Two days after Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce President Diane Schwenke made her May 5 Facebook post insulting atheists, a YouTube video shows her speaking at a May 7 Mesa County Republican Women’s luncheon with life-sized cardboard cutout of Ronald Reagan beside her. About 8 1/2 minutes into the 22 minute video, Ms. Schwenke starts to talk about the City of Grand Junction’s withdrawal of it’s $6,000 annual membership in the Chamber. (Recall that the City withdrew its membership in the Chamber after the April election saying the Chamber had become too deeply involved in influencing local politics. The City pronounced it a conflict of interest to fund a group that is dedicated to influencing City politics.) The crowd tittered as Ms. Schwenke trivialized the $6,000 loss, saying since her budget is over $600,000, and the City’s membership represented a mere “one percent or less” of her overall operating budget. Schwenke discussed how the story of the City yanking its Chamber funding had made her a star. “KKCO managed to get the story on the AP wire and the story made the Columbus, Indiana television station,” Schwenke said. “I had one of my peers in California ask me if I would do a presentation about what it’s like to stand up to the city and have your funding cut. We aren’t funded by the government,” she emphasized, yet in the same talk she thanked Mayor Sam Susuras and Council member Marty Chazen — both backed by the Chamber — for restoring her $6,000 in City funds immediately after they were sworn in. And despite the Chamber’s disastrous backing of Rick Brainard for Council — even after he was arrested just days after getting elected for assaulting his girlfriend badly enough to give her a black eye — Schwenke said, “We have elevated the need for qualified candidates …and I think that in and of itself is good for the community at large.”
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As if the Rick Brainard debacle didn’t offend enough people for the embattled Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, now Chamber president Diane Schwenke has offended the local secular community with an anti-atheist post on her personal Facebook page. Ms. Schwenke says in her post that she finds this nasty joke “just too good not to share,” so I am sharing it with all of my readers.
Is it ever appropriate for the president of a Chamber of Commerce to attack a minority group like this? Is it more politically safe to attack atheists than it is to attack, say, Jews, Mennonites, Latinos or African Americans? To make matters worse, the G.J. Chamber continues to get public funding from the City of Grand Junction, which pays $6,325/year (updated in 2017) to be a member of the chamber at the highest level. A larger screenshot of Diane Schwenke’s Facebook Page with her joke along with her statement of affiliation with the Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce can be seen here.
Local candidates usually tout their endorsements by the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, but the Chamber’s long track record of endorsing deeply flawed candidates shows that candidates should run from a Chamber endorsement as fast as they can, or at least politely decline it.
Observation of the Chamber’s endorsements going back a decade reveals that the Chamber does not evaluate candidates based on criteria like experience, background, education, knowledge or qualifications to hold office. Rather, the Chamber only considers a candidate’s political and religious ideology before endorsing them, and nothing more.
This extraordinarily narrow criteria has resulted in a flawed process that has proven detrimental to our community many, many times over.
The unchecked community spread of Coronavirus, high number of hospitalizations and rising deaths from Covid-19 in the county has led the Mesa County Commissioners to finally issue a press release Nov. 13 urging all Mesa County residents to wear masks whenever they patronize local businesses, avoid close contact with others and avoid indoor gatherings. The release is headlined “Commissioners encourage community members to wear a mask.”
The Commissioners are now putting their support behind an all-out effort to raise awareness of the public health emergency the virus is causing in our community, get people to take the situation seriously, keep local businesses afloat and help our area avoid more mandatory closures.
Here is the Commissioners’ statement:
A registered nurse openly begged the Mesa County Commissioners to make a statement telling people they need to wear masks when patronizing local businesses, maintain physical distancing and strictly avoid gatherings, to help rein in the area’s skyrocketing Covid-19 infection rate.
Benita Phillips, R.N., B.S.N., a retired Veterans Administration nurse, spoke to the commissioners in the public comment period of their Monday, 11/9 meeting (video, @ 1:02). Phillips spoke after Mesa County Public Health Department Executive Director Jeff Kuhr told commissioners about the dire situation the county faces from the ongoing uncontrolled spread of the novel Coronavirus. Dr. Kuhr told commissioners that last Saturday the county reached its highest new Covid case count in a single day: 180.
Lauren Boebert such a terrible Republican candidate for CD-3 that the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce has refused to endorse her.
You have to understand how the Grand Junction Area Chamber works in order to fully grasp how momentous this non-endorsement is.
Even the Tea Party Chamber doesn’t like Boebert.
Under Diane Schwenke, its president of the last 30 years, the G.J. Area Chamber in 2012 became a politically far right wing tea-party group that portrays itself as a champion of small business, while they actually put their political effort into lobbying for the big businesses that pony up their highest membership fees of $7,000/year.
This makes for some weird actions by the Chamber.
The Chamber has endorsed criminals for city council, they’ve endorsed people who can’t write a coherent sentence for school board, and they even endorsed a dental hygienist for Drainage Board who’d lived here 2 years, moved here from San Diego and couldn’t tell a drainage ditch from an irrigation ditch over a candidate who’d served on Palisade Town Council for 8 years, been mayor pro-tem, sat on the 5-2-1 Drainage Authority Board, sat on the Colorado Municipal League’s Executive Board for 6 years, had attended seminars on wastewater management and subscribed to periodicals about drainage just for fun. Why? Because the lady from San Diego opposed a fee the drainage district sought to fund much-needed updating of the valley’s troubled, outdated drainage system.
