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Salina Chamber of Commerce Lays an Egg

By Marty Keenan
Opinion | November 3, 2009

SALINA, Kan. - The announcement that Sarah Palin is being paid to speak to the annual Salina Chamber of Commerce Banquet on February 5 is surprising. The Chamber has snared excellent speakers in the past for their annual banquet, such as First Lady Barbara Bush, speakers who inspired Salina to think about future goals.

But Palin? She holds no office. She is going to make a big pile of money from her Salina appearance, but who could fault her for taking advantage of the situation? The real issue is: How does this choice move Salina forward?

Salina is a bustling town of 50,000, with four lane highway going all four directions. I-70 and US 135 lead straight to Salina. With it's highway and location advantage, I have often wondered: Why isn't Salina a town of 70,000? Salina seems to have everything going for it.

The Palin choice may offer a clue as to why Salina doesn't grow faster. Salina residents who are not "insiders" complain that "old money" controls Salina, and doesn't want it to grow too much. The demographics of Salina resemble the kind of Westbrook Pegler 20th Century America that Palin pined about in her Republican nomination speech.

Palin's true appeal is to seniors and people in rural areas. Her appeal is almost exclusively to very conservative Republicans. This invitation comes 4 days after Palin ran a New York Republican Congressional candidate out of today's election race because she wasn't conservative enough.

So how does Palin's appearance help Salina aspire to America's 21st Century profile?
Like it or not, America is becoming diverse, and young people will have an increasing say on how things go in Salina and elsewhere. Young people, Latinos, and African-Americans will be an increasing element in Salina if it wants to succeed long term.

23% of Saline County residents are Democrats, and 30% are Independents. Lots of these Democrats and Independents are members of the Salina Chamber of Commerce.

The Kansas Chamber of Commerce and Industry (the state organization) of which local Chambers of Commerce like Salina are affiliates---simply doesn't endorse Democrats for office. It's a Republican-promoting organization.

But local Chambers are made up of a whole hodgepodge of people---the retirees who want to stay involved, the local Arts Council, the butcher, the baker, the policeman on the beat. And they want their Chambers of Commerce to be non-partisan groups that simply make the community better. They don't want partisanship, they want Salina to grow as America grows.

Palin is smart to take Salina's money. I don't fault her for that. But how her selection advances the Salina Chamber of Commerce or the City of Salina toward the 21st Century is a mystery.


1 Comment

Money talks, and with high-profile defections from the U.S. Chamber (Apple, P&G, PNM Resources, Excelon Energy), the U.S. Chamber may get the message that they're out of step with the majority of Americans--the customers of the very companies the Chamber claims to serve.

Right wingers' ideology runs a far distant second in comparison to their worship of the almighty dollar. So, we might just see some changes yet. Isn't capitalism great?


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