Windmillin'

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

Oh, yeah, right.

A week ago Bridge and WZZM both wondered aloud whether Michigan was turning “red.

Of course, that all depends, not least with what one means by “red.” Voting Republican at the State level? That seems to be a sure thing, between the mid-term fall-off, and the shape of the legislative districts. Nonetheless, there are also signs that “red” as in the partisan never say yes to taxes crowd was abating. After all, there was Ottawa County passing a road millage of their own. And in Grand Rapids there is a continuing push to local solutions that surprisingly do not have the partisan tinge. Even the one notorious measure, term limits, was more a product of local frustration than ideology. So if Michigan was turning ideologically red, it would be a surprise.

But just to be sure, Rep Pete Lund decided to remove all doubt with his proposal to revisit electoral vote allocation — a reallocation that would just conveniently hand off more votes to the GOP candidate. The entire premise of the bill of course is that Michigan is anything but but Red, that it will be voting for the Dems in 2016. Sharon Doente, director of the Michigan Election Coalition, nails it,

“Michigan has had a winner-take-all Electoral College since 1836. Any changes to the Electoral College should be made by the voters of Michigan and not the politicians who stand to gain.”

Taking decisions from the voters is another piece of political gamesmanship that has too often bedeviled Michigan politics.  It makes the GOP look petty when they should be looking like leaders.

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Filed under: Republican Folly, , , , ,

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, , , , , , , ,

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, , , ,

Lisa, Lisa, Lisa

During the debate on HB 4813, a measure to provide for the dissolving of the Buena Vista and Inkster school districts,  Rep. Lisa Posthumus Lyons uttered the famous words, heard round the state.

“Pigs get fat, and hogs get slaughtered. I am done now talking about political parties and adult interests. I want to focus on the problem that these adults created.”

Not surprisingly, many took the words as referring to teachers. The representative has been on the defensive ever since. In today’s Grand Rapids Press she tries to explain herself. It wasn’t teachers she was referring to , but

“special interest union leaders who were playing political games with amendments and the bills.”

This packs an  unusual amount of irony, given the legislative history of the measure. In her column Lyons summarizes the bill

After much negotiation, Democrat and Republican lawmakers agreed to an amendment in the bill that would have provided for displaced teachers from the dissolved districts to be the first hired in the receiving districts.

Exactly. The only difficulty was that wasn’t the bill that came before the chamber. The substitute measure (H-4) stripped those very protections from the bill. The “special interests” standing in the way of children? That was the proposed amendments from the Democrats, seeking to restore the teacher protection.

The legislative history is abundantly clear on this, it wasn’t the unions or Democrats who brought forward the measure, but the Republican caucus. Trying to blame it on the unions then, is misplaced, and instead only shows the pique of the GOP leadership. The tragedy here s that a real bipartisan bill had been crafted, but the animus of some to teachers apparently was such that  “just to show them” they made the bill more onerous and destroyed the bipartisan cooperation.

Oh, there certainly were political pigs in the room.

Likewise, Rep. Lyons displays a remarkable lack of understanding about the structural problems that have been driving Michigan schools into crisis. It’s all the fault of the school districts:

Funding isn’t the problem; mismanagement and administrative negligence led to this crisis.

That might be true were it not for the fact that over the Recession most school districts (GRPS being one of the few exceptions) actually had their fiscal problems worsen. The challenges schools face are structural. Schools have seen a decrease in enrollment from the Recession coupled with the rising role of schools of choice (Bridge  reports Pontiac lost roughly $14 million because of transfers). Add to this the Legislature’s shifting of money away from the schools that only compounded the economic impact of the loss from enrollment. This was the storm that has hit not only Buena Vista and Inkster, but Muskegon Heights  and others.

The fact is, if we really believe that opportunity should not be restricted to Zip Codes (oh, like 49331), then we had better be passing appropriations and legislation that actually back that up. And if that won’t work, how about this: quit blaming the unions for the failure of your own party. Deal?

Filed under: Education Policy, Republican Folly, , , , , , , ,

Singing from the populist songbook

This week Michigan Senator Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton) introduced a set of bills to in part,  prevent “censorship of our founding documents” (SB 120). Typical stuff . While that can be dismissed as the usual hot air of  political posturing, one of the other bills is  more substantive, one (SB 423)

establishes requirements for schools to incorporate teaching provisions of the U.S. Constitution, the Michigan state constitution and the Declaration of Independence, and would require the Michigan Department of Education to incorporate those subjects into standardized testing of students.

