Elections Reflections Part Three: Did the Torrance Chamber of Commerce Fail the Local Business Community?
Did the Torrance Chamber of Commerce fail the local business community with their endorsements in this past election? Admittedly, having not been an active participant within the Chamber and only having cursory knowledge of their activities, I am probably not the proper person to answer that question. That said, participating in the Chamber endorsement process did cause me to wonder how satisfied the business community was with their representation as I found their endorsements quite perplexing. The Public Safety endorsements made a lot of sense in that they endorsed those most likely to protect their interests. I’m not so sure the same could be said of the Chamber. The Torrance Chamber markets itself as an organization that, “supports the interests of business before government.” With the imminent departure of Torrance’s largest employer, supporting business has likely never been as important in Torrance as it is now.
Shortly after my endorsement interview with the Chamber and only a few days prior to Toyota’s announcement I had an e-mail exchange with an influential member of the endorsing committee. The topic was how we could improve the business climate and the comment to me was:
“The problem we face is that we have had some very, very liberal left representatives locally …the SUPER MAJORITY in Sacramento is extremely far left in their political views and they are not going to change. I know many of them and they simply are not willing to listen.”
It can be assumed that not all members of the Chamber endorsing committee would agree with that viewpoint, but given the above I was surprised to see the Chamber endorse the farthest left leaning candidates in the race. Three of the candidates the Chamber endorsed (Goodrich, Griffiths, and Weidemen) were also endorsed by the Sierra Club – an environmental activist organization not generally known for its pro-business agenda. Among a large field of Republican candidates, it is also notable that Goodrich and Weidemen were the only two legitimate Democratic candidates running and were both heavily backed by that party.
Goodrich, whose limited professional business experience consists primarily of working as a union representative for the California Association of Public Employees, made an especially intriguing pick. The Chamber also backed well known Geoff Rizzo whose career as a police officer, though admirable, doesn’t necessarily qualify him as someone with an astute business sense who will serve as a strong advocate on behalf of the business community. What made these endorsements even more perplexing is that as far as I’m aware neither Goodrich nor Rizzo had any level of meaningful involvement with the Chamber prior to receiving their endorsement.
Why did the Chamber endorse these candidates when they were many others with very strong business backgrounds and a history of significant contributions to the Chamber to choose from? Dagastino and Mattucci, for example, are both former leadership Torrance participants (a program designed by the Chamber itself to train future business leaders) with a long history of running their own businesses and working directly with the Chamber. Mattucci, to his credit, was the only candidate that produced an actual business plan to help struggling small businesses in Torrance. As another example, Alex See is a local restaurant owner who had a career in the aerospace industry and who also has been active in the Chamber. As an Asian, Alex See could also have provided keen insight into the crucial Asian business community within Torrance.
We will never know for sure, but the extra boost offered by the Chamber endorsements may have been enough to put business friendly candidates such as Dagastino and See, who finished just shy of winning in the 5th and 6th places respectively, over the top. Given the strong business credentials of these candidates, and others passed over by the Chamber, I am still left wondering what criteria drove the Chamber in their decision making process.
I’ve heard some say that the Chamber made a conscious decision to pick those they thought would win and not necessarily those they thought would be the best for the job. I’ve also heard that they are too closely tied to the political powers that be to make an independent decision. I’m not sure if there is any truth to those assertions, but if there were wouldn’t it surely lessen the Chamber’s credibility among its members. As it stands, I do wonder if their decisions didn’t alienate some of their membership that was paying attention. Evidence of this could be the seemingly strong initial support for the United Business Alliance started by Mattucci in the wake of the campaign. The facebook page for that Alliance found here still boasts that more than 50 Torrance businesses signed up in only two days. Could that organization now arise as a competitor to the Chamber?
If anyone has any insight into why the Chamber made the choices they did I would appreciate it if you would provide it in the comments below as I, and I am sure some other candidates as well, would love to hear an explanation.