Mesa County citizens: Have you had enough of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce’s overbearing political antics, fake programs and bullying and intimidating of citizens? Do you need a pet groomer, mechanic or CPA? Plumber electrician or dentist? Do you want to vote with your wallet and avoid patronizing businesses that belong to the chamber when you do your holiday shopping this year? Check out the large and growing list of businesses that do not belong to the Chamber now posted at GJChamber.info. It now contains over 500 businesses, the majority of which are truly locally-owned small businesses, so the money you spend at these places will stay in our area, rebound many times over and really help boost our local economy: List of Non-Chamber-Member Businesses
On October 16, the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel reported that front range billionaire C. Edward McVaney had donated substantial funds to the three local “tea party” candidates in the District 51 School Board race: Patrick Kanda, John Sluder and John Lowenstein. The candidates admitted they didn’t even know who McVaney is, but took the money anyway. Soon after that report, the Sentinel revealed in a follow-up article that McVaney’s money came with strings attached: the candidates were told to spend the funds on the campaign consulting services of Mark Baisley, who also lives and works on the front range. So who is Baisley? He is vice chair of the Colorado Republican Party, and a Republican strategist and PR guy. A post on Baisley’s Facebook page reveals he believes that politics boils down to God versus Democrats, for one thing. But even more interesting to locals should be a post on his page dated September 22, which appears to have been written by Linda Gregory, Chair of the Mesa County Republican Women (McRw).
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell, a Republican, said on Face the Nation that Republican claims that “Voter ID” laws are necessary to prevent abuse of the voting process are specious. Gen. Powell said there is “nothing documented” to indicate voter fraud is a problem and that “nothing substantiates” the existence of widespread voter fraud or abuse. Gen. Powell said these laws were created to “slow the process down” and make it harder for Hispanics and AFrican-Americans to vote. He said he wanted to give Republicans the benefit of the doubt when they say they want to improve the voting system, “but when they start to say, ‘let’s restrict the number of voting hours or make it harder for students to vote,’ then I have to get a little bit suspicious of it.” Former Secretary Powell had a message for his fellow Republicans: “The country is becoming more diverse. Asian-American, Hispanic-Americans and African-Americans are going to constitute a majority of the population in another generation. You say you want to reach out, you say you want to have a new message, you say you want to see if you can bring some of these voters to the Republican side. This is not the way to do it. The way to do it is to make it easier for them to vote,” Powell said. “…And then give them something to vote for that they can believe in. It’s not enough just to say, we have to have a new message. We have to have a new substance to that new message.” Powell further remarked that the new Republican laws that make it harder for minorities, young people and seniors to vote are “going to backfire” on the party.
Source: CBS News, August 25, 2013
Members of Grand Junction, Colorado’s “Rein in the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce” Facebook group have unveiled a new website to educate business owners and the public about citizens’ grievances against the Chamber. The site, GJChamber.info, asserts that many of the G.J. Chamber’s actions have hurt local citizens and businesses, and are contrary to citizens’ interests. The site’s pages have titles like “What’s Wrong with the Chamber?,” “Misguided Priorities,” “Bigotry and Intimidation,” “Overbearing Political Involvement,” “The Brainard Debacle” and “Chambermades.” The site provides links to published articles and other references to substantiate information on the site. The group created the site as one-stop shopping, a single place that local business owners can go to find out exactly why the Chamber has drawn the wrath of so many people and businesses in town. They hope that after perusing the site, Chamber member businesses will better understand the issues and consider leaving the Chamber, and that people who have less knowledge of the controversies surrounding the Chamber will be better informed. The group will also promote the site to new business owners so they can get up to speed on the political furor surrounding the Chamber before deciding to join. The site also contains a directory of non-Chamber businesses, to make it easier for people to choose where they want to shop. There are already over 100 businesses on the list. If non-chamber businesses want to be listed on the new site, or if a current Chamber member quits and wants to be listed, they can contact the group through the website and ask that their business be added to the list.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) held its 40th annual meeting earlier this month at the Palmer House Hotel in Chicago, drawing a crowd of about 3,000 protesters. ALEC is a conservative bill mill that masquerades as an educational nonprofit. ALEC holds meetings in tony resorts and at fancy hotels, where it provides corporate lobbyists with face time with thousands of state legislators over dinners, happy hours, tennis, golf and other activities. Corporate representatives draft the “model bills’ they prefer, and at ALEC meetings, hand them off to legislators, who then take them home and introduce the bills in their own state legislatures as if they were their own ideas. The public is not allowed to weigh in during any phase of the drafting of any of ALEC’s so-called “model bills.” The prime sponsor of ALEC’s 40th annual meeting was tobacco giant Reynolds American, who ponied up $100,000 for the honor. $50,000-level sponsors include ExxonMobil, the Cigar Association of America, Inc., Peabody Energy, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, a front group for coal companies. Other sponsors include CenturyLink, UPS, Pharma, Cloud Peak Energy, TransCanada and BNSF Railways. ALEC is responsible for the proliferation of “Stand Your Ground” laws, the type of law that permitted George Zimmerman to kill Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African-American Florida teen, and get away without any punishment. About two dozen states how have such “shoot first” laws. Many protesters at ALEC’s Chicago meeting wore hoodies and with targets on their chests and backs that said “Stand Your Ground.” Activists unfurled huge banners inside the Palmer hotel that said “ALEC makes For-Profit Prisons,” “Moral Monday – NO to ALEC” and “ALEC Attacks All Workers.” The peaceful protest turned violent after Chicago police rushed into the crowd and started arresting people and beating them to the ground. Photos of the protests can be seen here.
