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SMALL BUSINESS | AT ISSUE

Election Day Raising the Profile of Small Business

October 28, 1998|VICKI TORRES

With election day fast approaching Tuesday, the National Federation of Independent Business--never at a loss to toot small business' horn along with its own--issued a press release proclaiming that small-business owners are "poised to emerge as a make-or-break voting bloc" this year.

It based its claim on an Oct. 1-9 phone survey of 1,000 of the 600,000 NFIB members nationwide. Of those surveyed, 91% responded that they were "very likely" or "extremely likely" to vote, 65% reported making donations to candidates and 27% said they have served as volunteer campaign workers.

The NFIB is "saturated with politically active, issue-driven people," the press release claimed, adding that with an average of 1,200 NFIB members in each congressional district, the NFIB could tip the scale in a close race.

Although this boast smacks of campaign rhetoric, the fact remains that small business is increasingly a player in elections. Although it can't compete against the clout and money of organized labor and big corporations, small business is becoming recognized as a distinct voting bloc and political candidates increasingly troll the small-business community for votes and endorsements.

In California the NFIB, with 34,000 state members, and the California Small Business Assn., with 180,000 members, compile annual endorsement lists of candidates and ballot propositions.

The NFIB effort is part of its national political activity, begun more than a decade ago with the creation of a political action committee that now contributes $1.4 million to candidates. This year, the NFIB gave more than $65,000 to California candidates.

In addition, the group asks members to support endorsed candidates by walking precincts or putting out yard signs. The NFIB also holds "Town Halls," where endorsed candidates meet NFIB members.

Although some NFIB critics argue that the organization is little more than a Republican mouthpiece, the group takes its political direction from member surveys, said Kelley Rogers, who oversees the group's political activities. The NFIB bases its endorsements on incumbent voting records and on interviews, Rogers said.

"What happens is that Republicans have decided to support small business, we didn't decide that position," she added.

The CSBA has more California members than the NFIB but lacks a full-time staff to oversee its political activity. The group only endorses candidates who actively seek it.

Below are some of the statewide and Southern California candidates endorsed by the two nonprofit organizations. For more information on either group, go to http://www.nfibonline.com and http://www.csba.com.

Dan Lungren: Both the NFIB and the CSBA say the conservative Lungren, if elected governor, would hold the line on taxes and minimum wage increases. The NFIB said Lungren had a 100% pro-small-business voting record as a Republican congressman from 1978 to 1988.

Matt Fong: The CSBA says state Treasurer Fong, the Republican challenger to Democratic U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer's seat, is a former small-business owner who shares their concerns. The NFIB says Boxer's small-business voting record is under 20% and that Fong is a strong supporter of small business.

Proposition 9: The CSBA, which had a hand in getting the state Legislature to deregulate the electric utility industry in 1996, opposes this measure. Proposition 9 would require electric utilities to give a 20% rate reduction now, rather than the 10% currently in effect. It also would prohibit utilities from charging customers to help repay the $6 billion in bonds the utilities sold to finance the 10% rate reduction.

The CSBA argues that Proposition 9 is confusing and that deregulation should be allowed to continue as is before tinkering with it again.

The CSBA also endorses Assemblyman Curt Pringle, an Orange County Republican running against former state Democratic Party Chairman Phil Angelides for the state treasurer's seat; Roz McGrath, a Democrat and member of a prominent Ventura County farming family who is running for the 37th Assembly District seat against Republican Tony Strickland; and Republican Bill Eggers, running in the 53rd Assembly District against Democrat George Nakano, a Torrance city councilman.

The NFIB has endorsed 26 congressional and state office candidates. Their Southern California endorsements include:

Randy Hoffman, a Republican high-tech company owner who is challenging Democrat Brad Sherman, a member of the state Board of Equalization, for the 24th Congressional District in the West San Fernando Valley, Malibu and Ventura County.

Steve Kuykendall, a Republican assemblyman, running in the 36th Congressional District against Democrat Janice Hahn.

James Rogan, incumbent Republican from Glendale in the 27th Congressional District, who is running against attorney and Democratic challenger Barry Gordan. The NFIB said Rogan had an 83% pro-small-business voting record.

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