Left unsaid in  MLive, was that our Senator Mark Jansen stepped up as a co-sponsor.

It is a measure, in short, right out of the concerns (and playbook) of social conservatives. At its heart it wants to create an educational space for God, anti-Federalism, and free enterprise. It’s the standard issue stuff of old time southern populism, and not surprisingly, it can be found in ALEC’s book of model legislation. We’ve seen this before.

There is a healthy irony here, where otherwise education-skeptical, limited government conservatives stand up and mandate educational requirements. Then again, it perhaps unintentionally reveals a view of education in the conservative heart. Schools are seen as singularly powerful, absent the cultural considerations (poverty, race, etc.), so what is taught or not taught can then become the determiner of our social life. Education is not only ideological, but presently teaching the wrong ideology, the ideology of the elites rather than the presumed normative stance of the non-ideological, neutral stance of the average citizen.

So it is, that the recipe for fixing what is wrong in American education must turn about changing its ideological heart by teaching

America’s founding documents, including documents that contributed to the foundation or maintenance of America’s representative form of limited government, the Bill of Rights, our free-market economic system, and patriotism. (SB 120)

Yet even a cursory review reveals what’s missing: the total absence of any of the great national documents regarding African Americans. Well, yes, in politeness, they did leave off the bit about slaves being worth only 3/5 a vote in the original Constitution (that was white of them), but where is the insistence that children of this state learn about the Emancipation Proclamation? Or the Lincoln’s great Second Inaugural. Or for that matter, the Gettysburg Address? For a party that once championed, bled and died for these great truths, this is a peculiar omission.

And this provides the other head-scratching item: it would have been so simple, so obvious, such an easy play for shoring up Republican image before minorities. But that omission is not a flaw, but a feature of the underlying ideology. The southern populist view of education is forged in the Jim Crow era with the educational disenfranchisement of blacks, America and its schools were self-evidently for whites. In contrast, the educational vision of Michigan rooted in the Northwest Ordinance was always broader, bigger, bolder. Although Michigan residents could be every bit as prejudiced as the southern populists, the schools were shaped by the Federalist (not the anti-Federalist) vision of republican virtue and equality.

Filed under: Horace Mann, Republican Folly, Uncategorized, , , , , , ,

Is that all there is?

I suppose we can put this in the “Laugh or Cry?” box, but earlier this month Rep. Tom Hooker (R-Byron Center) announced his priorities for the upcoming legislative session. Ban Planned Parenthood.

“One of the things that I was very focused on was our taxpayers paying for Planned Parenthood clinics around the state of Michigan. I believe that my constituents are not happy that their tax dollars are going for that organization. At least, the majority of my constituents aren’t. I’m a pro-life social conservative. I don’t believe we’re going to have success as a state financially until we get our social issues in line. Obviously, if we’re killing babies we’re not going to be blessed as a state fiscally.”

We can admire a man of principles, but this does come up short, given  a state that needs to rebuild its roads, or a state government planning substantial reform of its schools.

On one level, this set of priorities suggests a confusion of campaigning and governing. Thus, issues that motivate voting come to the top of legislative issues. Practically, what Rep. Hooker has done is  to declare himself a reliable vote for the Republican majority. Now while that will please the people of his district, the decision nonetheless robs the people of Byron Center of input. By putting passion before politics, he has opened a gap between the people of his district and Lansing.

While everyone wants a team player, we also want a player who will participate, help shape the policies and legislation of the state. The people even of an archly conservative district deserve a legislator who puts Michigan first.

And here our representative is a sign of the current move of anti-politics. Rather than being concerned with the common good, politics is reduced to a matter of personal conviction. It’s theatre. The point of politics is not to go and vote one’s convictions, but to go and with others plot a better path for the State. The preference for moral stances, good as they may be, is a sort of anti-politics, even the denial of the political solution itself.