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.”
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.
At election time we’re always told the same old thing from wealthy business interests: “Ballot measure X is going to wreck our state! Ballot measure X will crush our businesses and cost hard working Coloradans thousands of jobs! Vote NO on Ballot Measure X!”
Now they’re doing the same thing with Proposition 112.
In an op-ed in today’s Daily Sentinel, the paper blames KeepNorth4Ever — the citizen group lobbying to keep “North Avenue” from becoming “University Boulevard” — for turning the issue into an “imbrolgio,” saying they failed to pay adequate attention to local government. The op-ed also blames KeepNorth4Ever for “sowing division” in the community by their activities.
The paper’s narrow, sour-grapes style viewpoint misses the bigger picture and places blame when instead plaudits are due.
The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce is driving the effort to rename North Avenue to “University Boulevard.”
Oh, boy. Here we go again.
This proposal is just another one in the chamber’s long track record of pushing ill-fitting projects onto Grand Junction citizens, whether they like them or not. The chamber’s proposals typically range from unpopular to disastrous and almost invariably go down in flames. The promises they make about their proposals’ costs and outcomes often contain misinformation, too. So who can blame people for not supporting yet another one?
The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce is squarely opposed to protecting Colorado residents’ safety when it comes to oil and gas operations, and is demonstrating this by siding with oil and gas companies in an ongoing court case filed by Colorado children who feel their health, safety and the environment are threatened by overly permissive drilling and fracking activity.
On Thursday, November 17, members of Grand Junction Cannabis Action Now (GJCAN) turned petitions in to the City containing 3,300 signatures to get a proposed ordinance (pdf) on next April’s citywide ballot to bring marijuana commerce back to Grand Junction.
The group needs 2,254 valid signatures for the proposal to advance.
The City has ten days from the day the petitions were turned in to validate the signatures, making November 27 the deadline for the city to declare whether the goal was met. City Clerk Stephanie Tuin says they are working now to validate the signatures, and says they actually validate each signature turned in.
If GJCAN has submitted enough valid signatures to get the measure on the ballot, City Council will get an opportunity at its January meeting to approve the petition’s wording and adopt the ordinance as-is. Council’s other option, if they are still too afraid to address the marijuana issue themselves, is to send it to the April ballot for a vote of City residents. Either way, by its inaction on the marijuana issue, Council has missed it’s opportunity to weigh in on the matter and left it to City residents.
That’s probably just as well, though.
Diane Schwenke, the CEO of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, said at a meeting at Main Street Bagels this morning that the chamber’s board hasn’t even discussed or considered the possibility of bringing retail marijuana commerce to Grand Junction as a way to boost the local economy.
Schwenke made the statement after being asked about the chamber’s position on retail marijuana, which over the last two years has proven to be one of the biggest economic drivers in elsewhere in the state.
In a subtle but stunning rebuke, the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce has quietly declined to endorse Scott Tipton (R) in his bid this year to win re-election as Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District’s House Representative. In its 2016 Voter Guide (PDF), the chamber endorses candidates in other races, but for the first time it does not endorse Tipton.
The chamber has endorsed Tipton ever since he first ran for Congress in 2010, and maintained its support of the tea party favorite throughout the years, until now.
This year, no endorsement. Zero. Zip.
The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce is working hard to defeat Amendment 70, which would raise Colorado’s minimum wage to $12 and hour by 2020. Part of its opposition involves chamber president Diane Schwenke running TV ads against the measure in which the chamber claims “90,000 Colorado jobs” would be lost if the measure passes.
Who is “Dr. Fruits”?
The chamber’s “90,000-jobs-lost” figure comes from “Eric Fruits,” of “Economics International Corps.” Fruits is a part time economic consultant who works out of his home and also works part time as an adjunct professor at Portland State University (PSU).
Adjunct professors, also called “contingent professors,” are not tenured. They are typically low-paid, part-time contract workers who rank below “assistant” and “associate” professors. Adjuncts typically don’t receive any health insurance or other benefits through their workplace and are often paid less than pet sitters.
Colorado’s Amendment 70, if it passes this November, will gradually raise the state’s minimum wage to $12.00 an hour by 2020. Some people wonder, if we pay people a higher minimum wage, where will the money come from?
The money comes from either a businesses’ profits, or its debts. But raising the minimum wage doesn’t necessarily mean customers will pay higher prices for goods and services. To the contrary, a number of real-life examples show that rock-bottom pay and benefits don’t necessarily translate into lower prices. In fact, stingy wages often prove even more costly.
Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce President Diane Schwenke has been appearing on TV in ads opposing Amendment 70, which would increase in Colorado’s minimum wage to $12 and hour by 2020. The western slope has among the lowest per capita income in the state (pdf), and among the highest rates of homelessness, poverty, suicide and hunger. The ads reinforce the chamber’s longstanding reputation of opposing the best interests of area workers and their families, and continues its long-standing record of lobbying to keep area wages extraordinarily low compared to the rest of the state. The ads also reinforce the chamber’s image as an elite club that lobbies for wealthy business owners and out-of-state member corporations, while neglecting the needs of the rest of the community.