By Lucy McFadden
THE COLORADO STATESMAN
Late one evening, South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce marketing consultants Deverik Wilder and Brian Bartony were drinking wine and brainstorming ways to get the chamber’s membership more involved in politics.
“Maybe it was the wine,” said Wilder, “but we came up with the idea of having a mock election for governor. I challenged Brian — and he came back at me! Now we have our Election 2009.”
The South Metro Denver Chamber will kick off Election 2009, its mock campaign for governor of Colorado, with a party at its headquarters June 24. After introducing themselves and their platforms, the candidates will be off and running.
Three candidates represent three parties: Wilder, the “Democan” candidate; Bartony, the “Republicrat” and Ken Wyble, Arapahoe County Libertarian Party chair and president and founder of the nonprofit Liberty 7 Foundation, representing the “Librarian Party.”
The fanciful names are designed to distinguish the fake parties from the more serious-minded Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians.
“We want to avoid social issues,” explained Wilder. “This is about educating and empowering businesspeople for the political process.”
Election 2009 is sponsored by Business Leaders for Responsible Government (BLRG), headed by John Brackney. BLRG is a program within the South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce, which Brackney also heads.
The ultimate goal of the Election 2009 is to make members of the chamber more comfortable with the political process so they are more likely to get involved.
“Most businesspeople are not engaged [in government] on a regular, ongoing basis,” said Jeff Wadsen, owner of PROformance Athletic Apparel, in Littleton, who structured the mock election. “The average-sized company in Colorado isn’t about ready to hire a lobbyist, so the chamber fills that niche for scores or hundreds of businesses.”
At its first official meeting on Tuesday, Election 2009 volunteers established the parties, candidates and structure for the event.
Carol Carlson, the assistant organizer, said excitement seems to be growing.
“This [meeting] created madness because it was less intimidating,” she said, noting that, until now, businesspeople haven’t had a comfortable way to find their voices and get involved in politics.
“Women in the chamber and in the leadership committee are starting to see where their voices are,” she said. “We spent a day at the Capitol. They are learning that [the political process] is not a mystery, that there are resources available at the state.
“We are starting to pull more people in, and it’s not all that daunting.”
Each party has designated a campaign manager charged with supervising press relations, events, coalitions and Web sites. The campaigns will solicit real money for donations and enlist volunteers. In this election, one dollar equals $10.
Why would someone contribute money to a fake election? Bartony says the donations will underwrite events that will be well worth seeing. For example, Election 2009’s bimonthly speaker series will offer a night on party politics featuring state Republican Party Chair Dick Wadhams and
Democratic Chair Pat Waak. A program on Washington politics also is in the works.
Wyble believes that “it is unique in Colorado to go down and testify for or against legislation. It’s pretty important to let everyone know that the independent parties make up more than a third of the voter population. My platform reflects a pragmatic education about the issue of perspective. What is the percentage of government required for [success in democracy]?”
The Chamber isn’t worried that political passion will spill over, creating bad feelings among members.
“When it’s all said and done,” Bartony reasoned, “we just want to strengthen business. You won’t see what you normally see in a traditional election.”
Nor does Brackney expect the chamber’s business orientation to favor Republican political positions.
“I don’t think businesses are Republican today. It is a split between people disgusted with both [parties]. There are a bunch of Democratic business leaders out there,” he said. “Our membership reflects the state: old people, young people, nice people, angry people.”
Nonmembers are allowed to attend two events as guests of the chamber, but if they want to come back, they’ll have to sign up as dues-paying members.
To learn more about the election, go to Business Leaders for Responsible Government Web site, www.meet-up.com/bestchamber/about. To reach the chamber, call 303-795-0142. Only members will be able to vote in Election 2009.