Windmillin'

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

Don’t Count on It.

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Republican regulars have thought that Trump was different than their own vision. Ed Kilgore breaks the news: the support is consolidating with Trump.

Conservatives Are Losing Their Base To Trump

While Dems can think of rebuilding relationships with the disillusioned working class, the reality will be that the nationalistic right of Trump is likely to hold them. The folks more likely to come into play will be civic Republicans, those middle class, non-evangelical, educated voters. There are a bunch of them in the near suburbs and so offer potential as the Party turns to 2018. A Democratic Party that is sane (progressive but practical) may have some possibilities in the eastern townships.

Filed under: Democratic Party, Elections, , ,

All Politics is Local

Tip O’Neil’s words were never  more true. Particularly when it comes to resistance. In an era of erratic and likely increasingly autocratic government in Washington, the pushback will not wait until 2020. It starts at the local level, as Josh Marshall reminds us:

Resistance to Trump and anti-Trump activism is a critical precondition of turning back to Trumpite tide. But it is not a sufficient one. I appear to be considerably more confident than a lot of other people I know that Republicans may face a big electoral backlash in 2018. But if it happens it will happen because of grassroots organizing in red states and the red parts of blue states.

Of course, it will not simply be grassroots efforts, as if finding more Democrats will cure the ills. In the past, this has too often meant concentrating on the known players and motivating them to vote. As we saw in the last election, this was roughly the equivalent of the drunk looking for his keys under the street light because ‘that’s where the light was good.’

We might put into this same pot the danger of taking an anti-charter stand, as gratifying as that may be. What we forget with charters is that it is not simply the schools or their philosophy, but these are places of parents.

To go beyond our known voters and known friends will require issues that resonate with larger audiences. At their best such issues should be intuitively true — not unlike how Right to Life found the power of babies. Two suggest themselves: transparency and accountability.

Transparency. This is election reform by a different, neutral name. Rather than focus on limits to campaign finance, much as we want them (cf. reactions to Citizens United), we ask only that funding be transparent. Citizens have a right to know who is putting up the money in politics. Secret money is almost certainly corrupt money. This also puts the weight on citizenship, on empowering voters — a theme that often is heard on the Right. Well, it’s time to steal it.

Accountability. Again, accountability is a  theme found among some conservatives. Going forward the same theme can be applied especially to failed, Republican-driven policies. It’s not just Flint, it is fundamentally the flawed governance of charters.

In campaign finance and charter oversight, Michigan ranks at or near the bottom nationally. Two themes give us the path forward.

 

 

Filed under: Democratic Party, , , ,

The problem in a word

Well, two: “single women.”

“I am available to share a platform with Congressman Amash. My campaign isn’t about battling the Republican incumbent. My campaign is focusing on messaging to women, especially single women, what they appropriately expect government programs can do to help them and those who depend on them.” – Bob Goodrich, Democratic candidate for the Third Congressional District.

This might have had a chance against a Brian Ellis who wanted to be a truer-than-true Republican, less so with Amash with his maverick reputation, who has invested significant energy on the National Security Administration (NSA) and away from social conservative issues.  Counting on single women for victory is not unlike the imagined path to deficit control through austerity measures alone. There are no magic bullets here, only the hard work of coalition building.

 

 

 

Filed under: Democratic Party, Politics, , , , ,

Showdown in the Motor CIty

While I’m here doing schoolwork and chores, Democrats from across the state are meeting (and voting at this hour)  to elect a chair. And by all accounts, the battle should be a doozy. Certainly the campaign has been intense with both incumbent Mark Brewer and challenger Lon Johnson sending out numerous pleas, as well as motivating their forces. This has already been covered on numerous blogs and posts, perhaps most consistently at Michigan Liberal.

While the battle has been fierce, the issue is finally less about the individuals than the shape of the Party. The painful truth of 2012 is the political weakness, first with the  defeat of Prop 2 and then the lame duck enacting of RTW and other questionable legislation.  The tools to challenge or impede this were noticeably missing. Add to it the  resignation of Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway (and her subsequent conviction), and we have a Party that for all its national strength has not found the a way to translate that into state-wide leadership.

