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Small business is better off with Bitter Smith on the BBC

As far as the BBC is concerned, Susan Bitter Smith is an ordinary American small business owner. Is lobbying an ordinary American business?

[When my Uncle Al gets interested in something that he doesn’t want to talk about with his golfing buddies or his rotating cast of girlfriends, he sends me an email. Usually it’s something political, I guess because he gets sadistic pleasure out of making me gag. I keep telling him he needs a blog, but he says that’s too much trouble.

Anyway, I got this email from him last week and I asked him if I could put it on my blog. He said, why the hell not? So, this is a guest post — my first — from Uncle Al. Enjoy.]

Remember that speech Obama gave a few days ago, the one about how he’s going to “win the future” with my money? I was driving around right after that and I turned on the radio. My girlfriend must’ve been messing with it, because it was some guy reading the news with a British accent. It was the BBC, and I didn’t even know you could pick them up around here! But I figured I might as well listen for a while. (Turned out it was the NPR station. Guess they’ve had to outsource.) *

First they had on Dennis Kucinich, and he said Obama didn’t go far enough and we need more taxes and less profits. The usual, what can I say? For the other side they got some lady named Susan Bitter Smith on the line, said she runs a small business in Arizona. What’d she make of the Obama budget plan?

Well I’m very concerned, because his message of moving forward to repeal the Bush tax cuts is very troubling to me and all small business people across the country, because that will mean that we will be lumped into this category of being rich even though we are not. We’ll find ourselves taxed to death which will have a huge implication not only for us but our employees.

Your employees, in what sense?

In the sense that if we cannot do business as we are and we no longer have the ability to have any profit motive, we’ll have to lay off employees, eliminate health care coverage and potentially find ourselves in a very different operating place, which means less to our employees pocketbooks.

I thought, hey, they could’ve done a lot worse. Liberals figure you can always squeeze some more money out of people who make money. You know, we’re the richest country on the face of the earth, but don’t even bother talking about how all that wealth is created, it’s a waste of time. This Bitter Smith lady’s got the right idea. Just remind them that when we make money we pay people, and when we don’t we stop paying. If we’ve got to fight a war to keep our money, at least the human shields are working for us instead of against us for once.

There was one thing that got me. What kind of businessman is going to lose the profit motive because of taxes? I mean, do you lose your sex drive just because the price of drinks goes up? Don’t get me wrong, she sounds like a real nice lady, and they could’ve done a whole lot worse. But this is what stuck in my head, and when I got home I started to dig around, to see if I could figure out what was up with her.

Development on hold

Uninhabitable apartment block

Vacant autodealership

Projects Susan Bitter Smith would like to finance, but what for?

Turns out it wasn’t the first time they had her on the show. Back in 2008 the BBC put a bunch of reporters on a bus. They went out looking for real Americans, “miles away from the big corporate-style election campaigns the world glimpses on television,” and you know who they found? Susan Bitter Smith, “a Republican and a friend of John McCain.” What are the chances?

But you can see why they liked her. She’s got a way with words and like I said, she sounds like a real nice lady. When they pulled up in their bus she’d just lost the Republican nomination in a congressional race, but they “broadcast live from her home into the early hours relaying the thoughts and opinions of her friends both Republican and Democrat.” Then they called her up after 100 days of President Obama and she had some good news and some bad news. She was glad that the new guy seemed like he was up for protecting our country’s borders. But with the economy things were tough and she said her “profit margin is down to nothing.” She gave them some pretty sad pictures of “projects her company would have worked on if there had been finance available.”

Funny thing is, they introduce her on the radio as the owner of a “small business,” they talk to her about her business and her employees and her profits, they put up her pictures, but for some strange reason they never get around to saying what kind of business she’s in. It’s the same on her web site and twitter. Small business this, small business that, but what the hell is she selling? It’s something she wants to keep to herself, no question about that, so of course I had to know.

Dig a little and you find out that she’s the executive director of the Arizona-New Mexico Cable Communications Association. She’s been there for like 30 years, got hired right out of law school (got a sense of humor, too: “we’ve had a longstanding joke now for almost 25 years that they had to hire me because they asked me all kinds of questions that were highly illegal under EEO rules, like will your husband let you travel, are you going to get pregnant anytime soon….”). So in Arizona you can run a trade association and keep the change, if you know what I mean? Sounds like a sweet arrangement, but I don’t think she’d be blabbing on the radio if that was how she does business.

Dig some more, and you find a concern called Technical Solutions. Like the name says, they’re in the business of “client representation” and “client services.” Client numero uno is the Arizona Cable Telecommunications Association, which has got to be real convenient, because it’s in the exact same suite on N 44th St. as the business. She’s definitely leveraged her trade group gig, but it’s not like she’s doing it under the table. Look around the site and you’ll see that “Technical Solutions’ principal, Susan Bitter Smith, CAE, has been a registered lobbyist in Arizona for twenty five years.”

So there you go. She’s in lobbying and PR. It’s no surprise that she keeps quiet about it, because it’s not like she’s hiring ex-cons to make organic car tires from recycled barbie dolls or something. She helps folks with capital get stuff done, and a lot of people don’t appreciate that. Take these homeowners, who don’t want their precious spread of dust and cactus to get turned into a mall. They claim Bitter Smith told them she had a client that wanted to put up “a ‘small grocery store’” but it turned out to be “a 90,000 sq. ft. big-box store.” And when they said no thanks, she went to work on the politicians and the “Planning Department” and got things moving, anyway.

But that bunch of NIMBYs are probably Dems, so no big deal. It’s the other Republicans she has to worry about. Back in 2008 she got endorsed by Arizona’s tough-guy sheriff, Joe Arpaio. Folks running against her wondered what Sheriff Joe was doing, endorsing a pro-choice RINO like “Ms. BS”? Aha! It must be their “ongoing business relationship.” Sheriff Joe had been a client of Technical Solutions since 2001, to the tune of $164K, and Bitter Smith and her husband had coughed up about $1K in donations back to the sheriff.

Anyway, thank God for small business, because big business is bad business but small business is good. Seems like Bitter Smith figured this out running her cable association. She says that in Arizona they’ve got a mix of big and small operators, and it can be a challenge but there’s an up side. “They have understood they’re much more successful if they’ve got an issue where it’s the big Cox corporate person or the big Comcast corporate person, if there is also a small, independent person that says this is going to impact my business, as well.”

As long as she’s small, she can go on the radio and say her employees are nervous but so far she’s kept them on, even though her profit margin’s down to zero. If the CEO of big bad Comcast did that folks would just snort. But if it’s small business, well, that lady really cares! You don’t want to make her lay off any of those nice hardworking folks in her office, do you?

The funny thing is, big government’s not exactly a big problem for what she’s doing. Taxes go up and you think there ain’t no more profit in lobbying and PR? You kidding me? But you don’t want to talk about that if you’re lobbying the public to be better for business, I mean small business. In fact, if you know what’s good for you, you won’t even let them know that you’re a lobbyist in the first place.

I don’t know if Bitter Smith is ever going to make it into the big leagues as a politician. Probably not. But I’ve got to hand it to her, she’s a hell of an operator. She’ll even lobby a guy in congress while she’s trying to take his seat. But that’s just politics, not something to get all worked up about. And like I said, she sounds like a real nice lady.

And how about that BBC? I thought those guys were supposed to dig up all the facts and ask a lot of tough questions. Turns out they can be real nice, too.

* [It was The World Today at 03:05 BST on April 14, 2011. The audio isn’t online anymore, unfortunately. -Ed.]