 

Filed under: Michigan, Republican Folly, , ,

The price of the Switch

That seems to be the sense of the Schmidt text messages released this past week. Two items stand out as worthy of comment:

First there was the Lisa Posthumus Lyons urging Roy to get extra protection on the day of his switch. A touching, no doubt heart-felt comment, looking out for his safety. But tucked into that was a set of assumptions, not least was that people would be that upset at Roy. And why should that  be, but for the manner not the fact of his switch. Lyons and the party establishment were fundamentally on the side of gamesmanship of the switch — the same gamesmanship that drove Bing Goei crazy (and why, one should note, a Goei write-in is not likely to get much support from the GOP establishment). Were Lyons a better friend, she would have told Roy to switch earlier, not later.

A second pillow secret that comes up is that of the motive: Roy’s desire to run against Mayor Heartwell. The underlying strategy seems to be that by switching, Schmidt ingratiates himself to the monied powers in Ada, Cascade and Caledonia. Thus we end up with the sad spectacle of a man who had built a long-standing relationship with the unions in the City, particularly or fire and police, now seeking support from those interests who are actually aligned against those same unions. The fundamental position that Schmidt had relative to the Mayor was to stand up for the police and fire against proposed cutbacks from City Hall. Instead, by making the implicit play to the anti-union crowd, he basically took the side of City Hall, invalidating his basic working stiff creds.

Hardly the stuff for success.

In terms of city politics, the switch makes even less sense for the mayor’s race. The nature of the east-west split in the City is that politics of the SE side, shaped by Dutch Calvinism, wants to focus on principles. It’s not accident that all the challengers to Schmidt (Brinks, Goei, Allard) come from these neighborhoods.

 

Filed under: Republican Folly, , , , , ,

Roy Schmidt’s four-fold path

As Nate Reens notes, the Schmidt-storm continues on the editorial pages across the state. Particularly brutal was the Detroit Free Press

No one in Schmidt’s district (maybe even in the state) can trust him at this point. He clearly believes more in his own political preservation than he does in the integrity of his office or the democratic process.

“No one can trust him…” That is not necessarily the death blow that the Freep assumes, more damaging is the blow to the image. As a brand, Roy Schmidt needs to rebuild, because the brutal electoral math is that Republican base or no, the district is won by the persuadables. Roy desperately needs to rebuild some trust. So what is a poor boy to do? Four paths suggest themselves.

Do the Hardiman.

It’s one of the better if shameless plays out there: when caught in an ethics lapse propose a reform to outlaw what you just did. For then Senator Hardiman, it was robo-calling against his opponent — calls without party identification. He was “shocked” even as he benefited. Robo-call reform became one of his calling cards. Of course this is shameless for Schmidt, but that’s not to say it wouldn’t be effective. He stands with that vigilant defender of voter integrity, Secretary of State Ruth Johnson to introduce new reforms to the registration process. In fact, for Johnson it could be win-win, with the new legislation confirming her as a fighter for integrity while distracting from her own campaign of voting restriction. And Schmidt doesn’t even have to really think what those reforms could be, turns out Stephen Henderson already has a list for him to borrow from.

Of course there are drawbacks. This has to be put forth sooner rather than later, since the notion is to replace a “he’s corrupt” narrative with a “he’s a reformer” one. That takes time and attention. Of course, it also needs the sign-off from the House leadership, and that’s the problem. The House Dems already have a set of reform proposals, so any Schmidt-led reform runs afoul of internal House politics.

Do the Amash

One of the hallmarks of our present Congressman, Justin Amash, is his ability to take seeming independent stands. The recent kerfuffle over a missing Right to Life endorsement would be one such move (overlooking the fact that his actual stand is to the right of the organization). So Schmidt could find a cause that he could immediately advocate, that separates him from the GOP while re-establishing himself as the “Roy we all knew.” Possible issues could be education, revenue sharing — but does Roy have the freedom for this move? Will the militant wing of the GOP really tolerate such a move? Already the rumbles on the SE side suggest that this path is not available. In an election cycle, it is even more difficult to see how such a strategy could be advanced. Were he re-elected, then perhaps. But as part of the campaign? Again, a difficult play, and so, not likely.

Do the Matt Davis

MLive commentator suggests simply toughing it out.

Judging from Kent County Prosecutor William A. Forsyth’s epistle, you would think that their effort was the precursor to Western civilization falling on its ear.
Piffle.