The failure is strategic. it does not rest on the shoulders of a single individual, nor can one blame the UAW, that favorite whipping boy of so many. The problems are more structural in nature, something that Johnson caught sight of in his interview on Eclectablog:

This is a very different state structure-wise than any other state that I’ve worked in and I’ve worked in a lot of ‘em.

In what way? What do you mean by that? How is it different?
Institutions play a larger role, without a doubt.

You’re talking unions, in general?
I’m talking unions. I’m talking other groups. We have a respect for institutions. I think our party does and our party activists, not only do they play a larger role, but we see the value in institutions because there is a great value in them. We are a better party because of it.

What has certainly happened is that the balancing and politics of various institutional forms has handicapped the ability of the Dems to field strong state-wide candidates. Without strong leadership on top, it makes the electoral challenge of turning out low-information voters. And this is the strategic question at its core: how do Dems as a whole combine to think in terms of winning the off-year.

On this strategic question, neither the incumbent nor the challenger have suggested any real solutions.

From the Brewer camp has come an emphasis on redistricting as the culprit. Redesigned seats could give one or more congressional seats and perhaps a majority in the State House, but this would do nothing about the core failing in terms of winning state-wide, or of better mobilizing generally in off-years.

For Johnson, the focus has been on the adoption of campaign techniques from OFA, and in particular on the focus on expanding the base to the young, minority, women and low-income. In one sense this is the future, particularly the social media aspects of the outreach. Nonetheless, if the institutional silos remain, the problem of actually mounting winning statewide offices will still be significant.

No matter who wins in this hour, one fact will be true: Michigan Democrats cannot go on as they have.

Update

When it came time, Mark Brewer withdrew his name, leaving only Lon Johnson. The strategic questions remain.

 

Filed under: Democratic Party, , , , , ,

Campaign Notes

[I will be enjoying life far away from the polls next week. But before then, here are some notes on various campaigns]

Quite Likely the Whitest Campaign Ever

That would be Pestka-Thomas primary. Were one to look at the visuals of their websites, their Facebook pages, or for that matter the material that comes in the mail, why one would think there were hardly minorities anywhere in the region. Sort of like Ottawa County (if you’re a Republican).

This is more than an oddity, however. In the general election, minorities will play a crucial role, the challenge being to draw the occasional voter to vote the rest of the ballot.  While the voting decision for poor and minorities is often made fairly late in the campaign, candidates cannot wait until then. Moreover, the lack of face time undercuts both candidates’ claims to being progressive.

I live in the city. I know how important Democratic values and Washington decisions are to my neighbors. I would like to see more evidence that they will get heard.

Too Conventional?

When the Pestka campaign chose the standard “Defend the Retiree” stance to push back against Thomas, one can hardly blame them. This is the common tactic for appealing to a core Democratic base; it seems like an easy win. But it is also a trap, one that will become painfully clear on Wednesday, August 8.

There is something rather old-fashioned about this, almost charming. And that’s the danger. “Old fashioned.” Something from the 80s or 90s. Against a 32-year old tyro, does it work?

If anything, this defensive approach gives the opposition two avenues of attack: old ideas (that presumably don’t work), and since most adults know that entitlements will need to be looked at — the defensive approach becomes easily portrayed as a form of “do nothing-ism.” At a time when the GOP will be running on “fiscal austerity” (albeit of the sad Paul Ryan approach), the defensive position gives them the mantle of “reformer.”  It cedes the frame to the other side. And as a matter of practical politics, coming across as a conventional Democrat is a fair way to keep moderate conservatives from voting for you. Oh, they may despise Amash, but the more Pestka sounds like one more Democrat — well the campaign begins to bleed the voters it needs.

And that would be a shame. In other forums  Pestka has demonstrated a real appreciation for the budget decisions confronting the nation. By becoming known as that sort of practical, economically informed candidate, he can successfully whittle away at the Amash support.