Grand Junction citizens protested in front of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce yesterday morning. The group, Rein in The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, represents citizens who are angry about the Chamber’s controlling involvement in City politics. In 2012 the G.J. Chamber, under its president, Diane Schwenke, seized control of council after it formed a 501(c)(4) “social welfare” organization that raked in donations from deep-pocketed business owners and spent historically huge amounts of money to get Chamber-selected candidates elected to city council. Prior to the Chamber’s direct involvement in local politics, no city council candidate had ever spent more than about $3,400 on an election. This year, Chamber-backed candidates spent an average of $11,000 each. A recent feature article in the local paper, the Daily Sentinel, revealed that the G.J. Chamber is spending huge amounts on lobbying compared to similarly-sized chambers around the state, and that at $133,930, G.J. Chamber President Schwenke’s compensation package far exceeds the compensation her peers earn at similar-sized chambers around the state.
Grand Junction citizens breathed a huge sigh of relief yesterday morning after hearing the news that convicted criminal Rick Brainard had formally resigned from the City Council, effective immediately. In his official one-page resignation letter, Brainard said he felt unappreciated, that he is not a violent person, that he became disillusioned with City Council in part because an unnamed Council member had passed an angry note to him filled with underlining and exclamation points, that expressed irritation at how he had voted. Brainard said he has “reconnected” with his former live-in girlfriend, Cindy Franzen, the woman to whom he had given a black eye, that he has “reorganized his priorities around her,” and he speculated that “maybe its time for some new scenery.” TV news cameras showed a large RV parked in the driveway of his home, apparently being loaded up. But Brainard wasn’t done after sending that letter. He also sent a much longer version of his resignation letter to the Grand Junction City Manager, who in turn passed it on to Council. Brainard really spilled his guts in that letter. He named yet another Chamber of Commerce-backed Councilman Marty Chazen as the angry note-writer, and told Mayor Sam Susuras that “Your behavior upset me so much that I am writing this letter today.” Brainard also castigated the press and media over their coverage of his assault and his subsequent events, which he said “lacked integrity,” and then he wrote the following to the citizens organizing to recall him, a group that, incredibly, he referred to as the “Re-Elect Rick Brainard Crowd”:
(To) The Re-Elect Rick Brainard Crowd: You are welcome. But be perfectly clear on this, my
stepping away has NOTHING to do with you. My comments here should be taken to
heart and you should seriously reflect on them as you move forward. You may want to
consider getting some counseling of your own. I have learned a lot about a topic from my
councilors that I knew nothing about previously, I think my counselors Dr. Saul
Tompkins and Patrick Mills for their advice and direction. You guys are wonderful. But
for this group that couches their behavior in the support of Domestic Violence victims.
Yet, when they produce a web site two thing ring very true. First, there is not a single
reference or link to a domestic violence resource. Does that seem odd? It does to me. It
suggests that you have gotten so caught up in being the bully that you forgot your
mission. Second, clearly you have become the bully, just flip through the pages and you
will see that. Again, I suggest you take a little of your own medicine and learn about your
own behaviors and how to best deal with them. Patrick Mills can certainly help if you
need a resource, he is amazing. The bottom line is this, I have reached out to you using
every means I know to do so engaging you to talk to me, actually get to know me and
learn that I agree with your Domestic Violence mission and wanted to use my position on
City Council to be your advocate. But you were not interested, because it diminished the
fun of being the bully. I’m sorry, but the best way for me to take the wind out of your
now poorly directed sails is to take myself away from you and point out to everybody
else how you have lost your way.