And there is something actually attractive about being so hard nosed. The proverbial, “So? What’re you going to do about it?” is rough on the good government folks, but it’s a nice stand-up style. As the saying goes, politics ain’t beanbag. Nonetheless, there’s a fly in this: to claim the tough guy stance you have to first win. The one outstanding feature of the entire Schmidt-storm is the basic failure of the plan. If you are going to play a dirty trick, you need first to carry it through. Instead, Schmidt hesitates, looks weak. The tough guy approach is basically an assertion of competence: sure I did it, I know what I’m doing. Obviously, that is not the case, here.

As tempting as doing nothing or being defiant may appear, it remains a declaration of unsuitability for office.

So what’s left?

Leave.

Indications are already in the air that this may be the path. The emergence of Bing Goei as an opponent is not mere opportunism, but a sign of distrust within the centrist GOP ranks — the very folks who would otherwise welcome Schmidt. With plenty of outrage directed at House Speaker Jase Bolger, the politically opportune move would be to cut one’s losses. Were Schmidt unable or unwilling to mount one of the other counter plans above, then the resignation looms as an easier option.

Of course, he could stay, and win the primary. That gamble rests on a more polarized electorate, closer to 2010 than any of the presidential years. But that very inactivity, that passiveness about his future simply pushes him into the role of “politics at its worst” and far from the Roy folks thought they new.

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

The Man who Can’t Get Love

That would be our own, Justin Amash.

First, it was Right to Life denying him the endorsement.

“Amash’s pro-life voting record is the seventh worst of all House Republicans,” Douglas Johnson, legislative director for national group, told the Christian Post last month. “With such a record, he is unlikely to rally pro-life support to his new flag – a flag that seems designed mostly to cover his backside back home.”

Well, maybe. Then again, it’s not like there is any backside at home to cover (where are those primary opponents?). And the reality of Rep. Amash’s position is clear, he may be principled, but when it comes to life issues, those principles are pretty striking:

Amash’s stance is that abortions should never be performed and he doesn’t believe in the exceptions for rape and incest to which many subscribe.

That clears it up nicely, the problem with Right to Life is that they are too moderate, too pragmatic, while Amash goes absolutist.

Interestingly, something like that same criticism emerges at The Weekly Standard. Michael Warren launches a snark on the young congressman, but the quotes get to the heart of the difference between Amash and the Regular Republican Party:

House Republicans call him the “black sheep” of the conference, and Amash does seem to have an unscratchable itch to buck his own party. Take a recent bill designed to restore the flow of water to California’s Central Valley. A court ruling in 2009 halted the flow under the Endangered Species Act—the irrigation system supposedly harmed a species of smelt. Ten moderate Democrats joined 236 Republicans to give the drought-ridden Central Valley access to its water supply, with Amash the only Republican opposed. There’s no explanation for this vote on his Facebook page.
“He is a well-intentioned guy with very different goals than most people up here,” said one House Republican aide. “He’s not interested in governing.”

At the end of the day, the itch to go his own way, this absolutism is a danger. It’s easy as the Hotspur heir apparent to Ron Paul to start letting that adulation seize his attention. When your audience is a bunch of cranky libertarians, it becomes all too easy to forget back home. That’s the danger to the local GOP as well. A congressman more in love with principle than pragmatics loses clout in Washington. “Doesn’t play nice with others,” is how Tea Party conservative Rep. Renee Ellmers puts it. And without visibility in Washington, local initiatives simply go under supported.

The longer the GOP persists, the more the case for a moderate Democrat increases. At least that person would build connections.

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

The Things They Do

No analysis this evening, but in passing two items today certainly caught my attention.

First there was the continuing puzzlement over Peter Hoekstra. Now campaigning with . . . Herman Cain? This, to prove that he’s not a racist. I suppose it works, but this seems so tone deaf. Again, it seems to be a conscious play for the Tea Party. A move to the sectarian right may make a sort of sense for the GOP nomination, but even here it smacks more of weakness than of self-assuredness.

Of course, self-assuredness has not been a problem with Justin Amash. On the Facebook feed he proudly announces that he voted against the payroll tax cut. Oh, really? Again there is much to admire in the actions from principle, but it is something of a free vote on two points. First, the Third is a fairly safe district (underscore the word “fairly”, as this could change), and second, Amash’s own circumstances leave him reasonably immune to the impact of the legislation. It is always easier to stand for principle when it is some one else’s money at risk.

Filed under: Republican Folly, , ,

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