While not exactly a junket, the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce's annual October group trip to Washington is more fun than you might expect.
The Chamber calls it an opportunity to interact with Washington power brokers whose decisions affect our community. Maybe so, but the politicians, congressional staffers, think-tank gurus and organizations participating have their own agendas. Our concerns, and those of the local business community, are at best peripheral, as I saw for myself as part of the group in 2009.
So the days are filled with dull speeches by Washington insiders, even duller audiences of power players, and dreary partisan drivel from elected officials. But everything loosens up at happy hour.
That's when the fun begins (such as it is). It's not often that you're in a room with about 75 of the Springs' most significant movers and shakers, even if you happen to be one of them. Extend that time over several days, and you make deals, form friendships, build alliances, and gain in understanding and wisdom. You have to stretch a little, because the group includes not only established businesspeople but government employees, eager entrepreneurs, politicians, nonprofit execs, senior military officers, media folks and a few unclassifiable eccentrics.
Judging from the talk of a few attendees, the trip had a certain partisan tinge this year. While attendees (including Mayor Steve Bach) met with our two middle-of-the-road Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, they were mainly regaled by pols from the farthest shores of the Republican right.
Rep. Doug Lamborn lined up his three Colorado Republican colleagues (Scott Tipton, Cory Gardner and Mike Coffman) to bring truth and light to our benighted business community. And just to make sure they got the message, Lamborn brought out the big dogs: House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., Social Security de-funder Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and National Public Radio de-funder Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash.
Quite a lineup — and that wasn't all. In a delicately worded Facebook post, County Commissioner Sallie Clark noted the group "spent part of the day at a think tank called the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), discussing national health care and its future impact on our nation and small business. Not, in this organization's opinion, a positive one for the future of business in America."
Sallie, say it ain't so! AEI is opposed to Obamacare?
And just to make sure that message got through, the Chamber brought in yet another think-tanker, Douglas Holtz-Eakin, who has served as director of the Congressional Budget Office and as Sen. John McCain's economic adviser. Holtz-Eakin is reflective, analytical, a lot smarter than you or me, and has figured out what ails our great republic.
Recession, thy name is Barack Obama. But a word of caution: Holtz-Eakin is also the guy who said that McCain had a hand in inventing the Blackberry.
Tim Leigh, the sole City Councilor on the trip, summed up the cumulative impact of this generation's nattering nabobs of negativism: "You hate to be discouraged, but there wasn't a lot to be encouraged about."
Congressman Ryan, he noted, suggested soon it'll be 1978 all over again: stagflation, soaring interest rates, even higher unemployment, and a return to the malaise-ridden days of Jimmy Carter.
Mayor Bach didn't spend much time listening to righty rants.
"I thought it was a very fruitful trip," he says. "I didn't go on the sightseeing tour, but I had a lot of meetings that I hope will be productive." He says he met individually with Udall and Bennet, asking for help in particular with Interstate 25 funding. Bach also met with Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, commanding general of the Army Installation Management Command, about "the possible consequences of military cutbacks."
"It was good to connect with the people on the trip," Bach adds. "There were a lot of them that I didn't know too well, so that was very beneficial."
What about the idea men from the think tanks?
"I don't know about that," he replies. "I sat next to Tim Leigh on the trip out there. He came up with about 80 ideas in four hours — he's very creative."
And while Bach at least pretended to appreciate Leigh's creativity, he passed along some advice.
"Focus, Tim, focus!"