Months before the filing deadline for November’s City Council race, Missoula’s Chamber of Commerce was searching for a horse to run. The Chamber and Council don’t always agree on the definition of pro-business values—Councilwoman Lois Herbig is confident that the Chamber has never much liked her and other liberal Council members—so this year the Chamber revved up its campaign to recruit actively pro-business candidates with a string of e-mails to its 700 members and notices in newspapers.
Chamber spokeswoman Mary Lou Winton isn’t sure how many candidates decided to run because of the Chamber’s campaign—three new challengers are Chamber members—but she calls the campaign a success.
“We’ve been trying to get more people to run, more people who are interested in the issues of business,” she says. “It looks like it worked.”
Now that the Chamber has lured a few of its own—Pete Pettersen, Don Nicholson and former Mayor Bob Lovegrove—into the races, all that should be left to do is endorse their favorite contenders. But unlike in years past, the Chamber—even after all the recruiting—won’t be making endorsements.
“I’ll be first to admit that within the Chamber membership there are people who feel strongly that we should endorse, and people who feel strongly that we should not endorse,” says new Chamber President Bob Tutskey. “Personally, my position on that as the current Chamber president is that we are not going to endorse candidates. Our job [this year] is to provide a forum and disseminate information and let our members know about each candidate.”
Instead of the traditional endorsements, Tutskey has steered the Chamber in a different direction by sponsoring a series of candidate question-and-answer sessions open to Chamber members and the public. But September’s two forums failed to draw much of an audience.
“These weren’t private meetings, they were open to the public, but in reality I think that basically everybody that participated was a Chamber member,” he says. “Out of approximately 700 Chamber members, there were 25 people there, so it’s not a very big representation.”