Liberal Ex-Congressman Opens Restaurant, Realizes Government Regulations Suck
Posted By Daniel Greenfield On April 29, 2014 @ 9:20 am In The Point | No Comments
It’s different when you’re on the receiving end.
The former Michigan Democratic congressman, liberal pit bull, academic, antiwar firebrand and labor-union BFF has undergone an epiphany, making him simpatico with businesses and the profit motive.
When his family approached him more than four years ago about starting Zest, Bonior became a scrappy entrepreneur. He used his congressional access to knock on every one of 435 congressional offices, dropping off a flier for Zest. He worked the Metro stations, handing out coupons. He went door-to-door, as if he were campaigning.
“We kept thinking of ways to reach out.”
He knew it was risky. Most restaurants fail within two years. But his stepson and daughter-in-law were experienced in restaurant management. In the process, he gained an appreciation for the profit motive.
“The biggest surprise is how you have to hustle,” he said. “It was an eye-opener. I always heard this when I was in Congress. ‘You should try and own a business someday, Bonior.’ So I own two small businesses with my stepson and daughter-in-law. It’s tough to make it, in terms of profit margins. But somehow you get by and you figure it out.”
Bonior said if he had the power, he would lighten up on pesky regulations.
“It took us a ridiculous amount of time to get our permits. I understand regulations and . . . the necessity for it. But we lost six months of business because of that. It’s very frustrating.”
Maybe everyone in Congress should be obligated to manage a business on the side. It might introduce a note of reality into their legislating.
It also happened to George McGovern.
“In 1988, I invested most of the earnings from this lecture circuit acquiring the leasehold on Connecticut’s Stratford Inn. Hotels, inns and restaurants have always held a special fascination for me. The Stratford Inn promised the realization of a longtime dream to own a combination hotel, restaurant and public conference facility — complete with an experienced manager and staff…
I also wish that during the years I was in public office, I had had this firsthand experience about the difficulties business people face every day. That knowledge would have made me a better U.S. senator and a more understanding presidential contender….
To create job opportunities we need entrepreneurs who will risk their capital against an expected payoff. Too often, however, public policy does not consider whether we are choking off those opportunities.
It was the choking of local, state and federal rules, regulations and mandates that forced his venture into bankruptcy. He explained:
“My business associates and I … lived with federal, state and local rules that were all passed with the objective of helping employees, protecting the environment, raising tax dollars for schools, protecting our customers from fire hazards, etc. While I never doubted the worthiness of any of these goals, the concept that most often eludes legislators is: Can we make consumers pay the higher prices for the increased operating costs that accompany public regulation and government reporting requirements with reams of red tape? It is a simple concern that is nonetheless often ignored by legislators.
For example, the papers today are filled with stories about businesses dropping health coverage for employees. We provided a substantial package for our staff at the Stratford Inn. However, were we operating today, those costs would exceed $150,000 a year for health care on top of salaries and other benefits. There would have been no reasonable way for us to absorb or pass on these costs.”
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