Government, Human Resources, and Nonprofits

Businesses leaving chamber after endorsement for governor

September 20, 2018
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Founders Brewing Co. taproom
People fill up the beer garden seating at Founders Brewing Co.'s taproom in downtown Grand Rapids. Photo via fb.com

The Grand Rapids Chamber has received backlash from more than 100 businesses and leaders following its endorsement for governor.

Several businesses, including Founders Brewing Co., have said they’re ending their chamber memberships, and the names of nearly 100 leaders appeared in a draft letter to the chamber being digitally circulated in town, in locked mode, denouncing the endorsement of Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette for governor by the chamber's political action committee, or PAC.

The chamber PAC is funded entirely by donors, not member funds, the chamber said.

Schuette, a Republican, is one of several candidates for governor on the Nov. 6 ballot: Gretchen Whitmer, Democratic; Bill Gelineau, Libertarian; Todd Schleiger, US Taxpayers; Jennifer Kurland, Green; and Keith Butkovich, Natural Law.

The post-endorsement backlash is due partly to the opinion Schuette issued in July invalidating a state commission’s interpretation that the state civil rights law prohibits discrimination against LGBTQ people. He said only the state Legislature can expand those protections.

Rick Baker, president and CEO of the Grand Rapids Chamber, released a statement yesterday on the chamber’s Facebook page, saying the chamber “remains committed to diversity, equity and inclusion,” including lawful non-discrimination of LGBTQ people.

He said while the chamber rarely agrees with candidates on every issue, endorsements are made based on who “will support our polices most often.”

The chamber’s Facebook post announcing the endorsement has since been removed.

“We urge you to retract your endorsement, on behalf of the communities you claim to support,” the group letter to the chamber said.

The letter contained the names of many area leaders: Kara Wood, economic development director, City of Grand Rapids; Kris Spaulding, co-founder, Brewery Vivant; Jeremy Moore, director of community health innovations, Spectrum Health; Ryan VerWys, president and CEO, Inner City Christian Federation; Thomas Pierce, executive director, Grand Rapids Pride Center; Jane Gietzen, hospitality operations director, Spectrum Health; and others.

Besides Founders, organizations that announced ending their chamber memberships include Donkey Taqueria, The Winchester, West Michigan Caterer, The Apartment Lounge, 8THIRTYFOUR Integrated Communications and the Grand Rapids Pride Center.

“As a business that employs and serves many this law was enacted to protect, we have ended our long-standing relationship with the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce and encourage other businesses to consider this as well,” Donkey Taqueria said in a Facebook post.

The nonprofit collaborative Urban Core Collective will be relocating an upcoming event from the chamber’s office downtown, according to a Facebook post.

Update

The Grand Rapids Chamber issued the following statement today to the Business Journal: 

“The Grand Rapids Chamber is proud to help lead a diverse business community, with equally diverse political views. We are always disappointed when members decide to end their relationship with the chamber. We believe member engagement and communication is essential to a strong business organization, that’s why we strive to encourage open discussions with our members and the greater Grand Rapids community on issues.

“The chamber has a clear record of advocating for policies that enhance diversity, equity and inclusion in our state, including our call to update the Elliott Larsen Act in 2014. We remain committed to those efforts today on behalf of our more than 2,000 members. We believe we can most effectively influence the business environment by being involved in the process of researching, interviewing and endorsing candidates, based on our chamber business agenda and the priorities of our membership. As an organization that strives to welcome all people, we hope the robust reaction to this issue will lead to greater discussion at the state level that fosters equity and inclusion for all.”

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