Politics and business sometimes can make for a difficult partnership.
At the dinner hour this evening, for example, members of the immigrant-heavy Service Employees International Union will hold a demonstration outside Baja Sol Restaurant in Minneapolis’ Uptown area.
The target of the union is Tony Sutton, who along with his wife, Bridget, owns the successful chain of restaurants.
But it’s not Sutton’s non-union business that, at least outwardly, troubles SEIU. It’s his politics. Sutton is chairman of the state’s Republican Party, and SEIU links his position to statements made by the party’s endorsed gubernatorial candidate, Tom Emmer.
“Emmer fully supports the irresponsible and racist Arizona [immigration] law, SB 1070, saying that it is a wonderful first step and advocates for Rep. Drazkowski’s copycat bill which demonizes immigrants and institutes racial profiling,” the SEIU said in a statement.
It is true that Emmer once said he thought the Arizona law was “a wonderful first step.” An immigration bill by Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Wabasha, went nowhere in the recently concluded session.
As far as I know, Sutton never has made a statement on his personal feelings about immigration reform. And certainly, no one ever forced him to become his party’s chairman, a job he handles with great skill, glee and enthusiasm.
The SEIU says it is pointing to Sutton’s “hypocrisy” for “making millions of dollars selling Mexican fast food while making millions for the MNGOP to spend bashing immigrants.”
Sutton, typically available for comment on issues involving his party, declined to comment on this story.
Personally, I’ve never understood why any person in business would risk offending potential customers by having political or religious signage in their place of business. But then, as far as I know, Sutton doesn’t have portraits of Ronald Reagan or Tom Emmer in his restaurants.
There are people across the political spectrum who have made the choice to mix politics and business.
For example, for decades, Tom Gupta, the kindly owner of Schneider Drug at 3400 SE University Ave., has been advocating for liberal causes and political candidates with signage in his storefront window.
He assumes that it’s cost him some business, though he’s seldom confronted by customers unhappy with his politics.
“There was a case once where a man came to me and had his hand on his wallet,” recalled Gupta, an immigrant from India. “He said I was going to buy a lot of things, but I don’t like what you stand for, so I’m not buying anything. I said, ‘Fine, it’s a free country. The door’s always open.’ ”
There are all sorts of reasons people may or may not choose to do business with him, Gupta said.
Some come, because they like doing business with an independently owned, small store. Others like doing business with him because his store is the antithesis of the big-box stores that have come to rule the pharmacy business. Others, though, Gupta says, have left his store “because they think they can get a better price at the box stores.”
What it comes down to for Gupta is that “sometimes you have to put your money where your mouth is.”
Felipe Illescas, who is coordinating the protest outside Sutton’s restaurant, said that it appears that many of the employees at the chain of Baja Sol restaurants throughout the metropolitan area are immigrants. He also said that the fact that Sutton’s chain is non-union has nothing to do with the demonstration.
“This is just the start of a campaign,” said Illescas. “We’re doing research on other businesses that are making money by using immigrant labor, then turning around and bashing immigration.”