The little-known, seedy political arm of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, the Western Colorado Business Alliance (WCBA), has appeared again in Grand Junction, this time funding a billboard praising four sitting Grand Junction City Council members who recently earned the reputation for being the most tone-deaf when it comes to racism: Philip Pe’a, Duke Wortmann, Phyllis Norris and Kraig Andrews.
Pe’a was the councilman who was so threatened by what he claimed was the presence of G.J. Police Department’s “swat team” at the June 3 Council meeting that he proclaimed he thought he might need to bring his Glock handgun into the meeting. That was the meeting that was attended by a crowd of City residents who showed up to protest pervasive racism they had seen or experienced in Grand Junction, or to support friends who had experienced it.
Grand Junction’s Police Chief later confirmed there were no SWAT team members at the meeting that day.
Councilman Duke Wortmann focused his condemnation at the meeting on expletives some City residents used while discussing their experiences with racism in town, instead of focusing on the problem of the racism itself. Wortmann also gained notoriety as the guy on Council who lobbied to get Kraig Andrews appointed to a vacant City Council District E seat on Council in July of 2019 by of citing as an asset — of all nutty things — Andrews’ “diversity,” even though Andrews is yet another middle-aged, conservative white male of the same type who have dominated Grand Junction’s City Council since time immemorial.
Phyllis Norris is known for her general downplaying of racism in Grand Junction.
What, exactly, is Western Colorado Business Alliance (WCBA), and what has their track record been like?
WCBA is a 501-c-4 dark money “social welfare” group formed by chamber president Diane Schwenke in 2012 to interfere with Grand Junction City Council elections. It’s called a “dark money” group because it doesn’t disclose its donors. Rumors at the time it was formed were that the owners of some of the biggest businesses in town — all chamber members — donated tens of thousands of dollars to WCBA to aid the Chamber’s effort to seize control of City Council in 2013.
It was likely the case, because that year WCBA pumped tens of thousands of dollars into influencing the races for city council, to try to get more “tea party”-leaning candidates onto Council.
In 2013, WCBA poured an unheard-of amount of money in G.J. — about $10,000 — into electing West Star Aviation executive Rick Brainard to City Council. Brainard won the seat, but just four days after he was elected he was arrested by the GJPD for punching his girlfriend in the face so hard it turned the entire side of her face black and blue. In his official police affidavit, Brainard didn’t just admit to slugging his girlfriend. He told the GJPD he HAD to do it because she “needed to shut her mouth.”
Public anger and disgust erupted in town, but the Chamber and WCBA continued to steadfastly support their protégé, Mr. Brainard, through all of it. The Chamber refused to condemn Brainard’s assault or suggest he should step down from Council and save citizens the hassle and cost of a recall election. In fact, the Chamber and WCBA continued to support Brainard even after he pled guilty to assaulting his girlfriend in open court.
The Chamber and WCBA also backed changing the name of North Avenue to “University Blvd.” and the construction of an events center downtown — two initiatives that went down in flames. Other failed projects they backed included the Brady Trucking proposal (“jobs and trails” that never materialized after voters approved it), large-scale gambling in Mesa County, and the 2015 Riverside Parkway Zig Zag Project that was opposed by every business owner on 25 Road.
These are the same people who put up the billboard thanking the most racially tone-deaf members of the Grand Junction City Council and, by elimination, intentionally dissing the three members of Council who have been far more sensitive to the issues of racism raised in Grand Junction, namely Anna Stout, Chuck McDaniel and Rick Taggart.