One of the odder things underway in the current election season is the absence of the Dutch Reformed in the contest for Michigan State House District 75.
For more than a generation this seat has not only been the possession of Republicans, but of a succession of members of the Christian Reformed church: Peter Kok, Paul Henry, Vern Ehlers, Bill Byl, Jerry Kooiman. They were a string of politicians notable for their vision of public servcie; they were men of faith, but not in the sectarian form of the Christian Right; in short their’s was a very distinctive political culture. In 2006 Christian Meyers sought to take his place in this line but lost to Tim Doyle. And as we know, Rev. Robert Dean won instead.
This year we have two exlicit Catholics and a (religiously) unknown running: T J Carnegie, Dan Tietema and Michael Burdo. The only connection to the older Dutch community is in Tietema’s last name. This golden chain has been snapped.
So what is going on? A set of hypothesizes suggest themselves.
Is the Dutch political culture of a generation being eclipsed? Perhaps. The signs are clear that the community, long a feature on the city’s SE side, is shrinking.
As the numbers have waned, there is also evidence that historically staunch neighborhoods (and they still are pretty staunch) have also begun to trend for conservative blacks. E.g., both Third Ward city commissioners are black; and Rep. Dean is a very conservative Democrat, as well.
There is also emerging in the city an east-side Catholic political culture. In the 75th, the Catholic neighborhoods of the north end have been recognized as the deciding neighborhoods. In the third ward, the old Dutch neighborhoods (those out towards Calvin) were balanced by the minority precincts; the neighborhoods north of Fulton were the tie-breaker. And these were Catholic. But until now, it has been a diffused Catholicism — these more suburban neighborhoods lack the political culture of the west side, or of the public service motivation of the old Dutch.
Each of these potential long-term trends will receive further exploration. But for the moment, 2008 makes clear the Catholic boys are in town, and throwing long.