Schmidt throws a Hail Mary

Another flyer in the mailbox is this, from Rep. Roy Schmidt

The Catholics are his last bastion, it would seem. Running as a social conservative would have been a good stance for the general, but the drumbeat of condemnation, from the County Prosecutor, Schmidt’s own nephew, and of course the press on MLive — standing up for new life and babies, but not standing up for your friends and constituencies? That doesn’t work. So he ends up simply being a Catholic candidate instead of a social conservative one, the former being a parochial stance, the latter at least in theory, one that represents a region.

As a matter of electoral politics, one also has to ask how this plays in the context of a senatorial primary. With Hoekstra well on his way to the win, the social conservative wing of Hekman (and once Glenn) is simply too small. Here, Bing Goei’s connection to regular GOP members gives him an edge. With the Hoekstra train coming through, the one play that Schmidt did have would be casting himself as a proto-Tea Party member, but then again, that would violate his implicit appeal of the “same old Roy.”

All these troubles arise because the original plan to defect was handled tactically rather than strategically. Without consideration of how to position oneself after the switch, he ends up with surprisingly little to say. And of course, if you are going to run for office, you will have to say something.

Farm? What Farm?

Last, one of the odder pieces of politics has been the attempted return of Jim Vaughn to his county commission seat.

Vaughn takes a resolute stand for jobs and for attention to the black community, but then draws a sharp (and negative) contrast with Farmland preservation. For most Democrats, this is an odd position. It does suggest another form of older politics. In the post civil rights era, one of the compromises black politicians made was the sort that secured direct advantages for communities, but largely ceded the issues outside the neighborhood to the dominant party (i.e. the Republicans). This style of politics works both ways, for the white politician, it allows for some sense of doing good, after all one is supporting their elected representative –even conservatives want to do justice — and at the same time, it provides another vote on items of concern for the conservative wing, such as opposition to farmland preservation.

This pattern of mutual benefit can also be seen in various redistricting schemes that consolidated black voters in guaranteed districts, thus freeing up other districts for more conservative white candidates.

As I said, this is an old pattern.

What Vaughn misses is the more integrated way of both parties. For the GOP, this has been shown in greater party discipline. There is less room for the older style on the part of whites, too. It is now ideological. For the Dems, issues are also more integrated. We no longer think in terms of simply our separate boxes, not even that of union, non-union. The wiser heads have come to see that the attention to the environment is every bit as important as addressing the problems of the City. The pulling it apart, the notion that Green has no place at the (economic) table is over.

Last, Vaughn’s approach might have some traction in a more purely black district, but redistricting has tossed in a number of precincts that are less inclined to make the same economic trade-off, and certainly more inclined to value the environment.

Filed under: Democratic Party, Elections, , , , , , , , ,

Schmidt storm

When Roy Schmidt switched parties it certainly stirred up a small tempest.

First, of course, was the obvious disarray that it left the local Democratic Party. The loss of an elected official was bad enough, to lose at the last possible minute, to lose with an obvious dummy candidate in place taking the role of a legitimate Democrat — well, that’s the stuff of grudges. There ought to be a law the feeling went, except — only there wasn’t.

Then came the report from Kent County Prosecuting Attorney, William Forsyth, and the small tempest became a major media storm. While the report could find no violations of the law, it nonetheless offered a damning view of the circumstances leading up to the switch, including the negotiations between the representative and Speaker of the House, Rep. Jase Bolger.  Forsyth’s own view was that of outrage. Although he could not prosecute, he was explicit on the violation of integrity.

“Incredibly, while it would be illegal to pay a boxer to take a “dive” or a basketball player to “point-shave”, it is not currently a crime in Michigan to recruit someone to run for public office, place them on the ballot at the “eleventh hour” and essentially pay them to make no effort to win.”

The extensive media attention by MLive and broadcast media have taken Forsyth’s words and made them a virtual campaign in themselves. The Democratic campaign from Winnie Brinks no longer needs to generate outrage, the report provides all the quotes one could use. Tactically this is a great advantage. Yet for all the outrage, is it enough?

