GRAND RAPIDS — The backlash against the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce over its controversial endorsement of GOP Michigan gubernatorial candidate Bill Schuette continues to percolate.
By Wednesday afternoon, more than 50 area business professionals had signed a letter urging the Chamber to rescind its endorsement of Schuette, and more companies announced they would resign from the organization.
The Chamber also deleted its initial Facebook post from Monday announcing the endorsement of Schuette. Andy Johnston, vice president of government and corporate affairs for the Chamber, did not respond to multiple requests for comment on Wednesday afternoon. The post generated more than 150 comments, the vast majority of which were critical of the Schuette endorsement.
Earlier in the day, when asked if the Chamber had discussed rescinding the endorsement, Johnston texted a reply: “No.”
Meanwhile, the number of companies announcing plans to sever ties with the Chamber continued to mount.
Scott Schulz, co-owner of Creston Brewery, a craft brewery and restaurant in Grand Rapids, told MiBiz that the company had withdrawn its membership. Likewise, Founders Brewing Co., the state’s largest brewery, announced its plans to “terminate” its association with the Chamber over the endorsement.
Additionally, Grandville-based West Michigan Caterer announced via Facebook its withdrawal from the Chamber. Urban Core Collective, a nonprofit collaboration of six different organizations that says it aims to end systemic racism, said it would be relocating an upcoming event set to be held at the Chamber’s offices on Monroe Avenue NW in Grand Rapids.
Those organizations join other companies like PR firm 8THIRTYFOUR Integrated Communications and Grand Rapids restaurants The Winchester and Donkey Taqueria — among others — that have resigned from the Chamber.
Paul Lee, owner of the two restaurants, told MiBiz that he expects companies will place more pressure on the Chamber to rescind the Schuette endorsement.
“They didn’t sign up for it,” Lee said, referring specifically to how companies like Meijer Inc. and Steelcase Inc. had their logos on banners at the endorsement ceremony, as MiBiz previously reported. “You’ll see more big corporations pushing back and that’s when you’ll see the Chamber change their position.”
At the same time, more than 50 professionals who participated in past Chamber programming have signed on to a letter that began circulating on Tuesday evening, around the time MiBiz published its original story on the controversy. The letter urged the Chamber to retract its endorsement of the Schuette, the sitting Michigan Attorney General.
“Mr. Schuette has a disheartening track record that reflects a flippant disregard for the rights of vulnerable Michiganders,” according to the letter, which notes the authors’ disdain the positions they believe Schuette holds on equal rights for LGBT people, environmental issues and other topics the signatories believe don’t align with the Chamber’s mission.
“The implications of these policies are so serious that an endorsement of Bill Schuette by the Chamber is unconscionable,” according to the letter. “Mr. Schuette’s agenda is directly at odds with the Chamber’s positioning itself as a diversity and inclusion champion. As alumni of Leadership Grand Rapids and other Chamber-run programs, we the undersigned renounce your endorsement of Bill Schuette for Governor of Michigan and call for it be retracted.”
Signers of the letter included: Kara Wood, economic development director for the city of Grand Rapids; Kris Spaulding, co-founder of Brewery Vivant; Jeremy Moore, director of community health innovations at Spectrum Health; and Joe Voss, director of strategic partnerships for Creative Many, a nonprofit advocacy group for the state’s arts and creative sectors.
Meanwhile, Chamber President and CEO Rick Baker said in a statement on Wednesday morning that the organization understands the concerns associated with endorsing Schuette and remains committed to discussing the decision with stakeholders.
“We have heard the response to our recent GR Chamber PAC endorsement of Bill Schuette for Governor and the frustration and disappointment from members of our business community, particularly as it relates to diversity, equity and inclusion,” Chamber President and CEO Rick Baker said in a statement. “We understand our endorsement decisions do not take place in a vacuum and we are open to dialogue to understand the impact of our decisions.”
For its part, the Detroit Regional Chamber told MiBiz that it understands the controversies associated with making endorsements, but said the frustration over the Grand Rapids Chamber’s endorsement would not affect its decision to weigh in on the race.
“As an organization that has not yet endorsed and (sic) candidate for Governor in the general election we appreciate the many factors that go into making these crucial decisions,” Brad Williams, the vice president of government relations for the Detroit Regional Chamber, said in a statement.
Williams added that if the organization chooses to endorse a candidate, it would not be until its political action committee (PAC) meets in mid-October.
“The Detroit Regional Chamber (is) a longtime partner of the Grand Rapids Area Chamber on many issues important to Michigan’s economic growth including the Elliott-Larsen expansion,” Williams stated, referring to the law that grants civil rights to various groups within the state.
In the wake of the endorsement, the Grand Rapids Chamber said it would continue to work for a legislative solution to extend civil rights protections to LGBT members.
Schuette, in his capacity as attorney general, said the Michigan Civil Rights Commission overstepped in extending civil rights protections based upon sexual orientation and sexual identity under the Elliott-Larsen Civil Right Act.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated to note that 834 Marketing & Design LLC does business as 8THIRTYFOUR Integrated Communications and to clarify the Detroit Regional Chamber position that the situation in Grand Rapids would have no bearing on its endorsement process.