Grand Junction citizens who attended the August 5, 2020 City Council meeting to promote racial justice and propose solutions were met with openly racist comments from Michael Anton, a local business owner and representative of the Western Colorado Business Alliance (WCBA), a subgroup the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.
The Chamber formed WCBA in 2012 to serve as the Chamber’s lobbying and political arm. WCBA is a 501-c-4 “dark money” group, so-called because it does not disclose its donors, but according to 2012 article in the Business Times, WCBA is funded by local business owners. In 2013, an anonymous former Grand Junction mayor told AnneLandmanBlog that WCBA was initially financed with a $50,000 donation from Doug Simons, owner of Enstrom Candies.
The social justice groups Right and Wrong (RAW) Grand Junction and Black Lives Matter (BLM) Grand Junction invited citizens who have felt discrimination locally to join them in an “Oppressed People’s March” to the Grand Junction City Council meeting at City Hall Wednesday evening to propose policies for Council to consider that would benefit minorities, like incentives for minority business owners and funding for the Latino Chamber of Commerce.
But in response to the groups’ presence at the meeting, WCBA member and local business owner Michael Anton made it clear that in his view, racial minorities were unwelcome in Grand Junction, stating in his public comments to Council:
“This RAW. This BLM. They need to go away. They’re not Grand Junction and you need to send them down the road because, believe me, there’s a lot more of me here in this valley than there is of you. I guarantee it and it will not be a pretty day if that comes forth.”
Anton was also the WCBA member who funded billboards thanking four of the seven members of City Council who recently proved to be most tone-deaf on race issues.
Chamber’s previous discrimination
This is not the first time the G.J. Chamber’s leadership has been linked to discriminatory actions towards people and member-organizations who they perceive to be different from themselves and their mainstream membership.
In May of 2013, Chamber President Diane Schwenke posted a joke that used using foul language on her Facebook page disparaging atheists. Even though Schwenke was made aware that her post offended area residents and business owners, she has never apologized for the post, the Chamber never publicly castigated her and has allowed her to keep her position as head of the Chamber, indicating tacit support for such sentiments, or at least they are willing to look the other way when their leadership disparages minority groups in town.
Hold different political opinions from the Chamber and you’ll get kicked out.
The chamber’s membership is encouraged to tow a narrow political line as well.
At a May 1, 2013 City Council meeting, then-Councilman Jim Doody told the audience he represents the City of Grand Junction at the Chamber’s meetings, and that only a single narrow political point of view is ever presented at their meetings.
As proof of that, we have seen dues-paying businesses and organizations that express political viewpoints that are not in line with the Chamber’s get ejected. In 2008, Ms. Schwenke personally kicked out the local environmental group, Western Colorado Congress (WCC), saying she ejected them because they had “competing philosophies” and were too political. WCC was a legitimate, dues-paying member of the Chamber.
Update: On 8/7/20, the Daily Sentinel reported that Michael Anton was asked to resign from WCBA because of his comments. The Chamber retains its close linkage to WCBA, however.