One of the consequences of the Democratic implosion has been the need to reformulate how we deal with the other side. What sort of cooperation do we maintain? Do we allow ourselves to support GOP candidates in non-winnable districts, if they are right on at least some issues?
This is the dilemma of the minority party. And there’s no easy way to answer it, since after all, this is politics.
Take the case of Stan Ponstein, R-Grandville, Kent County Commission.
Ponstein is one of those Republicans that some Democrats can like, at least from a distance. Able to win with big margins (3:1 in 2010), he has the freedom that comes from a safe seat, most notably when it came to farmland preservation. And if you sit in some circles, you may even hear a Dem or two note that “if Stan faced a challenge, we’d be willing to help” — that’s the power of pragmatism. In effect, “he’s a Republican but he’s our Republican.”
Last Tuesday, Ponstein underscored the first part of his identity: he’s a Republican. When it came time to reorganize the County Commission for the upcoming session, Ponstein took the big step backward. The old deal he helped put in place two years ago? No more requirement for minority party representation on any of the major committees (finance, legislative, human resources), and no minority vice chair, instead return to the shut out caucus days of yore. Indeed this was precisely what some of the re-elected bulls wanted, notably Harold Mast, and Stan Boelema.
Now as attractive as rule by caucus can seem, for commissioners coming from urban Kent County (the cities of Wyoming, Grand Rapids, and Kentwood), caucus rule means a dampening of their constituents’ concerns. A caucus whose principle members are the suburban/township with a handful of urban seats necessarily means that urban concerns take second place to those of the suburban/township majority. Caucus rule is a trap for anyone interested in advancing the pragmatic politics of building Kent County.
Thus it turns out that there remain two dilemmas for the pragmatic politician: for the majority GOP, a temptation to go partisan and so stifle the acting on urban issues; for the minority Dem, the temptation to co-operate so much with the GOP counterpart in the name of pragmatism so as to win a victory but lose the greater battle.
These tensions are only to grow all the more with anticipated redistricting and the shrinkage of the County Commission to 17.