It is unclear what Brainard will do next.
The Grand Junction, Colorado Daily Sentinel on July 21 published a scathing expose’ of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce’s recent activities that have citizens in an uproar. The Chamber, once seen locally as a respected and helpful institution, in recent years has started engaging in hard-core political activity, and spending plenty on it. In 2011, the G.J. Chamber spent a whopping $74,000 of members’ money on lobbying expense. The next closest comparable Colorado Chamber of Commerce that spent anything at all on lobbying was the Montrose Chamber, which spent just $2,000. The Sentinel also revealed that G.J. Chamber president Diane Schwenke’s compensation far exceeds that of her counterparts at comparable Colorado chambers. In 2011, Schwenke made $133,930 in salary and benefits. Her next closest counterpart made just $112,477. Most of the other presidents of comparable chambers made well under $100,000/year in combined salary and benefits. The G.J. Chamber’s headlong dive into hyper-political activity has led to a backlash among citizens, who have started boycotting Chamber-member businesses. In many citizens’ eyes, the G.J. Chamber stepped out of bounds after it formed a secretive political group, the Western Colorado Business Alliance, that takes in unlimited money and spends unlimited funds to get Chamber-backed candidates elected to local office. The Chamber did exactly that in the last City-wide election, only to have one of their winning candidates, Rick Brainard, get thrown in jail four days after the election for beating up a woman. Brainard pled guilty to assault on May 17. Throughout his legal travails, Brainard has refused pressure from citizens to resign from Council, and will soon cost City taxpayers $50,000 for a recall effort. Making matters worse, the Chamber continues to back Brainard, making Grand Junction the first city in Colorado to allow a freshly-convicted criminal sit on its Council. Former G.J. Chamber member Harry Griff of the law firm Griff, Larson Laiche & Wright, told the Sentinel he quit the Chamber after being a member for 25 years, calling it “a very, very exclusionary group.” Another business owner, Marilyn Charlesworth, also quit the Chamber over it’s unwelcome political activity, calling it a “little boy’s club.” Other businesses to quit include the CandyTime Shoppe, Pablo’s Pizza and the Hot Tomato in Fruita. New businesses in town are also opting not to join the Chamber due to the firestorm of controversy surrounding the organization. Citizens who are outraged at Chamber activities are boycotting Chamber-member businesses and using Facebook to organize, share strategies and share names of businesses that belong to the Chamber and those that do not, or to name who recently dropped their membership. For its part, the Chamber’s leadership remains completely unapologetic. In response to a question Sentinel reporter Charles Ashby posed about whether the local backlash is having any impact on the Chamber’s decision to get more political in the future, Chamber president Diane Schwenke responded that yes, it’s had an impact, but only to the extent that it will make the Chamber try to become even more effective at its political involvement in the future.
Source: Grand Junction, CO Daily Sentinel, Politics and Business, by Charles Ashby, July 21, 2013 (NOT behind a paywall!)
The campaign to recall Rick Brainard from Grand Junction City Council is on the move. Area citizens volunteered their time Saturday evening July 19 to attend the first of many signature gathering trainings to be offered in preparation for the Brainard recall effort. Brainard, who sits on the Grand Junction City Council, pled guilty to assaulting a woman just four days after being elected to Council, but cannot be pushed off Council because the court considers his crime a misdemeanor. Under the City’s charter, a council member must be guilty of a felony to be administratively removed from office. The one hour training was held in downtown Grand Junction at the Historic Melrose Hotel on Colorado Ave., which offered a cozy space, iced tea and lemonade for the first wave of eager, soon-to-be petitioners. Many participants brought previous signature-gathering experience to the table, and shared strategies and innovative ideas to boost the effectiveness of signature-gathering efforts. The NoBrainard recall campaign says time is on it’s side, and organizers are taking time to lay the necessary groundwork to guarantee a successful signature gathering effort. Citizens who want to join the effort can be empowered to gather signatures by attending one of the many upcoming such trainings. For information on the dates and locations of upcoming trainings, visit the recall website, NoBrainard.com, and click on either the “News and Events” or “Volunteer” tabs.
