Windmillin'

Icon

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

Don’t Count on It.

screen-shot-2017-02-02-at-10-14-19-pm

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, , ,

On Natural Experiments

As with all victors, there’s always something more. For Rina Baker, that means those “stealthy” elections like the roads tax. MLive explains:

So what’s next on Baker’s to-do list?

She wants to end “stealth” elections and require that city votes take place in November of even-numbered years, when gubernatorial and presidential races are on the ballot. Last May’s vote on a city streets tax – which passed with abysmal voter turnout – partly motivated Baker’s campaign for term limits.

Baker’s complaint is that fewer people voting is tantamount to reduced democracy. Perhaps hidden in all this is the question of neighborhoods; her concern is not enough of her people are voting. This is not a generalized concern as to why few people vote in some parts of the city than others, reasons often overlapped with issues of poverty and inescapably, with race. No. That is not the concern. “Democracy” does not mean getting more people generally to vote, but getting more of your team out.

Politically, that is easily understood. Although, given the margin that these poor neighborhoods turned in for term-limits, you would think that maybe Baker actually should pay more attention (but this is not the point).

In the last election, we already have a natural experiment about voting down ticket on November elections. it’s the school board.

Few people actually voted that far down the ticket. Where on term limits perhaps ten percent did not vote, on the school board races the number is closer to half if not more. (Mathematically, the top vote getter in a precinct was approximately one third of total registered votes). This behavior is not surprising, non-partisan issues and candidates typically fare far worse than the top of the ticket candidates. The difficulty here may not simply be forgetfulness, but the reality of electioneering itself. To get a vote, one must be visible. And in highly competitive election environment that ability to get heard is substantially restricted.

Take the school board race: the incumbents win, and the new comer is a long-time civic activist, Jose Flores. In a dense environment, the most visible win. It is similar to the issue proposals: those well-known get the votes. But becoming well-known? That’s another matter.

In economic terms, we would call this a high barrier to entry.

The advantage of the odd-year election or off-season election is that it is easier to be heard and seen. It opens up the process to other participants. If anything this is the real argument for term limits: opening up the field means more, perhaps not as well-known individuals can step up. Of course if the context is that of a general November election — the school board provides the natural experiment. The unknown voice is far less likely to be heard. Ask Milinda Ysasi or Jamie Scripps.

Baker in effect, wants it both ways: more voice but then a mechanism that cuts that voice. It is a contradiction that at the least suggest that there are other ideologies or commitments at play.

Filed under: Community, Elections, , , , , , ,

Three Maps that Explain the Term Limit Results

Vote distribution term limitsFor politicos, the above map will look rather familiar. Support for the Term Limits amendment is in red and right where you would expect it: up on the hill on the west side, and out one the NE rim. These have been reliably conservative votes for some time, and especially on the more populist measures like term limits. On the SE side, the continuing impact of the Dutch community can be seen. This pattern of balance between the far SE and the west side can also be found on taxation issues such as the Silver Line or way before, on school millages.

The SE side vote serves as a reminder that the populist, libertarian stance so popular today is not the only one available to the conservative. The precincts out Burton can be painfully conservative, but they nonetheless vote for institutions. This lies less in a hidden heart of softness, than in the character of their theology and social class. Like their neighbors to the north in East Grand Rapids or in Ottawa Hills (historically a “Yankee” not a Dutch neighborhood) the population out Burton is one that prizes education; the residents are professionals and white collar, often in management or in education. Underneath this, there is also the element of the Dutch Reformed social philosophy, “Kuyperianism” that seeks to bring belief to transform society. Think of it as social conservatism with brains.

So this is story one: the Term Limits proposal pits the conservative populists concentrated on the west side against the socially moderate SE side. For a long time in Grand Rapids history, this has been THE battle. But the map of course shows another segment for the opposition: the “hipsters” (as commentators on MLive have it) — a band of neighborhoods stretching out Fulton from Downtown out Marywood and the city limits, a region usually defined by its zip code: 49503. In contrast to the Dutch, these are largely Yankee: middle class of varying religious persuasion, largely white. This has been the part of town that has provided some of the strongest leadership in the urban revitalization, and for that matter, the City; it is the backbone of the political culture of the Second Ward (although the Ward is far more diverse than this).