Understandably, the sharp words from the Prosecuting Attorney give a morale boost to Democrats, but is it enough to shape the election? Here the actual make up of the redesigned district comes into play. There is no question that the district was restructured to give maximum voice to the GOP in the outer neighborhoods of the city. In the 76th the base leans slightly to the right (2004, .54 R; 2008, .45 R; 2010, .55 R), so depending on how strong the Republican base is motivated, the district becomes more or less difficult. As can be seen, much depends on the scale of turnout the Dems can generate.

To translate this: Roy Schmidt’s future rests with the casual, “persuadable” voter. If the GOP is sufficiently motivated, it may be enough. This is the real impact of the media storm. Yes the Dems can take direct heart, but the real damage is with Schmidt’s image among those who pay casual attention.  We already the see the damage in the jumping in of Bing Goei as a write candidate for Republicans. Like Brinks, he’s another CRC product and reflects the general disgust in the SE side.

For Schmidt to lose the SE side would put his campaign in jeopardy, even assuming a base vote like that of 2004. To win, he will need a partisan race like that of 2004, and not only that, he must also present the case that he is in line with the top of the ticket. That however, can only further erode his standing among the casual and persuadable voters. What he needs to do, is find some strategy to clean up after this storm. There are several available, more on that later.

Filed under: Democratic Party, Elections, , , , , , , ,

The way we were

Anna Bennett goes after a Pestka vote on anti-Planned Parenthood bill in 2001. For her, it is proof positive of Pestka’s fundamental anti-woman stance, the crucial attack line for the Trevor Thomas campaign.

Reading it however, one can think of the role of time. After all ten years makes a big difference.

At the start of the millennium Grand Rapids was only beginning to emerge as the shining light in Michigan. Meijer Garden was just beginning to come into its own; downtown, the DeVos campus was newly built; and on the medical complex, a billion dollars worth of new construction was still on the planning boards (if that). Politically, there were stirrings, but in 2002 the new governor, Jennifer Granholm could not take the city; the now powerful Progressive Women’s Alliance had yet to be formed; and a progressive mayor was yet to be elected. The Grand Rapids that can host innovation like Art Prize, that makes a home for young adults and even invites them back, the Grand Rapids that Anna Bennett, Trevor Thomas and a wonderful set of others have found and made their own — that Grand Rapids was still being born.

And ten years ago Trevor Thomas was a high school senior, a good Catholic boy, going to school in the suburbs. What did he think then about this piece of anti-woman legislation? Was he already the pro-choice standard bearer he has become? Or was he like so many others in our city in that day, who worked in the factories during the week and knelt in the pews on Sunday? They voted consistently pro-life.

Now  these were the same working class, skilled trades that knew Steve Pestka, that voted for Steve Pestka. The had nice homes on the NE side, or up on the hill; they attended Blessed Sacrament, Holy Spirit, St. Adalberts, St Als, St Izzies, or out on the west side, Anthony Padua. For ten years, Pestka had walked in their neighborhoods, stopped at their doors, learned their values. They were staunchly right to life; they could be maddeningly parochial, they often were skeptical on racial issues, and they disliked the Republican east-side managerial types. Pestka was not simply their representative, he could be an advocate for education or even for racial justice, but there was one voter for this community, and that was always going to be right to life.

The objection to the Pestka vote is in one deep sense an  objection to the community he represented, and the same community which Thomas calls home. What this young criticism by a Thomas or a Bennett misses is the story of  far we’ve come as a community. The Thomas campaign becomes plausible only because others have labored for a decade on small elections and large to build constituencies. The results of the end of the decade were no fluke. The work of Steve Pestka, his fellow commissioner Jim Talen, candidates like Peter VanderMeulen and others all worked to lay the foundation for a more vibrant party of today.

Ten years ago, no one thought Democrats could challenge for the congressional seat; today we have a sharp primary battle precisely because victory is a possibility. That possibility is the product of a host of pragmatic and progressive, known and unknown political activists, among them being Steve Pestka.

Ten years makes a difference. The question is now what do we do next?

