Rich Hadley has been hired to get the program off the ground. Among other things, they plan on providing government affairs training for staff and volunteers who want to set up a program in their chamber. They will have a password protected website for local chambers to access, and provide research on local issues. In exchange, the chamber will become a voice on top issues and provide key industry leaders to speak with authority on those issues.
It wasn’t long before another similar voice spoke up with the same request: the US Chamber, who has a regional representative assigned to develop the same program. Then another voice spoke up with the same request who represents ReadyNation, a business leader organization advocating for investments in children and youth.
When asked how many had a political action committee, less than half a dozen raised their hands. Chambers are involved in issues such as transportation, but most have not infused themselves into taking a stand on who their leaders should be.
We have seen an election that has shifted the landscape in this country and one of the key observations is that every local community has its role to play in the outcome of our country. Rural America played a significant role in the elections this year with their observation that it’s not just about what the big city wants.
I think that supporting local chambers continues to be one of the keys to creating a strong state that considers the concerns of every part of the state. I was glad to be a part of the event and to see a heightened level of discussion about how chambers can influence the health of the entire country, the state and the local level. All politics is local because that is where the opinion leaders live, work and play.
Jan Teague has served as the president/CEO of the Washington Retail Association (WRA) since 1998. WRA is the only association in Washington formed exclusively to advocate the unique interest of the retailing industry on state legislative and regulatory issues. Teague can be reached at email@example.com.