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Social agenda draws in business owners

From The Detroit News
September 5, 2012
By: Nolan Finley 

Is there room for the 1 percent in a Democratic Party that nurtured the Occupy Wall Street movement and whose platform rails against corporate special interests?

“Absolutely,” says Reginald Turner, a partner in Detroit’s prestigious Clark-Hill law firm, and who represents businesses in labor disputes. “I’m a businessman, and I’m a Democrat, and I find no conflict between the two.”

“It’s not a perfect home, but it is home,” adds Brad Williams, vice president of public affairs for the Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce.

As Democrats whose careers involve protecting and promoting businesses, Turner and Williams are rarities at the Democratic National Convention, where union members dominate the Michigan delegation.

“There are a lot more matching T-shirts in the room than there are blue blazers,” notes Williams.

Much is made of the disenfranchisement of those in the Republican Party who are pro-choice and support gay rights. But the Democratic Party has its own schism. Pro-business Democrats have to swallow hard when the party’s base demonizes profits and cries for higher taxes and more regulation.

But just like the GOP social moderates who say they stay with the party because of its economic message, the Democratic economic conservatives say it’s the party’s social agenda that keeps them on the political blue side.

I spoke with a lobbyist for an automobile company, who asked that his name not be used, who in his day job fends off the Big Government mandates championed by Democratic politicians.

“But I make the transition on the drive home, when I think about the kind of world I want my 12-year-old son to live in,” he says. “And that world is best represented by the Democratic agenda.”

Turner disputes Democrats are anti-business, citing President Barack Obama’s stimulus package and the bailout of the auto industry. “And look at what he’s done to improve accountability in education — that’s very much in line with the needs of the business community.”

Williams makes his political choice by weighing the entirety of what each party stands for.

“We have a two-party system,” he says. “It’s not like Europe, where there are multiple parties and you can find one that fits your niche. Here, you have to pick between the two. It’s true that Democratic policymakers tend to favor labor, but they are willing to listen to us on business issues and give us a chance to make our case.”

Howard Edelson, a Democratic strategist, says the divide between business and labor interests isn’t always clear cut. He’s running the campaign against the ballot proposal in Michigan to require 25 percent of power come from renewable energy sources by the year 2025.

The utilities are on his side, of course. But so are many labor unions that recognize the threat the proposal presents to jobs.

Neither the state Democratic Party nor the United Auto Workers have taken positions yet on the proposal, despite heavy lobbying by environmentalists — another key Democratic constituency.

“Private sector unions are very sensitive to policies that negatively impact business,” Edelson says. “They understand what happens to jobs when business costs are driven up.”

Just like their pro-choice counterparts in the Republican Party, pro-business Democrats have to make internal compromises and focus on the broader agenda.

“On business issues, I may not often be in agreement with my party,” Williams says.

“But on a host of other areas, particularly social issues, I find myself very much in line with Democratic values.”

Follow Nolan Finley at, on Twitter at nolanfinleydn and on Facebook at nolanfinleydetnews.

Watch him at 7:30 p.m. Fridays on “MiWeek” on Detroit Public TV, Channel 56.