Where’s the Voice of Business?

The mouse that roared squeaked

by James A. Bacon

As the General Assembly considers a host of issues that could have devastating consequences for Virginia’s business climate — tax increases, $15 minimum wage, repeal of the right-to-work law, a death tax, trial lawyer-friendly anti-discrimination legislation, and the list goes on — the business community has been remarkably quiet.

Once upon a time, when business spoke — like in the old E.F. Hutton commercial — Virginia listened. Now, it seems, business isn’t speaking, and nobody’s listening.

The silence of Virginia’s business community struck me when reading a Roanoke Times op-ed today in which Terry Durkin, vice president of public policy for the Roanoke Regional Chamber of Commerce, expressed muted reservations about the minimum-wage and right-to-work bills. Whoah! Where did he come from? When’s the last time I heard from anyone in the business community who wasn’t bleating about safe, non-controversial topics?

Durkin’s op-ed begins with a nod to Virginia’s new political realities: “As a new majority prepares to take its place in both the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate…” And then it proceeds in a placating tone: “We are encouraged by signs that the new majority will be supportive of proposals that encourage business collaboration with the educational community….”

Only then does Durkin note that “we are concerned” by minimum-wage and right-to-work legislation that would lay waste to much of Virginia’s economy outside of the urban crescent, including, of course, the Roanoke Valley. “Those two policies, if implemented,” he said with vast understatement, “could have significant negative effects on job growth and employment in our region.”

I am no longer involved with state or local chambers of commerce, but I do remember how, when I was editor and publisher of Virginia Business magazine 20+ years ago, the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the Retail Merchants Association, and the Virginia Manufacturers Association, just to name the most prominent, were among the most visible lobbies in the General Assembly, and among the most influential voices in the community. Those days, it seems, are long gone. I see almost nothing from those organizations anymore.

Why? What has changed? Has a new generation of business leaders risen to power in these organizations? Are they less confident in the rightness of their cause, and therefore less assertive than their predecessors?

Or does the media simply ignore them? Has the change occurred in the newsrooms of Virginia? Has the new generation of Virginia journalists stopped caring what business thinks and turned instead to lefty/progressive professors and advocacy groups as their go-to sources for everything?

Perhaps businesses have given up on the battle to influence public opinion in order to focus attention on the legislature. There certainly is no lack of business lobbyists in the General Assembly, and businesses still contribute big bundles to political campaigns. But all the money and lobbyists in the world can’t sustain business-friendly legislation if the public and the media are hostile. If the business community isn’t willing to combat destructive policies in the realm of ideas, they will lose in the long run.

So, I applaud Durkin for speaking up. I just wish he’d speak louder and more forcefully. And I wish he wasn’t out there by himself.

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12 responses to “Where’s the Voice of Business?”

  1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
    Reed Fawell 3rd

    Jim, I suggest that the reason most business folks today do not speak up and speak their mind is because the price of one saying anything contrary to the prevailing leftist fad of the day runs the risk of instantly being attacked by the leftist mob. Do so, and one’s business, and/or one’s entire career can be extinguished overnight, and that fear has spread across much of elite society. That’s because politics, business, and social status and advantage and opportunity is now so intertwined, whether it be business, media, academia, non profit, science or whatever.

    And you personally of course recall that unsuccessful attempt at RTD not long ago.

    We hear about the campus fascists and leftists closing down free speech on our elite campuses. But, in fact, the same forced closing of the American Mind and dialogue is happening all over elite America, except for Donald Trump. That is why Trump most likely is going to win the next election. Most people, even some elites now, thirst for the freedom space that he is opening up with his own personal sledgehammer every day now.

    Slam by slam. Hear Freedom Ring!

    Meanwhile in leftist dreamland, so happy the Virginia General Assembly have got their pronoun rules all straightened out. Now let us see who among them, is man enough to wear high heels, wigs and codpieces like real men, our great Founding Fathers.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      Can you provide some examples of people whose “business, and/or one’s entire career [was] extinguished overnight” by “the leftist mob”?