Filed under: Democratic Party, Elections, , , , ,

Off to the races

The beginning of the month saw the financial reports for the looming congressional races, primary and general. And with it, also came some useful positioning as to how the upcoming campaign may go.

First, the money; Nate Reens provides the details:

(Steve) Pestka, a former Kent County judge and state lawmaker, banked nearly another $130,000 in contributions from others to put him on even footing with incumbent Rep. Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, according to the records that cover the first quarter of fundraising this year.

Given the national stature of Amash, it would be foolish to think this $200k is anything more than pocket change. A serious threat — and Pestka is clearly approaching the serious threat threshold — will be the motivation. As the proclaimed heir to Ron Paul, Amash can tap some incredibly deep pockets.

That’s why for the D’s it is less a matter of dollars than of organization. Of the two Dems, the Pestka campaign has the present advantage here over that of Trevor Thomas — certainly it has deeper connections into the community.

Second, the frame. Of more interest than the numbers was the social media frame from the Thomas campaign, providing a sharp contrast between themselves and the Pestka campaign

Total Facebook Likes: Trevor For Congress: 566 / Vote Pestka: 268
Weekly Facebook Mentions: Trevor for Congress: 113 / Vote Pestka: 44
Total Twitter Followers: Trevor For Congress (@TrevorThomasMI + @Trevor4Congress): 1,106 / Vote Pestka: 86
Total YouTube Views: Trevor For Congress: 6,904 / Vote Pestka: 60

So let’s score this. Social media and the internet generally facilitate five political tasks: Content, Messaging, Fundraising, Networking and Branding.

Content — That would be web site and YouTube views. The continuing, puzzling absence of content from Pestka and the YouTube views from the Thomas campaign together suggest an early lead. Score Thomas.

Messaging — Twitter and Facebook are both classic push media for this task. Moreover, they reach national audiences. Strategically, the battle will be fought in a four county district. Seemingly large numbers are at best non-conclusive unless made geographically more precise — the number of followers in the district or region are far more important. No score.

Fundraising — if the Obama campaign is any indication, this is a function directly of Facebook and to a lesser extent of web sites with their more passive appeals to Give Now. A secondary indication of capacity would be the Facebook mentions (though an even better would be the Twitter mentions) — these indicate potential sources. For now,  the numbers are likely too small to really offset the advantages of ordinary fundraising, and there Pestka has the lead. However, strategically the Thomas campaign cite of the numbers indicates an appeal to national donors. For now,  a draw.

Going into the general the networked base will be a significant resource for the Amash campaign. So every effort now is useful when anticipating that turn.

Networking — A classic function for Facebook (and before that, MeetUp — do we use that still?), particularly useful when tasks like petitions or door-to-door call. Thomas Facebook numbers do not look especially large, given their national character and the Pestka campaigns obvious organic connections. This is an area needing work in the Thomas campaign. Call it Pestka.

Branding — Political branding (and its evil twin sister, negative advertising) is typically  a function of heavy advertising cycles, with direct mail. Here, social media provides a means to circumvent these onslaught through directly appealing to likely voters and supporters. However, to be effective these efforts need to be done earlier, and more consistently than in conventional campaigns.  Tempo and quantity are parts of the brand. Since the beginning of April and after the above data, the Thomas campaign has noticeably stepped up its messaging/branding campaign.

As the unknown in the race, the task of branding is paramount for Thomas, whether it will be enough to claim voters is an open question. In contrast Pestka has a brand but it likely needs refurbishing.

Filed under: Democratic Party, Elections, , , , , ,

Mixed Messages

Trevor Thomas formally kicked off his campaign for the Third Congressional seat with a special guest: Bob Eleveld. If the name sounds familiar, it should. Eleveld is a former chair of the Kent County GOP and helped in the local McCain campaign in 2000. So what brings him out? As MLive reported

While Thomas supports the environment, woman’s rights and LGBT rights, he’s strong in his beliefs and will not waver, Eleveld said.
“He’s not going to be anybody else but what he is to get votes. He’s just going to be Trevor,” Eleveld said. “He thinks for himself.”