By any measure, former Grand Junction Mayor Bill Pitts is a stalwart of the community. A licensed private pilot and resident of Grand Junction for over 50 years, Pitts turned down several lucrative promotions offered to him by his former employer, a big security firm that sold safes, in order to move to and stay in Grand Junction. His company offered him a position supervising sales over the entire west coast, and he turned it down. Later he turned down another big opportunity to manage sales over the entire U.S. midwest region from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico. “This is the best place in the world to live,” Pitts says. “I’ve been in every state and over 21 countries, and there isn’t any place better than Grand Junction.” Married for over 50 years and a true booster of the community, by his own calculation Mayor Pitts put in 3.2 days per week into doing City business for the paltry sum of $700 a month, and he did every last duty his mayoral position called on him to do, no matter how small. “Anytime someone asked me to do something extra, give a graduation speech or whatever, I did it, no matter what,” Pitts says. Pitts is also a creative guy, having invented six different useful items that are currently on the international market. One is commonly used locally here in western Colorado: those plastic covers with magnetic edges that you slap over swamp cooler vents inside the house in winter to keep out the drafts. Pitts is also an accomplished businessman who began several local businesses from the ground up and sold them off. One is Security Alarm Company, which he sold to former City Councilor Bruce Hill. Pitts also started the campground and RV park at 22 and H Roads. As a realtor and developer, he started the Fountainhead subdivision at G Road at 25 Road. Pitts was also an active dues-paying member of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce for over 44 years. He helped start Dinosaur Days, was active in Chamber Rangers and other Chamber programs. Mr. Pitts is also a lifelong Republican, and in addition to regularly paying membership dues to the Chamber, he also was a regular donor to the Mesa County GOP.
Bill Pitts is the quintessential, dyed-in-the-wool, patriotic, community-loving Republican Grand Junction resident. But at the May 1, 2013 City Council meeting he announced that after 44 years, he was withdrawing his membership in the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce. He also has stopped giving money to the Mesa County GOP.
The Rick Brainard debacle — the ongoing saga of the newly-elected Grand Junction city councilman who pled guilty to criminal assault minutes before being sworn in as a City Councilman May 6 — has led to greater scrutiny of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce, the group responsible for foisting Brainard onto the local political scene.
In the decades before Brainard, to the people who even noticed it at all, the Grand Junction Chamber was generally regarded as a well-meaning force in town. Becoming a member of the Chamber was a rite of passage and a feel-good move for businesses, and a way to show support for the community. The Chamber, a long-standing organization incorporated in Grand Junction way back in 1915, typically engaged in helpful and uncontroversial activities like recruiting volunteers to help tutor elementary school kids in reading and promoting its “Blue Band Buy Local” program aimed at keeping local dollars in the area. The Chamber weighed in on policy matters like taxes and fees, but it’s influence wasn’t out-sized. Its political activity stayed in check in part because its 501-c-6 IRS designation limits the amount of lobbying it can engage in. Because it was a relatively helpful, low-key organization, it had few enemies.
All that changed in 2012, when the Chamber stopped being satisfied to simply weigh in on policy issues like every other nonprofit group in town. Suddenly the Chamber started acting like the sober person in the car who needed to seize the wheel from a drunk. The Chamber decided it needed to force its will upon citizens by actually becoming City Council. In 2012, the Grand Junction Chamber turned ruthlessly competitive, devised a winner-take-all strategy, then stacked the deck to make sure it got what it wanted: total control of City politics.
A new YouTube video features big-name stars and historical figures soliciting public support for Private Bradley Manning, the military whistleblower who turned over a classified U.S. military video made public by WikiLeaks called “Collateral Murder” that shows an airstrike in Baghdad in which the U.S. targeted two Reuters war correspondents after mistaking their cameras for weapons. U.S. forces killed one of the journalists and injured the other in the strike. After a van appeared and unarmed people emerged and tried to carry the wounded correspondent to the van, the U.S. helicopter crew repeatedly begged for permission to open fire on the van and its occupants. Permission was granted, and U.S. forces killed the surviving correspondent and wounded two children who were sitting in the van’s front seat. Manning also turned over footage showing similar war crimes in Afghanistan. For exposing the truth about U.S. military actions in Baghdad and Afghanistan, Manning was imprisoned in solitary confinement for three years and charged with “aiding the enemy,” a capital crime. Manning’s trial is currently ongoing, and the prosecution is seeking a life sentence for Manning. The video is a project of the Bradley Manning Support Network.
