In Newton, the best pro-business policy is apparently to stand behind an incumbent state senator.
That’s why the Newton Area Chamber of Commerce dropped out of the Kansas chamber about three months ago, and it’s why several members are supporting Sen. Carolyn McGinn, R-Sedgwick, in her District 31 Republican primary next week, Newton chamber members say.
Annoyed by the state chamber PAC’s attempt to unseat McGinn and other state senators, the Newton chamber’s past presidents group led the move to drop out of the state chamber.
The reason was simple, said Todd Tangeman, chairman of the Newton chamber board: Their group is a chamber of commerce, not a chamber of politics.
“Carolyn is well respected in this community,” said Tangeman, the human resources director at Newton Medical Center. “We work well with her, as we do with others currently in office. … It’s been our view at this local chamber level, however, to not necessarily get involved with advocating one candidate or another, and to work with those elected to strengthen strong commerce, locally and in the state.”
Kent Beisner, president of the Kansas chamber, fired back Thursday, calling opposition from a professed non-political group’s members “humorous.”
“What people don’t understand is that we have a policy group and a political group, and they’re totally separate,” he said. “It isn’t personal. It’s about people’s positions on the issues and how they vote. I don’t think you’d find anyone who’s opposed to the chamber’s policy positions.”
McGinn is one of several Republicans targeted by the state chamber’s and the Wichita chamber’s political action committees, seeking to shift control of the Senate from moderate Republicans who have challenged some of Gov. Sam Brownback’s proposals to more conservative Republicans more likely to support those proposals.
The state chamber’s PAC reported expenditures of $281,599.53 in the first seven months of 2012, according to the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission’s receipts and expenditures report. It spent $6,407.92 to back Rep. Dan Kerschen in his race against incumbent Sen. Dick Kelsey, $27,366 to back Wichita City Council member Michael O’Donnell against incumbent Sen. Jean Schodorf, and $2,290 to back Wichita businessman Gary Mason against incumbent McGinn.
On July 19, the state chamber PAC received $125,000 from Koch Industries, according to the same report.
Businessman Phil Anderson, a past Newton chamber president, is one of the McGinn supporters listed in an advertisement scheduled to run in The Eagle this weekend. He said “the locals up here are concerned, as we should be, with the conservatives who are going after Carolyn.
“I’m 100 percent with the job she’s done,” he said. “I stand behind her principles and I certainly felt that way when I was president of the chamber.”
Anderson said Tangeman worded the Newton chamber’s philosophy “very well.”
“We try to stay as pro-business and as non-political as we can,” Anderson said. “I hope that never changes.”
Beisner said the state chamber’s political activism hasn’t had much effect on its membership.
“The smaller town chambers, it’s true, don’t want to have that much of an involvement in politics,” he said. “I mean, it’s controversial.”