Where politics and faith dance in the shadow of the windmill.

A Return to the Old Days

The news that the Reform Michigan Government Now! is the “brain” child of union and Democratic Party, sadly, is not surprising. It brings back an older form of Michigan Democratic politics, and a rift we have worked to heal in Kent Count

And what a rift it was.

In 1984, when I came to the Party, the Kent County Dems were reeling. They had been redistricted out of State Senate seat, no local redistricting plan had been submitted in 1980, so new County Commission seats were shifted, and one commissioner, Kathy Kuhn had switched parties. (In the south end, James Vaughn had threatened to do the same.)

Two groups faced-off in the Party: the Regular Party, fueled by UAW money and members; and a network of activists, the Coalition Democrats: academics, social liberals, minorities. The two groups echoed the split 15 years earlier between Robert Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey. The Coalition were largely from the center and east side of Grand Rapids, the Regulars drew from the west side and the suburbs.

The two groups dueled over precinct delegates. Activists saw delegates as a ground force for organizing elections; Regulars saw the delegates as votes at the State Convention. Thus recruiting delegates was an activity guarded ferociously by union representatives. This was the level of distrust we had between us.

Coalition Dems had focused on local elections, and in turn built up a network of experience about campaigning. Poor Candidate recruitment galled them. The reluctance to engage in party building left many infuriated. There was more than enough bad blood, and it was often highly personalized. Some left. Some of us stayed.

But we healed. And this is a place to name names.

Kent County Dems healed, because we began to get more electoral success. By the 90s the Coalition as an organization had faded. In its place emerged Friends of Labor, a collection of non-UAW unions, guided by Bruce Harvey of the Teamsters. City Commission seats began to fall into Dem hands. Rick Tormala’s ferocious 1999 victory showed how we could win in the Second Ward.

Kent County Dems also healed because of three strong women: Lupe Ramos-Montigny, originally one of the Coalition members, an MEA leader, and Party Chair 2002-2004; Sue Levy, UAW, party chair 2004 –, who in style opened the doors to all and so made us better; and Maggie Simmons, a fund-raiser and organizer for Granholm’s first run for AG in 1998.

Their hard work, and the coordinated campaigns of 2002, 2004, 2006 have created a party as unified as it has been for more than a generation. We’re winning elections.

And now RMGN will undo this.

The redistricting aspects of the Reform Michigan Government Now proposal will undo the work of our local party. Sadly the electoral concerns of West Michigan are sacrificed to the inside nexus of Party and union insiders. One of the main points of the battle in the 80s and 90s was to elevate electoral success as our criteria for Party success. Here, we have the unraveling of that vision. In place of transparency we are left with the clouded plans of a few.

Man, I hated the conflicts of those bad old days.


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