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

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 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, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Uphill Climb? or Children’s Crusade?

Eclectablog and DownWithTyranny are looking with excitement at the possible entry of Trevor Thomas into the race for the Third Congressional. The reasoning is two-fold, first that Justin Amash is weak relative to the Republican Party, he’s an outsider, even an extremist. All true. Second that Thomas would bring a strong progressive resume to the race. Here’s how DWT describes him:

Trevor grew up in the district; his parents worked 30 years each on factory lines, including General Motors and Delphi plants.

Trevor, who spent five years as a producer and reporter at WOOD-TV and WGVU-TV in Grand Rapids, went on to work for Governor Jennifer Granholm and later helped lead the national effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  And he’s done his legwork, meeting with local electeds in the district since November and charting a well-thought out, early grassroots plan to win.

There’s a lot in Trevor to like, but he faces something of an uphill climb. Progressives have run in MI-3 before (Lynnes, 2002; Sanchez, 2008), none gained much traction, in part because of a strong incumbent, Vern Ehlers. Because the seat seemed so safe, it was often the territory for small, under-funded campaigns. Only with the Obama victory did it look as if the right candidate might actually take it; hence the well funded but unsuccessful campaign of Pat Miles Jr.

A progressive like Trevor faces two barriers. Financially, the race for MI-3 has become more expensive with the addition of Calhoun county (Battle Creek), forcing campaigns to wage a two-media market war. Secondly, in partisan races outside Grand Rapids, the region tends to be socially conservative, D or R,a function of underlying Catholic (principally Polish) and conservative Protestant (Dutch) communities. Winning coalitions must tap both these communities to win. Organizing the ground game will take work and plenty of allies, this is not something done by the progressives alone.

When we turn to the City proper, things look brighter, notably the creation of a safe (and progressive) state house seat (MI-75), but this will not be vacant until 2016. Our City Commission races also have glimmers of progressive leadership, particularly in the Second Ward. Likewise, the School Board has a strong progressive cast to it, as well, many having enjoyed the support of Progressive Women’s Alliance(PWA) — I think that this would be the likely pool for candidates to actually emerge.

Add to all this, we may note the changing media market itself. On one hand, the shift to social media may well benefit a young campaign with lots of smarts. Sadly for challengers, that’s the field pioneered by Rep. Amash. Any challenger will need to be at least as adept as he has shown himself to be. Second, the demise of print product in the region takes away some of the easier advertising and publicity options (and so pushes for the use of broadcast media). This too, will take finesse but also lots of cash.

In short,  it will be the presence of significant financing and a clear strategy that will determine whether Thomas brings a challenge, or one more children’s crusade.

 

Filed under: Elections, Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,

Leaving Wooden Shoes Behind

News this last month was the nomination of Dr. Michael Le Roy as the next president of Calvin College, a move that is both a recognition of shifts, as well as a portent of further shifts in the relation of Calvin College to the community, and of course, to its politics.

The striking characteristic of Dr. Le Roy is his lack of connection with either Calvin College or its supporting institution, the Christian Reformed Church. Sympathetic observers may see the move as signaling a softening in the conservatism of the Christian Reformed community, however they would be mistaken.

As a practical matter, the appointment of someone from outside the supporting community is something of an inevitability, now with more than 50 percent of the enrollment come from non-Christian Reformed backgrounds. While some imagine that this will bring the college closer into the broad liberal arts tradition, the reality of the enrollment pattern has instead pushed it closer to the American Evangelical church. That’s not all bad, as there is a minority progressive tilt among young evangelicals (say in the neighborhood of 30 percent). A less “Dutch” Calvin is a Calvin less bound to the folkways and reflexive politics of the original supporting community.

But the truth is, that supporting community — this network of churches, schools, institutions and associations– is going nowhere. Even with a new college president, they remain archly conservative, as  the recent actions of Sen. Mark Jansen have demonstrated. It’s not going anywhere.

Yet while the supporting community (this Windmill) remains staunchly conservative, the presidential nomination does signal several changes for the interaction between the College and the community. Three changes would appear to lie ahead in the relation of the college and the community. Read the rest of this entry »

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

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