In most seasons, the alliance between Second and Third Wards is enough to stop the occasional populist outbreaks on the West Side. Not this time. What happened?

Map Two: the Blue Collar Revolt

Term limits map 3 blue collar

Earlier, I had posited a blue collar antipathy to the Big City: term limits were part of a struggle for the urban guidance of the city. The data above is pretty clear.  The neighborhoods of the northside by Aberdeen, or on the SE side towards Alger Park (the blue collar part of the SE side Dutch community) — they were pretty adamant about the term limits voting in a range of 54%-60% in favor.

The distinct geographic clumping adds another layer to the story. These are not so much the disaffected as they are the invested. Their neighborhoods have not seen the downtown love, so to speak. These are also the neighborhoods with relatively less spending income: first home buyers, long time residents. What we see is something like a map of (potential) revolt. Oddly, the passage of term limits may actually help reconnect this group, provided they get representation.

A third map, however reveals the mistakes of the opponents. Painfully so.

Map Three: the Disconnected Poor

Term limits map 2 poor

Above are the low-turnout precincts, again with the darker dots indicating strong support for term limits (approx. 54%-65% in favor), the lighter dots represent those low turnout precincts that slightly favored the measure. We can consider low turnout as a proxy for poverty — a position any one familiar with these neighborhoods already understands.

Again, the geography tells everything. These are the Hispanic and African-American districts, the same ones that were skeptical in the Lenear/Tuffelmire battle.These are neighborhoods of the working poor — low turnout is strongly correlated with poverty. In civic discussions, they are also the community that is acted upon, rather than takes part (as an aside, one might read the election of Jose Flores to the school board as part of this same dynamic, a pushing back as it were).

Looking to the numbers, this was the part of the electorate where the measure won. The two thirds of higher-turnout precincts basically broke even. So although this cluster of precincts represents perhaps 20 % of the total vote, the 900 vote margin provides the win.

In short….

When considered through the lens of the usual politics, or even of the Blue Collar Revolt, the battle over term limits looks manageable. It is the failure to make the case with the working poor that really stands out. This may have arisen from unconscious bias (i.e. communicating as if your viewpoint is normative, leaving off the connecting with the audience). It could have been that the argument was too abstract relative to the proponents. It may well be something else.

Here’s one thing that advocates of the City need to take to heart: the big measures will take buy-in from the near neighborhoods. They are our neighbors and often our friends. Advocates ignore them at their own risk.

And for purposes of vote counting, these districts represent the winning margin for Term Limits

Filed under: Community, Elections, , , , , , , , ,

The Silent Campaign

Fallen_Tree_Background_by_mysticmorningThat would be the race for the fourth and fifth school board position.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) Grand Rapids residents will elect five members to the school board from list of seven. Four are incumbents: Tony Baker, Wendy Falb, John Matias, and Maureen Slade; the other three are Jose Flores, Jamie Scripps, and Milinda Ysasi.

Without an angry or anxious community, school board races can be dull. For now, the drama has left the stage. At present the school board and the GRPS administration are enjoying success: the most recent teacher contract, powered by far better than expected First Friday numbers makes an upbeat mood; new programs are being launched and civic stakeholders are smiling; and the superintendent is recognized among the best in Michigan.

Of course, there’s work to be done, but it is of the more policy-oriented sort: how does the district begin to get traction on student achievement; how do we raise up students in the face of financial headwinds from Lansing, and the continuing impact of poverty in our community?

When the conversation turns to policy, the challenger’s road becomes steeper, still it’s not as if the candidates have been helping themselves.

Some campaigns have risen to the challenge: Baker and Falb have the strongest public identity, and are closely identified with the current state of success. Matias, too, has some visibility, and enjoys the non-endorsement from the GREA — for the conservatives in the city, this is about as a good a sign as any.

Maureen Slade’s campaign is far more low key. For an incumbent, her vision for GRPS remains remarkably under-developed. One may fairly ask if, at 71, she wants a four-year term. Among the challengers, one can pose a similar question to Flores. This is another campaign by a seasoned school administrator that nonetheless has little in the way of actual visibility. As valuable as he could be as to input, there is little evidence that this campaign is serious.

