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Bloomington chamber steps into Arizona boycott debate

June 11, 2010

Gee, thanks for hitting us in the pocketbook. Would you please stick to your knitting? That in effect is the message of a new statement from the Greater Bloomington Chamber of Commerce regarding the city’s boycott of Arizona announced earlier this month.

The action taken by the city’s elected officials against Arizona’s new illegal immigration statute has prompted more than 40 complaints to the chamber, mostly threats to boycott Bloomington unless the Arizona boycott is lifted, the chamber says. At a chamber the size of Bloomington's, that’s a crisis. Chamber members say they’re getting similar threats from suppliers and customers.

Chamber President Christy Gillenwater says it’s unclear how serious the threats are. Only time will tell if someone really does avoid a restaurant after a football game this fall.

Next time, she says, elected officials should think a little more about how their actions affect local business. Especially when the economy is rocky.

“The comments we received are very serious in tone,” Gillenwater says, adding, “We have challenges of our own, definitely enough to keep us busy in Bloomington and Monroe County.”

Reader comments to news articles and blog posts about the boycott run overwhelmingly negative against Bloomington.

But the city’s decision raises pesky questions about the purpose of local government: Just what should mayors and city councils provide beyond basic police and fire protection?

If at one end of the spectrum the task stops at keeping residents safe, then Bloomington officials went way, way over the top by not only commenting on another state’s law but actually fighting it.

At the other extreme, if officials, as extensions of the citizens who elected them, are obligated to take stands on social issues far and wide, then Bloomington might have done the right thing. (The same point could be argued on behalf of officials who, for example, would boycott a state for allowing gay marriage.)

Where do you come down? Are the Bloomington officials out of line? And what are your broader feelings about boycotts? Do they work?

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