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Business Backs a Challenger to a Tea Party Champion

Representative Amash (R-Mich.)

Photograph by J. Scott Applewhite/AP Images

Representative Amash (R-Mich.)

Even before the federal government shut down last week, the business community made clear that it is not happy about the tenor and tactics in Washington. Business leaders have continued their griping. Starbucks (SBUX) Chief Executive Officer Howard Schultz says he is “utterly disappointed by the level of irresponsibility and dysfunction we are witness to with our elected political leadership” and is urging other business leaders to speak up, according to Reuters.

There are now signs that business leaders in some congressional districts are looking to unseat Tea Party-backed representatives, whose insistence on delaying the start of the Affordable Care Act led to the shutdown. One target is Justin Amash, a libertarian sophomore Republican from Michigan. As I reported in September, Amash is known as the most transparent member of Congress—he puts his financial information front and center on his website and explains all his votes on Facebook (FB). He has also supported shutting down the government over Obamacare. The Washington Post reported on Oct. 6 that the business community in Amash’s home district have been recruiting a more centrist challenger; today, their favored candidate, investment manager Brian Ellis, officially entered the race.

Ellis’s website promises that he will advance “conservative solutions,” a phrase that seems to nod both to the deeply red nature of the district and the desire to support business interests. He chastised Amash for not supporting a bill to authorize the Keystone XL pipeline. As Amash had explained to his followers on Facebook, in a post quoting Friedrich Hayek, he supports the pipeline’s construction but believes “it’s improper … for Congress to write a bill that names and benefits one private project, while doing nothing to address the underlying problems that allowed such delays to occur.” For Amash, principle trumped the business benefits.

A few additional Tea Party representatives are feeling similar heat, the Post says, but as Slate points out, “Four members in trouble does not equal much of a backlash in a 233-member conference.” Recent polls, such as one Pew released on Monday, show overwhelming support among Tea Partiers for the shutdown to delay or end Obamacare. If a prolonged shutdown spreads the economic pain wider, watch for more Republicans to face challengers backed by business owners valuing economic reality above political purity.


Weise is a reporter for Bloomberg Businessweek in Seattle. Follow her on Twitter @kyweise.

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