Eleveld, you see, is that most rare of endangered species, a liberal/centrist Republican, socially liberal but economically conservative.

His endorsement is a prize for the Thomas team,  but it also is one that adds some new challenges.

When combined with the theme of “Jerry Ford values”, the endorsement suggests a real move to the center. There’s more than a whiff of the “post-partisan”  when Thomas touts his ability to put aside partisanship.

Then again this is the same campaign that has vilified the Pestka campaign for being in the center and insufficiently progressive. Clearly a message is getting confused. Who could blame Democrats for wondering which is the real Thomas?

The presence of Eleveld on the campaign team, and even the messaging of “Jerry Ford values” create more distance between the campaign and the minority community. Those with memory know that the long time “progressive” Republicans nonetheless held to conservative economics. It’s Suburbs v. City, Forest Hills v. GRPS.

The desire to be post-partisan, to be a bridge-builder is admirable; the lessons of the past four years in Washington, offer abundant evidence that a tougher mindset may be needed.

Of course, it may also be that “progressive values” really do end up as a set of social issues and leave off economics and the question of jobs. In a word, suburban values.

But make no mistake, it’s going to take a tougher mind to fight the Austrian economics of Amash and the Tea Party.

Filed under: Democratic Party, Elections, , , , , , ,

The Future of Pro Life

Marcie Wheeler raises some interesting questions about the status of anti-choice in the Democratic constellation here in Kent County. The short version: is pro-life the dominant, requisite force that it once was, one that requires women to take it and say nothing?

There is a right way and a wrong way, IMO, to run an anti-choice candidate. Telling voters–particularly the women voters being impacted by anti-choice Dems of late–they can’t talk about it bc they don’t know enough is not the way to do it.

Particularly in the context of a run for the Third by Steve Pestka, the question of the pro-life Dems again rises up. The pro-life stance (or “anti-choice”) has been seen as a prerequisite for competitive candidates since the Clinton election, in part because recruiting drew from the Catholic west side community and the Christian Reformed — both distinctly pro-life. Their victories and general growth in the number of elected officials seemed to confirm the stance. Wheeler’s challenge (and others) invites a reconsideration of this political axiom. The question of abortion may not be the deal breaker that it was 10 or 15 years ago.

One sign of change has been the growing political leadership in the City, on the school board (Tony Baker, Wendy Falb), and especially in the Second Ward with Ruth Kelley and Rosalynn Bliss.

A second sigh of change has been the diminishing of the cultural drivers for anti-choice over the past 10 years. It’s traditional electoral base has been in the Catholic and Dutch Reformed communities, the latter especially weakening demographically and broadening over this time. The interesting aspect about the redistricting of the Third has been the removal of some of these traditional bastions for the anti-choice side in the cities of Wyoming and Kentwood.

A third change is generational. The Life/Choice battle is a Boomer/Gen X issues. Anecdotally and by surveys, young evangelicals are not as wrapped up in the cultural war aspects — other issues, e.g. sex slavery or development, carry greater weight. This broadening of concern allows Dems to frame other compelling moral arguments away from the Life/Choice arena. While most young evangelicals will continue to vote R, the wider, more holistic range offers opportunity to pick up votes, perhaps moving from 25 percent D to 30 percent.

And finally,  there are the efforts of the Republican Party itself. Turning Life into a voting issue certainly assisted them in the 90s; it clearly motivates their base.  However, the very scope of their victory has capped their votes; once you have the significant plurality of pro-life votes, how many more are there? The pool of voters for whom Life is a voting issue has shrunk, most are Republican already. Moreover the radicalization of the GOP on this and general women’s health issues also functions to confirm present voters but push away moderates.  Internal victory and radicalization has reduced the penalty for being Choice, in fact may render it moot.

Something like this can be seen in Justin Amash, himself. While in a nominal way pro-life, his own libertarian tendencies push him away from a (self) definition as pro-life. (Consider that in two years he has issued four news releases related to abortion).

If the Life/Choice battle is no longer the deal breaker it once was, what should Dems do? Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Democratic Party, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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