House Republicans passed symbolic legislation aimed at further restricting women’s ability to obtain an abortion nationwide — legislation that stands no chance of surviving the Senate, and that the President has vowed to veto. This week House Republicans voted to limit women’s right to obtain an abortion until the first 20 weeks after conception. Republicans passed the measure even though they know it is illegal because it defies the Supreme Court’s 1973 Rowe vs. Wade ruling that says women can legally obtain abortions up until the time a doctor deems a fetus is viable, or can live outside the womb, generally around the 24th week of gestation. Rep. Trent Franks (R-Arizona), who brought the bill, initially did not include any exceptions for rape or incest, saying in a committee hearing that that was because “the incidence of pregnancy from rape is very low.” Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), defending the bill, in a crazy statement went even further, saying he felt abortions should be restricted to 15 weeks, because that’s the point at which male fetuses can put their hand between their legs and “feel pleasure.” And Republicans’ war on women doesn’t stop there. In Wisconsin, Republicans just passed a bill that will force women seeking abortions to obtain medically unnecessary ultrasounds first. It also requires doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of the clinics in which they work, a provision that will shut down at least one Planned Parenthood clinic in the state. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says he will sign the bill. Similar bills have appeared in states throughout the union. In fact, banning abortion is almost all Republicans have been working on with any vigor in the last few years. The number of bills brought to restrict abortion in various ways has skyrocketed in the U.S. since 2010, limiting the rights of women all over the country.
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.”
At the Wednesday, May 22 Grand Junction City Council meeting, citizens took advantage of the public comment period to speak out about their feelings about Rick Brainard sitting on Council. Brainard pled guilty in Mesa County Court May 17 to a charge of third degree assault for hitting his live-in girlfriend in the face hard enough to cause a black eye and facial bruising. The assault took place just days after he was elected to the Grand Junction City Council. The Grand Junction Chamber of Commerce backed Brainard as a candidate, and has continued to support him despite the assault, angering citizens. John Williams, an artist and author who lives in the 7th Street historic district and writes about Grand Junction, spoke to Council and said his family has lived in Grand Junction for 50 years, and he knows a lot of people in town. Williams said many citizens are upset about Rick Brainard’s presence on Council and have called for him to step down. “You’ve heard a lot of people in town,” Williams said. Citing Mr. Brainard’s guilty plea in court, he spoke directly to Mr. Brainard told him he “should be a man and step down” from Council.
State Representative Juan Mendez of (D-Tempe) made history May 22 by giving the Arizona state legislature’s first secular invocation in place of the body’s usual morning prayer. Rep. Mendez began by asking legislators not to bow their heads as they usually do, but instead to take a moment to look around the room “at all the men and women here, in this moment, sharing together this extraordinary experience of being alive and dedicating ourselves to working toward improving the lives of the people in our state.” He then cited the challenging debates, moments of tension and ideological division and frustration legislators experience, but asked his colleagues to focus more on what they have in common than on their differences. He concluded by quoting Carl Sagan. Afterwards, Rep. Mendez came out as a non-theist at a press conference. As he spoke to the press and media, a group of people stood behind him holding signs that said, “One in Five.” Rep. Mendez pointed out that one American in five, or 1.3 million Arizona citizens, choose not to affiliate with a religion.
Grand Junction, Colorado City Councilman Rick Brainard pled guilty in Mesa County Court today to misdemeanor third degree assault for pushing and striking his former live-in girlfriend, Cindy Franzen, in the face April 6. Mr. Brainard’s attorney, Stephen Laiche, tried to enter a no contest plea on the charge, but Judge Craig Henderson said he would only accept a charge of “guilty” or “not guilty.” After conferring briefly in the hallway with Mr. Laiche, Mr. Brainard agreed to plead guilty. Mr. Laiche, trying to get as much leniency from the judge as possible for Mr. Brainard, indicated that Mr. Brainard did in fact lose his job at West Star Aviation as a result of this assault incident and the surrounding publicity. Mr. Laiche called Mr. Brainard as “a 51 year old man without a job.” During the court session, the Assistant District Attorney handed the judge an 8 1/2 x 11,” close-up color photo of Ms. Franzen’s face taken shortly after the attack, showing her blackened left eye and bruised face. The judge held the photo up several times for the court to see during the hearing.
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.