    2. ILoveRoanoke! Avatar

      I think your general idea is correct. People are hesitant to speak up out of fear thy may be attacked. However, the right has been known to aggressively attack the left, as well. It goes both ways and until we all act like unified Americans able to have a civil and respectful conversation, people will fear speaking up. Phrases like “Meanwhile in leftist dreamland…” are not helpful. We all need to rise above the divisive rhetoric. We are better than this.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    There are a lot of players besides business. A lot of think tanks and a lot of ideological groups whose interests are ostensibly business but also their beliefs and theories about minimum wage and organized employees.

    In addition, I think a lot of people including some business folks think that low wages contributes to things like affordable housing – in places that are economically prosperous.

    The Dems have always wanted middle ground – SOME minimum wage and SOME ability for workers to have some rights so that they cannot be easily mistreated and fired at will.

    The GOP see this as a matter of principles that they cannot and will not compromise on and so it becomes an all or nothing – “if we have the majority – you get nothing” , game.

    I don’t think the majority of Dems are going to be led to vote for whatever the most extreme in the Dems wants – to their credit and I reserve the right to eat my words.

    We have a very divided political world now and for some time – it’s been pushed to the point where it is “our way or the highway” with the GOP.

    I’m not talking about the extreme GOP – but the middle GOP – look at how Virginia has operated for years with the GOP in charge. ONly when they knew they were about to lose – did they relent.

    We’ll see if the Dems turn the other cheek…

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      They only listened to the business lobbyists when it suited them, as well. I see all the same faces in all the same places, Jim. They’ve never liked to make their case in the media, I was one of the rare ones in that regard, and it sure made my clients nervous at times. But the VA Chamber Prez did quite a bit on some of the labor law issues during the campaign and probably feels rather slighted you didn’t remember that. It sure didn’t slow the tide.

      1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
        Reed Fawell 3rd

        Steve, how you guys gonna stem these toxic red tides, or are you the only Republican left in Virginia alive who speaks in public?

        1. Steve Haner Avatar
          Steve Haner

          Hardly, but so many in the party only care about guns, abortion and who pees in which bathroom. Energy, taxes and the economy? Eyes glaze….Oh, see below!

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            that’s right. these issues are stoked – in the media (not the “liberal” kind and anyone who has been on social media lately can slurp as much of it as they want – and do.

            And here’s the thing – neither left nor right is ever going to “own” the legislative process… from now on, it’s probably going to be something like 53-48 not 75-25. You have to find things that you willing to compromise on and not make everything a violation of your “core” principles. There are a lot
            of folks out there these days that basically want to see things implode…

          2. johnrandolphofroanoke Avatar

            It’s interesting to consider that the Republican Party of the 1850s stoked the base with the cause of the abolitionists. Meanwhile party leaders were really in hot pursuit of a transcontinental railroad, the Homestead Act, public colleges, creating the “greenback”, and introducing substantial hikes in tariffs.

            I wonder what the real agenda is for the new political majority in Virginia?

            Or perhaps less able political leadership on both sides of the aisle has no real game plan?

          3. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
            Reed Fawell 3rd

            John Randolph of Roanoke –

            Yours is an interesting observation. Perhaps the Republican Party birthed by the difficult and fast changing times of 1850s, a newborn party that went on to save and reinvent the nation in the 1860’s, bears of striking resemblance to the Republican Party today.

            And thus that very early Republican Party holds key lessons and insights for us today, including how it realized its potential for great positive change in times of great tragedy, which now is mirrored by the abrupt rise of the radical Democratic left, the sudden threat it now poses to our Constitutional Government.

  3. TooManyRegulations Avatar

    In the case of our “pro-business” GOP rep, unless you’re making a plea for stricter abortion laws you might as well talk to a brick.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Steve says “Hardly, but so many in the party only care about guns, abortion and who pees in which bathroom. Energy, taxes and the economy? Eyes glaze….Oh, see below!”

      TooManyRegulations confirms.

      But Republican’s have a great story on both fronts too, most particularly on energy, taxes and the economy. So lets set up that second story, and debate the merits of both parties positions here on Bacon’s Rebellion. Get a constructive dialogue going.

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