SCAA Election Demonstrates Democracy at its Best

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By Andrew Hetzel

Winston Churchill once said, “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all of the others.” Despite its inefficiencies and occasional failings, democracy provides individuals the rights of free expression, equality and the benefits of a peaceful transfer of power between administrations. In short, Democracy works.

Democracy is a word that came to mind often over these past few months leading up to the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s annual board election. In America, the democratic process today is routinely hindered by apathy and complacency leading to declines in participation and low voter turnout. Individuals feel that they have no voice, that no candidate suitably represents his or her own views or that the process itself is too cumbersome to be involved, instead choosing no action at all and squandering a precious opportunity to be heard about those issues they feel most passionate. So was the status quo of our board member elections — until this year.

This is a defining year for SCAA. Where a financial crisis in the mid-2000’s once united us as an association for the common cause of its preservation, we are now planning ahead for its future as the global leader in our industry and evaluating how to best represent the increasingly diverse interests of our growing membership equally. We are no longer restricted by a lack of available options but rather, faced with a world full of endless possibilities to improve our industry. Global cooperative initiatives, enhanced and accredited member education programs and groundbreaking scientific research are no longer beyond our reach.

Two candidates came forth this year to voluntarily and selflessly offer their capable services to lead SCAA into the future with contrasting ideological views: Ben Pitts, current board secretary and treasurer, a passionate but modest and soft-spoken coffee industry executive with an eye for detail, and Marty Curtis, past SCAA board member, an internationally recognized coffee figure known for his signature motorcycle riding, tie-dye wearing style and hands-on personality.

The bigger challenge for either in practice as a board member would ultimately be finding a way to remain committed to both candidates’ platforms. With both views supported by some portion of the membership, it is the responsibility of the entire SCAA Board of Directors to see that all of these ideals that are important to members remain in focus.

In the best spirit of democracy, members rose to the occasion to make their voices heard and campaign for the candidates they felt best represented their ideal vision of our future association. Though the onslaught of email messages and phone calls became heated by flaring passion at times, cooler heads prevailed and an election was carried out in a calm and professional matter.

Now that the ballots have been counted and Mr. Pitts independently awarded the position in what must be one of the most energetic and closest races in the history of our association, I am proud and inspired by the actions of both candidates and their supporters to stand for what they believe is right. I’m also reminded of the near-unimaginable variety of interests that the SCAA represents, from a single unit coffee shop owner down the street, to the management of global roaster/retailers, to top baristas behind the counter of bi-coastal specialty cafes and some of the world’s most dedicated farmers working fields half a world away. While we may not be the world’s 2nd most valuable industry, we are surely one of its most uniquely diverse.

Democracy does not, however, end with an election. It is a process of being heard and represented fairly and equally every day. I urge all members, including those who were spurred on by this election to continue voicing their opinions by staying in contact with your elected board of directors and by communicating with other association members and SCAA staff at events or through social media. We keep the conversation going.

The upcoming SCAA Event in Seattle is an ideal opportunity, a homecoming for all of us to set aside rhetoric and be heard as individuals who care about our livelihoods, our industry and this complex network that we depend on to make great coffee possible.

As we go into our future together, let’s keep the passionate spirit of democracy alive.





Andrew Hetzel
SCAA Board Member


In the recently released Election Transparency Report, available here, SCAA President Paul Thornton invites the SCAA membership to participate in this dialog.

For those of you interested in communicating directly with the President, officers of the Board and the senior staff, the executive director will host two open discussion forums at the upcoming SCAA Event.  Sessions will be held in room 6B of the Washington State Convention Center, the first on Friday, April 25, 2014 at 1:30 pm PDT and another in the same room on Saturday, April 26, 2014 at 2:00 pm PDT.