N.M. chambers of commerce mount cooperative lobbying effort at Capitol

Leaders cite importance of 'speaking with one voice'

Mike Easterling
Farmington Daily Times
Terri Cole
  • The cooperative effort between chambers includes Farmington's Jamie Church and Albuquerque's Terri Cole.
  • Cole says she is worried about eight measures that have been introduced this session that she believes will have negative, long-term effects on New Mexico businesses.
  • A half dozen chambers around the state are collaborating on a regular basis.

FARMINGTON — Historically speaking, chambers of commerce throughout New Mexico have just as often found themselves on opposite sides of legislative issues as they have been able to stake out common ground.

That has been especially true when it comes to legislative appropriations and the rural vs. urban divide that often leaves those organizations fighting head to head instead of side by side.

But chamber leaders across the state, including Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce CEO and president Terri Cole and Farmington Chamber of Commerce CEO and president Jamie Church, believe that competitive dynamic is in the process of becoming a thing of the past. They are part of an effort to promote collaboration between chambers across the state that allows them to identify legislative issues of common concern and approach lawmakers in a unified fashion to promote the interests of their members.

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Cole said she approached Church with the idea earlier this year as the legislative session began to unwind in a virtual fashion because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Cole said she was pleased to see legislators take up a package of pandemic-related proposals that would bring relief to business owners who had been impacted by the restrictions brought on by the spread of the virus.

But she was concerned by the introduction of several measures that she claims would have an adverse effect on the business community in the state. She was even more worried because she feared the virtual nature of the session would limit transparency and make it more difficult for her organization to lobby lawmakers.

"There are eight pieces of legislation that, if passed, would present long-term burdens on businesses," she said. "We appreciate something that provides pandemic relief, no question. But businesses, especially now, cannot withstand long-term additional burdens that might be placed upon them."

Cole said those bills include measures calling for the establishment of mandatory sick leave and family leave for employees, as well as proposals that she said would lead to higher insurance rates and workers compensation rates for employers.

Cole said she reached out to Church to alert her to the significance of those bills and to enlist her support in opposing them. That effort quickly snowballed, and now a half dozen chambers across the state — including those in Gallup, Clovis and communities in southern New Mexico — have become core members of a group that communicates daily, monitors legislative developments and lobbies lawmakers on issues of common concern. Cole said more than two dozen other chambers are involved in the effort on a less-regular basis.

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Jamie Church, president and CEO of the Farmington Chamber of Commerce.

Church said she appreciates being able to rely on folks who have more experience in dealing with legislative issues than she does.

"This relationship, though it has just been formed, I think is very valuable," said Church. "Up here in the northwest corner (of the state), it seems like we're in our own little world sometimes. This helps us in terms of having the whole picture of what's going on in the rest of the state."

Church and Cole believe the new arrangement will greatly amplify the voices of chamber leaders across the state and ramp up the effectiveness of their efforts.

"It is absolutely critical that we are all speaking with one voice on these issues," Cole said, explaining that that kind of consistency is vital to achieving good results through lobbying.

"Legislators need to hear the same message anywhere they go," she said.

Church echoed that sentiment.

"We're going to be much stronger than if we were speaking individually," she said. "And it will make a lot more difference than if we were silent. I would hope (lawmakers) are listening."

'All of us are in the same place'

Church said most of the merchants she represents in Farmington are focused on the day-to-day operations of their businesses, especially during the pandemic, and they don't have a lot of time to monitor what's going on at the Roundhouse. She worries that bills that could negatively affect her members over the long term might pass under the radar if not for the collaborative approach that chambers across the state are taking.

The benefits of that cooperative approach are obvious, Cole said, adding that the rivalries and conflicting interests of the past have not been the norm during this legislative session.

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"We don't have an urban-rural divide," she said. "All of us are in the same place. We don't want our businesses hurt any more than they have been, and we don't want those bills to get over the finish line."

Both women said they would like to see that spirit of cooperation among chambers maintained beyond this session.

"Let's hope so," Cole said. "I think there are a lot of lessons learned from the pandemic, and they can be of lasting value. Let's hope this one will be, too."

Mike Easterling can be reached at 505-564-4610 or measterling@daily-times.com. Support local journalism with a digital subscription.