Windmillin'

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

Why the silence?

Looking at the gathering Monday at the Wealthy Street Theatre, you couldn’t really blame Republicans for staying away. It was a meeting on foreclosure dominated by area activists, minorities and Democrats — not exactly the kind of crowd that even City GOP members hang with. Still ceding the issue, letting The Press editorialize on it, leaves the Republican party exposed as being either disinterested, or worse unwilling to help homeowners.  Was it blindness?  Self-interest? Partisanship?

Whatever the case, they are behind the wave, and what is significant in the past week, silent.

The Background

The circumstances are by now, well known.  Last week Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox proposed giving $500,000 to help with Millennium Park, and Crescent Park tucked in the shadow of the Van Andel Institute.  The hitch?  This was money from the foreclosure settlement with Countrywide Mortgage.  And why these particular parks?  They were beloved of well-known Republican (and in fairness civic benefactor) Peter Secchia.

Yet this gift went unappreciated.  As it should.  With 10 foreclosures a day taking place in Kent County, and 5.5%  of all homes in foreclosure in 2008 according to this report from Dyer-Ives, parks were not the first thing that comes to mind in helping people, neighborhoods and cities handle foreclosures.  While the Mayor waffled, County Commissioner Brandon Dillon and Carol Hennessey, and Grand Rapids Second Ward Commissioner Dave LaGrand urged a better use of the funds, and last Friday, the AG relented.

(Phil Skaggs was also on the case big time — the story making it to the Chicago papers.)

So What Were They Thinking?

It is not at all obvious that home foreclosure should be the province of just one party.  Apart from the personal tragedy of lost home, foreclosures impact neighborhoods, lowering property values and reducing municipal revenue.   It would seem, this is the definition of a voting issue.

For the social conservatives, this would be especially important.  Home ownership is a commitment to place and family; loss of home is a family tragedy.  The neighborhoods that are hit — those along Burton, not to mention the villages of Kent City and Sand Lake — these are places where a Republican brand could take hold.

Could. That’s what has me thinking.  Helping homeowners, showing interest in their struggles is certainly consonant with what are purported to be Republican values, especially for social conservatives.  At a time when their brand has taken such a shellacking would it make sense to say something?

As a practical matter, there would be two kinds of political hay to be made here.  The first benefit would have been to be seen favorably by the very neighborhoods affected.  This would clearly be the case for anyone who had aspirations of running in the 75th to replace Robert Dean.  To not care about foreclosure can easily be read as not caring about the city.  That’s why it is so important to say something, anything.  The second benefit lies with those moderates who care about the issues but live in the suburbs.  Caring for the city has direct benefits for these voters — this is the standard ploy that so many of the Dutch Republicans have previously made on race; why Vern is considered a “moderate.”

If there is so much practical upside, why the silence?  Several reasons present themselves.

1.  Not their issue

Examining recent votes in the State House of Representatives  reveals one probable cause: Republicans don’t see this as their issue, they are skeptical of relief.  The package of HB 4453-55  would give homeowners 90 days before they lose their house, and Kent County’s Republicans lined up solidly against them.  Voting Nay were Amash, Green, Hildenbrand, and Pearce.

So perhaps this is a partisan silence.

2.  Mike Cox is their guy.

There is a governor’s race going on, so perhaps siding with Cox was seen as the practical choice.  This was the silence of acquiescence.  But the unresponsiveness from Congressman Pete Hoekstra or Grandville native Terri Land is certainly puzzling.  Here, the partisanship gets in the way.  Perhaps speaking out would mark one as a RINO, or as one too squishy for the hardcore partisan.

At the very least Land’s silence is oddest.  The lack of concern suggests she may be rethinking her run, all the more with Hoekstra ready to announce Monday.

3.  This wasn’t about Foreclosure at all

As campaign disclosures reveal, the AG has done little fundraising from the West side of the state, particularly in comparison with what he’s done on the east side, in the Detroit suburbs.  So building a bridge to the funding community in Grand Rapids seemed a logical play.  Here, the uproar is all to his benefit.  He looks like a beacon of Republican sanity against all those community activists.  Here the offer to fund is the key thing.   By  ingratiating himself with the monied powers of Ada and surrounding townships he invited a counter play from others who are also looking at the Governor’s office, Hoekstra and Land.

For now all we can say is that by their silence, the Republicans let slip an opportunity to speak to a real problem. Tomorrow, they will have another opportunity in the State Senate.  And by committee votes, it does not look as if they will be speaking on foreclosure then, either.

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