Tayer: The conscience of a progressive chamber

“We’re fortunate to have one of the most progressive chambers in the nation here in Boulder.” Boulder Mayor Suzanne Jones

The late Sen. Barry Goldwater, in his seminal work, Conscience of a Conservative, argued for less government intrusion into the lives of individuals as a tenet of traditional conservatism.  Ironically, that principle is reflected today in elements of both liberal and conservative politics, depending on which issue we’re debating. It’s that very irony that got me thinking about how the Boulder Chamber forms its policy positions — not bound by ideologies associated with traditional business associations, but by the simple goal of helping build a better community through practical problem solving. With a nod to the remarks by Mayor Jones at a recent event, let’s call it “The Conscience of a Progressive Chamber.”

Traditionally, chambers of commerce advanced politically “conservative” principles. That framework generally called for lower taxes and less government regulation of commercial activity. At the Boulder Chamber, in line with the character of our Boulder community, we take a more nuanced approach in our policy principles. Yes, we proudly carry the mantel as one of the most progressive chambers across the state and even the country. That doesn’t mean, though, we’re not committed to the basic tenets of capitalism. We believe that the motivation for profits associated with business success, driven by innovation and hard work, are critical to the economic vitality that benefits us all.

At the same time, progressive chambers recognize that the “capitalist system” doesn’t naturally respond to all of the potential social and environmental impacts of business activities and/or economic conditions. We also understand that businesses must bear a fair share of our community’s investment in vital services and infrastructure. Further, though always with a cautious eye, we don’t reflexively oppose all government regulation of business activity.

This is more than just philosophical pablum, though, as I point to a few concrete examples of our balanced, arguably progressive approach to policy issues to illustrate my point:

Climate Action: Living in a community that leads the world in the study of climate change and the exacerbating impacts of human activity, the Boulder Chamber is fully conscious of the need to take bold action to curb the activities that harm our environment. Many of our members are leading by example through measures to reduce their carbon footprints while supporting direct taxation that funds other carbon reduction programs. In keeping with a business mindset, though, the Boulder Chamber will fight vigorously for climate protection strategies that provide the most efficient return on investment and the least practicable regulatory imposition.

Economic Equity: Back in 2016, the Boulder Chamber was the only chamber to support a statewide increase in the minimum wage. We have no illusions that this fully addresses the gap between wage rates and cost of living for our workforce. To that end, we look to be a positive influence in addressing the economic conditions that leave too many of our working families in poverty and/or living paycheck to paycheck. At the same time, while one proposed solution is a still higher minimum wage, the Boulder Chamber will be the voice for non-profit organizations and small businesses, such as retailers and restaurants, where such a blanket policy could potentially force them to close their doors.

Community Development: Our community is ever evolving, whether we like it or not. Negative feelings about change often sound like, “I miss the Aristocrat [or plug in your favorite lost restaurant or retail store],” but they run deeper to concerns regarding the loss of cultural and economic diversity. The Boulder Chamber is critical of policies that simply place the burden on local businesses or suggest that “jobs” are to blame for our community’s less positive turns. However, the business community has a valuable role to play in helping preserve the funk, and we will work vigorously in support of policies that balance our city’s evolution with the opportunity for a wider diversity of individuals to live and businesses to thrive in Boulder.

A dynamic community demands a spirited interplay of perspectives. Absent political polemics and finger-pointing, it’s a sign of health. We also know there are no simple solutions to the issues I’ve outlined or the policy debates that light up our newspapers. The Boulder Chamber is a committed partner in the thoughtful problem-solving it takes to overcome our differences, deploying our collective innovative talents and doing the hard work together to implement the most effective solutions. Now that’s progressive!

John Tayer is president and CEO of the Boulder Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at 303-442-1044, ext 110 or john.tayer@boulderchamber.com.