Two other campaigns are definitely serious, though with weaknesses.

Jamie Scripps brings a strong policy focus, and has won endorsements from some progressive organizations. Still, she  has struggled on the basics of campaigning. Hers has been a puzzling low key race, in part one suspects, because of her “outsider” status.

If Scripps struggles with the outsider status, Milinda Ysasi is the opposite: her ability to solicit endorsements is impressive, speaking well of her relationship building and of her progressive creds.  Of course, unless one were on her Facebook page, one would never know. What is also clear from the Facebook postings is how her campaign has only recently gotten its act together.

The relative silence of Scripps and Ysasi is a shame. Both deserve far more public recognition. As it is, in the mid-term election, the Scripps name may have the advantage if only because it will seem more familiar (i.e. Anglo-Saxon) to the electorate.

Filed under: Community, Elections, , , , , , ,

A Muffled Voice

There’s a voice coming from the political closet: Michigan’s moderate Republicans. To hear what it’s saying (and understand the problems of Michigan’s GOP)  look no further than a recent ad from Donnijo DeJonge.

She’s pissed (or at least trying to be — this is the election season, after all). Winnie Brinks is a liar, or at least her allies are lying about who and what Ms DeJonge stands for:

Winnie claims I support the tax on pensions. This is a lie. I have never said I supported the pension tax. In fact, I support a reduction in the income tax and with that the repeal of the pension tax. I support fair and efficient tax policy. I support reducing the tax burden for hardworking Michigan families.

One can understand the confusion here. DeJonge’s web page is silent on issues of any kind. Nor was the pension tax  mentioned in the candidate profile. Then again, others would point to the interview with the MLive editorial board. Let’s just say that on pensions, it was awkward:

“You can call it a hike in tax. What I call it is making tax policy fair (by taxing pension and 401(k) income the same).”

So what’s going on here?

Brutally, some part may simply be lying. The pension tax attack has got traction and so Republicans of all sorts have to adjust, no matter what the paper trail says. It’s the old story of “I was for it before I was against it.”

DeJonge, however, is rather smarter than that, and certainly more principled. Her core positioning has been that of taking the high ground, and in that light, her words are something of a gaffe. Of course, the fiscal conservative (now) knows, the program of Gov. Rick Snyder to shift the tax burden to the individual tax payer was wrong. It was wrong, but she (and other moderate Republicans) can’t put the policy at the Governor’s feet. It was wrong, but they are unwilling to place it at the feet of their corporate benefactors.

And it may be personally wrong: an idea held once in good faith, but now exposed. Repentance can be a good thing.

There’s more. It’s not just the repeal of the pension tax, it is also the reduction of the income tax. Whether the Democratic “middle class taxpayer” or the Republican “hardworking Michigan family” the point is the same; Michigan citizens need their taxes reduced. DeJonge’s problems (and those of the moderate GOP) compound: to reduce the burden on the taxpayer means raising taxes somewhere else, or cutting programs somewhere else. And what are those trade-offs?

For a professor of public finance, the silence is hardly golden. She certainly knows the trade-offs. Then why the silence? What keeps her in the closet? Is it fear of the political powers? Is it a sort of magical thinking where some unforeseen event rescues? Is it perhaps simply the dissonance between their economic shibboleths and the impact on people’s lives?

Painful as it is, this dissonance brings some good news to the moderate faction: they still have a heart. What they lack is a voice. They know the truth; it is time to come out.

Filed under: Elections, Michigan, Republican Folly, , , , , , , ,

Big City, Bright Hope?

IMG_0617There are plenty of ways to look at the proposed term limit change to the city charter. For a start there is sore loser frame; or the “anybody but George Heartwell (and throw in Rossalyn Bliss)” frame. And of course, another favorite would be that of the vaguely concealed Tea Party initiative — another right wing, ill considered piece of politics forced on the general population. While there’s some truth to all of these, their easy perspectives hide the actual civic discussion underway.

