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

Rumble on the Southbelt (1)

In the 72nd District State House Seat in South Kent County, three strong candidates face off in one of the more interesting races in our region. Their battle not only hints at the struggle internally for the GOP, but also reflects some long-standing divisions within Kent County. Yes, our “friends” suffer from the same east-west division.

But before we can meet the players and the conflict, we need to look at the district. This will be post 1. I can see we’re going long.

Meet the 72nd.

The District is made up of one city (Kentwood) and three townships: Cascade, Caledonia (with the village included), and Gaines.

one city and three townships

SH 72: one city and three townships

Kentwood is the largest region in the district, it is also separated from the other three townships by highways, I-96, and the M-6, aka the Southbelt. Founded in 1967, Kentwood was originally suburban in orientation. In the 90s the city filled in, the last farms disappeared, and with the M-6 it became effectively part of the Grand Rapids urban region. Kentwood is literally now on the wrong side of the road.

For those considering the district, it is important to think of the city as developing from west to east. In the post war environment, both Wyoming and Grand Rapids had been incorporating neighborhoods in the northwest corner of what was then Paris Township. The oldest neighborhoods are found on the west along Division Avenue. These precincts are gaining in Dem share. In the north, along the Grand Rapids border are a number of large apartment/condominium complexes, these also are a little less reflexively Republican. Generally the precincts along Kalamazoo Ave (that’s the diagonal line in the map) are the most civic in orientation. Moving east one runs into newer developments, as well as extensive industrial parks centered on the airport and the Steelcase office/mfg complex in the SE corner of the city.

The political culture of Kentwood is dominated by the Dutch — though the city has a 20 percent minority population (9 percent African American, with a significant Vietnamese communty). There is a strong vector out of the older Dutch neighborhoods in GR running down Kalamazoo and out into Gaines Township. Contributing to this orientation is a large Missouri Synod Lutheran congregation. The community has voted Republican, but recent elections show some softening. Kentwood is the home base for Sen. Bill Hardiman.

And Kentwood, still pervasively Republican.

Registration: 32,500. Turn out 42 percent (min:30 percent; max 61 percent) Here is the opportunity for the Dems, such as it is.

GOP base: the median precinct size 47 percent — that’s 47 percent of total vote.

Remember, this is the most favorable. What can be said about the three suburbs?

Cascade. Most familiar with Grand Rapids know about Cascade. It is one of the two major eastern townships, home to the managerial class, as well as home to Forest Hills Public Schools. As to political culture, the township is reflexively conservative of a particular economic bent. Missing here (but present in other regions) is the strong overlay of social conservatives. As may be expected from a highly educated and wealthy community, turnout tends to be high. Registration: 12,000; Turnout in last election anchored in low 60s. GOP share ranges from 52 to 62 percent.

Caledonia. This township is rapidly transitioning from an agricultural community to a bedroom for the metro region. Twenty years ago it was an exurb, now increasingly suburban. This mixture of old and new gives the township a more middle class feel (though many in the middle class continue farther south to Middleville in Barry County). Generally, the population is concentrated in the north, with agriculture to the south. On the east is the Thornapple River. Here, one will find significant developments as a sort of extension from Cascade. To the west, the region is dominated by Dutch (agriculture, and in settlement of Caledonia). The result is a distinct social conservative bent to its voting pattern, but softened by its strong public school.

Registration: 8,000; turnout in excess of 60 percent. GOP core share, varies from 62 to 72 percent.

Gaines. In the last decade this region has exploded, principally in the top two tiers of sections (i.e. north of 76th). The township is home to conservative Dutch communities, Dutton and Cutlerville. The new developments have brought in more of the Dutch diaspora from Grand Rapids. The new suburbs may be considered “new money” to the older money of Cascade. Its students attend Kentwood, Caledonia or South Christian. The flavor of the Township may be gathered by its own self description

Gaines Charter Township is a community which places a high value on family life, good moral standards, a sense of community, and a desire to enrich the lives of all its residents.

The political culture is active, very conservative and home to social conservatives.

Registration: 15,700. Turnout range: 38 – 62 percent. Republican core share: two precincts in the mid 40s, one in the 50s, and five at 60 percent or (far) better.

With numbers like these, clearly this will not be a home to Dems any time soon.  But as a petri dish for Republican politics, there are more than enough details here to make it interesting.  Next post, we’ll meet the contestants.

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One Response

  1. […] is the deciding factor. In its mix of old suburban/urban, money, new suburban and agriculture (see earlier post), the district serves up as a Petri dish for current and future Republican […]

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