Grand Rapids continues to think about what it means to be a Big City. Stuff is happening here as the latest Movoto post would suggest. We’re a city making the lists. And while that sounds good if you’re walking down Cherry Street, or hanging out downtown, in the neighborhoods it is more ambiguous.

The battle on term limits is part of the same discussion that came with civic tax initiatives (Silver Line, road repair), as well as in last year’s Third Ward race between Senita Lennear and Michael Tufflemire. Listen closely, and one can also hear it in the  discussion on black business Jamiel Robinson is spearheading. While it is nice to have the rapids back in Grand Rapids, say, how does that translate to the neighborhoods? Is the Big City, in effect, for all of us? How does the Big City become the city that embraces its neighbors?

There’s an economic anxiety lurking, not so far from the surface. One can see it in the signs themselves, or rather where the signs lie. In the Third Ward they’re on well kept homes, young and old, whites and blacks. They may be doing ok, but the edge is there, if one looks. Perhaps nothing reveals it quite so plainly as the Urban Institute’s map of mortgages:

mortgages-grand-rapids

The lack of mortgage activity in the city speaks volumes about the continuing economic struggle in the region where the Big City glitter doesn’t make it out to the post-war neighborhoods of the city — those blocks with the 50s  brick ranches. For those neighborhoods, the larger national narrative of suspicion of elites takes hold, something that proponents of Term Limits certainly are counting on. Thus the campaign uses the language of “entrenched interests” or of vague lobbyists and the like. These are the stand-ins for the economic elites robbing us of our future: whether we call it Obamacare or the Koch brothers it is the same. We are beleaguered; we can only look out for ourselves. This is a corrosive vision, a fragmentation.

Taken at its best, the  Big City offers an alternative to this national rhetoric of suspicion. It’s not the festivals or polished buildings (or the bikeways), but an approach, a process, a working together. It is of course, imperfectly realized as the continuing discussion makes clear, but we nevertheless should be clear how different it is from prevailing attitudes elsewhere.

The question of Term Limits, then, is one of approach to those items still on our civic to-do list, viz. how to bring neighborhoods up; how to improve the schools; how to add high quality jobs. We can opt for the current path of pulling back, of looking out for oneself (that wearisome pattern of our present politics), or that of the Big City and the promise that it can in fact, be for everyone.

Filed under: Community, Elections, , , , , , , , ,

Let’s talk money.

There is lots to be said about the term limits campaign, so lets start with the most basic. Money..

To date, the  $10K raised by local proponents is also about what it takes to run a City Commission race in the first place. It’s not the money that has stopped folks from running for office, but the candidate pool itself. The problem at hand — from their own literature — is that of lack of candidates, “many won’t run against an entrenched incumbent.” (Although there is a certain irony here, since most of the commissioners have been at best, re-elected once — this does not especially seem to be the definition of “entrenched,” say like a Fred Upton).

The cure for entrenched incumbents is simple: vote them out. And besides the money it simply is not that hard: 6,000 votes or so would do.

What is perhaps  oddest aspect of the measure is that cycling through of commissioners only means that the well-funded get in.  It pushes for more money in the races, more engagement by outside interests, ie. the professional interests. For a measure that is supposed to strengthen the connection between the local, the neighborhood, the “small platoons” of conservative lore, this would do almost the opposite. It certainly would not result in an  environment where say, a medical clerk could  successfully run.

Filed under: Community, Elections, ,

What’s Wrong with Brian Ellis

By all lights, Brian Ellis is a nice guy. Nice family. In fact he keeps reminding us of that constantly, his wife Joan, his three wonderful blonde daughters, his time on the EGR school board. And if the robocalls are any indication, his friends like him, too.

Ellis is running for Third Congressional District against Justin Amash, the enfante terrible of Congress, Dr. No, the libertarian scourge of all that isn’t pure, our own Savonarola on the Grand.

As Ellis defined himself on Facebook,

I am running for Congress because we deserve a representative who will work for solutions, reflect our values, and listen.

This word “deserve” is the give away. It promises nothing except perhaps a kind of entitlement. The laundry list that follows reveals that “deserve” is mostly about being nice and very little about working for solutions. Among the stances are the typical  ones, the sort that can be found from nearly any Republican candidate: balanced budget amendment, end Obamacare, more fracking and drilling, Second Amendment.

If this is all that “deserve” includes, then nearly any old Republican would do. And that is precisely the problem with Brian Ellis. Instead of separating himself on the basis of what he would work for (as opposed to merely oppose), he chose the safer route, that of simply being one of the many. That’s safe, but it is not likely to win at the polls today.

 

Filed under: Elections, Republican Folly, Uncategorized, , , ,

Revenge of RTW

For a measure “with no organized opposition” as the press would have it, Prop 1 has sure stirred up the activist community. Until very recently, most of the opposition was through the com boxes at Michigan Radio or at the Bridge. There, one could almost see the opposition coalescing, with talking points emerging, links to the relevant analyses expounded, and a growing conviction that this was more about special interests than With the election tomorrow, it is useful to locate where the opposition to Prop 1 lies.

Overtly, the opposition has focused on what are essentially unfunded aspects, the $500 million finally needed, repurposed from expiration of business tax credits. The non-partisan Citizens Research Council summarizes the impact thus

The reimbursement provisions contained in the package are not cheap, and the State of Michigan will forego an increasing amount of its general fund/general purpose revenue in future years in order to hold local governments harmless from the PPT reforms.

But the approach of lost opportunity costs, or even of the independent authority that is part of the measure as implemented per Public Act 80 — even this does not quite capture the emotional quality of the objection. For some it is ambivalence as to the substance but a caution about the vagueness of the drafting of the proposal. Elsewhere it is a more direct distrust of the Legislature. This is even true of those who modestly favor the measure as the best of a bad deal. As one elected official in that camp expressed it

local governments (and those of us who utilize their services) are significantly screwed if this doesn’t pass and it goes back to Lansing. I have no confidence that they will come up with anything close to this.

Whether as ambivalence or distrust the common theme is that of wariness. And for others it is a far sharper sense.

The Legislature and the Governor (and to a certain extent their corporate backers such as the Chamber) are seen as not trustworthy. The validation and championing of the measure by  Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer and  cities up and down the state gain little traction. And that lack of traction almost certainly rests with the lame duck session of 2012.

The possibility of bipartisanship had existed with a tacit agreement that the Governor would establish certain fundamental limits to the actions of the staunch Right. It came with an implied agreement that Democrats would be willing to join in some of the Governor’s proposals over against the staunch Right. It was as much a commitment about process and voice as it was over content.

The RTW legislation upended that. Decisively. It was a victory, however, that came at a price of alienation. The vote for Prop 1 appears to be a ratification of the very coalition that won RTW (and proclaimed it, too, as job creating measure). The business community gains, but the tax burden shifts to the individual tax payer.

There are few places where voters can really voice their displeasure at the corporate mindedness that has dominated state government for the past for years. Prop 1 gives them just that opportunity.

 

 

Filed under: Elections, Michigan, , , , , , , ,

Why He Lost

In  the end, Mike Tuffelmire proved to be a better Catholic than a neighborhood activist. Tuesday, Senita Lenear cruised to an easy 59-35 victory on an 1100 vote margin. Given the very low turnout, the results were probably to be expected.  The race is perhaps better thought of as competing affirmative votes, rather than as divvying up of the electorate (aka zero-sum”). There were always more votes to be had, so the failure in the Tuffelmire vote is best seen as a measure of strength for his ideas, his sales, if you will.

And the bulk of that margin took place in the four square miles that make up the Ward’s NW corner, a region roughly bounded by Wealthy, Sylvan, Burton and Lafayette.

Four Square Miles

Most of the Lenear margin came here. But this wasn’t Tuffelmire’s problem. To understand how he lost we will need to look elsewhere.

Going into the race, one could divide the Ward into three rough clumpings. There were neighborhoods that were African-American and broadly poor, often living in housing stock that was pre-WWII; people lived there because of socio-economic constraints; these are the Constrained. Then there were the “first ring” suburban precincts, built up in the 40s and early 50s — these were then and now, the First Homes for families, typically bungalows and some old colonials. Then there are the Suburbs, initially built out as ranch houses (note the difference between east and west side of Plymouth), the move-up neighborhoods, the middle class, for the most part post-1960 construction. In this mix there are some outlier neighborhoods: Heritage Hill, Ottawa Hills, the subsidized apartments out at Eastbrook or in back of Town and Country (44th SE).

Constrained, First Homes, Suburbs: this is the physical and political geography of the Third Ward. In his literature and approach, Tuffelmire aimed at the First Homes neighborhoods, places like Alger Heights (Pct 72-74), Mulick Park (59),and Boston Square (75). He spoke of better representation, concerns for public safety (property crimes) and of fiscal prudence — all themes that should resonate. These neighborhoods would give him an edge over the Constrained neighborhoods — principally African American and rather solidly for Lenear. The Commission would be won in the Suburbs.

That at least was the apparent strategy. Only it just didn’t work out that way.

Let’s Do the Numbers

The First Home neighborhoods didn’t respond.

  • Mulick Park (59): one in eight vote; Tuffelmire lags by 68 votes
  • Boston Square (75): one in fifteen vote; good news, Tuffelmire runs 25 votes behind.
  • Alger (72-74): one in twelve vote; Tufflemire gives up 63 votes.
  • Ken-O-Sha (65): one in twelve; Tuffelmire keeps it close, lagging by 21 votes.

Note, the problem is not the lost votes but the missed connection. These were to be the natural connections, but the message missed.

Where Tuffelmire did show strength were in the Suburb precincts going out Burton:

  • Indian Village (55): 11 percent vote, Tuffelmire actually tops Lenear by 3.
  • Ridgemoor (54,69): 14 percent vote, Tuffelmire lags by only 3
  • IHM (77): 13 percent vote and Tuffelmire lags by 20.

These neighborhoods are shaped by the presence of two Catholic churches (IHM and St Paul the Apostle) — Tuffelmire grew up in IHM, and retained the support of members there. Away from these Catholic neighborhoods, Tuffelmire struggled.

  • Pct 53 (Raybrook, Calvin College): more Christian Reformed, positive on City issues; Tuffelmire surrenders 68 votes
  • Pct 56 (east side of Kalamazoo, Brookside CRC) with 58 (mostly condos, Breton/44th): 13 percent vote, Tuffelmire drops 69
  • Pt 57 (Sherwood Park): this is the last standing suburban school in GRPS; one in eight vote and Tuffelmire comes short 32.
  • Pct 68 – 71(Ottawa Hills): one in eight vote, but Tuffelmire comes short by 128 votes, in many ways the most disappointing showing of the race.

What Did He Miss?

Three things likely combined to doom the campaign.

First, the neighborhood message did not motivate. To win, Tuffelmire needed to make a case that things were really broken at City Hall. There was potential in the message, but he did not have it tuned to sufficient intensity to motivate the dissatisfied. Ironically, the issues that could have been pursued (Roads, economic development, transportation and continuing integration of services), broad City-oriented issues, were the ones that a local campaign passed by. The Big Picture would have helped.

Second, there were the public schools. The Four Square Miles, noted at the beginning, are the core of the GRPS sending community on the SE side. The likely reason for voting for Lenear is because of her identity with GRPS. This also explains the the win in out at Sherwood Park.

Third, let’s call it diversity. It certainly trumped the progressive politics. Within the broad CRC/Calvin mix is an affirmative response to diversity, best expressed by Rev. Al Hamstra on MLive

Two words influenced the Rev. Albert Hamstra’s vote for Lenear: “Black female.” The Christian Reformed Church pastor said “it matters to me to have diverse people in leadership.”

This is also the likely reason for the Raybrook vote, and probably much of the Ottawa Hills vote, too. What the Tuffelmire campaign missed was a connection to this CRC community. Without it, then the community votes for its perception of the common good, the broad and good vote. Issues of perceived racial (and sexual) justice become important when there there is a missing personal connection. This alliance of justice, as it were, explains why the Ward has consistently voted for conservative African Americans.

Filed under: Community, Elections, , ,

Archives

August 2017
M T W T F S S
« Jun    
 123456
78910111213
14151617181920
21222324252627
28293031