Windmillin'

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

A cheer or two for political courage

The President was in Toledo Friday, making one more stop on a victory tour for the auto bailout. By most accounts, the program has succeeded in its basic goals: safeguarding workers, communities and suppliers in the great auto meltdown of a few years ago. Manufacturing is now up. GM has added a third shift at Hamtramack, and even Chrysler is showing life.

A presidential win, that not only goes to Obama but to his predecessor, as well.

Still, folks dislike the deal. For them talk of saving industry, suppliers, communities cannot overcome the actual cost — estimated at $25 billion. These issues, the reluctance and the push back can both be found in Megan McArdle’s writings at The Atlantic, here in this blog cited by Lowry in The National Review, but also in a more measured published response, where McArdle admits

The worst fears of many critics—including me—were overblown. The government did not simply leave the bloated legacy costs intact in order to protect its political friends.

What the current debate highlights more than anything else, is the uncertainty of that initial decision, and the continuing skepticism about government action generally. This continuing debate driven in part by the ascendency of the Tea Party only further highlights the political courage of those who stood up, as odd a mix of political bedfellows as you will find: Virg Benaro, Mike Cox, Thaddeus McCotter, and our own David LaGrand.

That political courage takes place amidst uncertainty accounts for why so many go silent. Practical calculus paralyzes. We may believe but we muffle our voice. As with all things political, it is one part rashness, one part calculation of benefit and one part driven principle.

All this comes to the fore with the other current instance of political courage in our midst, that of Rep. Justin Amash. His co-sponsoring of the War Powers Resolution certainly belongs in the category of political courage. And then he adds to it with the success of his Amendment to protect Freedom of Information Act requests at the Homeland Security Agency.

Like those who stood up for the auto bailout these are actions whose actual outcome is uncertain (will hindsight prove him right? Wrong?), but that is the substance of political courage. And like those who came before, Rep. Amash moves with that mixture of principle (moral and philosophical) coupled with a mix of political calculation and political rashness.

And let’s be clear: political courage deserves its honor.

Filed under: Economy, Politics, Washington, , , , , , , , ,

Hardiman Steps In. Sort of.

The news of the day is the announced candidacy of State Senator Bill Hardiman fore the Third Congressional District.  While this hardly counts as a surprise — he had sent out a press release last week announcing the event in Grandville — nonetheless it is a surprise at how unprepared Hardiman actually is.  Although the announcement was anticipated, no web site went live to greet the new campaign; also of note, few supporters were lined up to go on line at Mlive or the TV stations to put in a good word.  The result, in short, is that of a campaign not quite in gear.

This is perhaps not surprising. Hardiman finished the year with little left in his state accounts, with less than $400 in his senate account, and less than $2,000 in his Leadership Fund.  That he should be in this position, underfunded and not quite ready speaks plenty about the state of affairs in the Kent County GOP.

First, let’s state the obvious: Hardiman was not planning a run or Congress.  Either Vern Ehlers had thought he was going ahead, or Hardiman had been thinking about retiring, but in either case finishing up 2009, there is little evidence that Hardiman was amassing the resources necessary for a run.  To fail on the web site also suggests that the personnel are not in place — who exactly is going to help manage a touch campaign against Justin Amash?  (And how will he — or she — be paid?)

The Hardiman candidacy also gives a window into the world of GOP internal politics.

If we posit Hardiman as an anti-Amash vote, then what is it about Justin that others don’t like?  Can we make out the outlines of the doubt about Amash?

To begin with, there is the split between Ada and Grandville.  Kent County divides east and west in both parties; here, it is between the center of economic power in Ada, and that found in west.  The stumbling search for a candidate to run against David LaGrand speaks to a breakdown of the GOP, and especially of its current leader, Joeanne Voorhees.  Even before the Amash candidacy there had been rumors of deep dissatisfaction with the Kent County leadership.

But the road surely runs both ways.  Where Amash fights against the perceived forced unionization of day care providers, Hardiman trumpets his standing up for marriage.  It’s Tea Party v. Church Coffee. Grandville makes sense then, not only as the source of needed money (e.g. the Land Victory Fund), but as the political home for Hardiman’s politics.

Such a move should not give centrists in the County any comfort.  If Amash’s cup of tea is not the popular taste, there is likewise little evidence that a return to social conservatism is any better (though, in fairness, Hardiman scarcely is the firebrand that others have been). That moment has passed.  That said,  Hardiman’s presence would certainly dampen a Kooiman candidacy (again, with the west side being his natural political home), although the lack of resources in the Hardiman camp will be tempting for Kooiman to jump in.

But the big story lies elsewhere.  An under-resourced Hardiman is the best news possible for former County Commissioner Steve Heacock, who is also planning to toss his hat in the ring later this week.  His presence would be that of the “adult” the economic centrist.  The question however will be whether the party wants an adult, or does it want to rock?  Or will it settle for the comforting outlnes of a mature believer?

Filed under: Elections, , , , ,

What Should Dems Look For?

With the retirement of Vern Ehlers from the Third District Congressional seat, Democrats will face a decision: what kind of candidate should they be putting forward?  Glenn Barkan offered some ideas earlier today, and they’re good, but really don’t explore some of the real variables. Even in a seat with supposedly no chances, prospective candidates still face  choices about the scope and intensity of the campaign.  This decision in turn will affect  fund-raising,volunteer recruiting and commitment,  as well as basic time commitments.

Of course in West Michigan, Democrats have had plenty of experience in running these up-hill races.  Understanding the choices available to the candidate and his or her campaign help the party make better choices regarding its resources, it also helps the campaign better define for itself what the victory conditions are.  How do we run and not be weary?

We can think of these choices under four headings. Read the rest of this entry »

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

The Windmill Turns

The big news in the last 24 hours was the emergence of Justin Amash as a candidate for the Third Congressional seat, and the retirement of the incumbent, Vern Ehlers.

Foremost, this marks the end of a long political career, one that exemplifies the Dutch engagement on issues over the years:

  • 1970s -An environmental activist, campaigning for recycling.
  • 1975-1983 – County Commissioner
  • 1983-85 – State Representative
  • 1985-1993 – State Senator
  • 1993-2010 – US Congressman

Those familiar with the SE side recognize the pattern, the movement from local issues to the County Commission, and then using that as a springboard to larger offices.  It was this groundedness in local politics, in neighborhoods, but even more, in the web of Dutch American culture that gave such office holders their peculiar form of moderation.  They were conservative (even the Democrats) but rarely ideological.  Ehlers could play the role of party apparatchik as well as anyone, yet for his constituents maintained a moderate image — much to the frustration of his opponents.

Yet, with Ehlers’ departure, a certain hole opens up in the body politic.  Who will replace him?  The old neighborhood culture has at the very least thinned.  (When Ehlers went to Congress the city still had six Christian elementary schools, next year there will be two. ) Grand Rapids has now expanded to an urban area encompassing Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids, the issues at the heart are more identifiably urban; meanwhile  the southern and eastern suburbs have become homes for more militant forms of conservatism — social as well as economic.

What then will the new post-Ehlers world bring?

Read the rest of this entry »

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

Return of the Windmill?

As the election cycle begins to kick in, there is evidence that the old Dutch/Christian Reformed political connections are alive.

Of course, there is David LaGrand the Democratic Party candidate for the 29th State Senate.  Calvin grad, deep roots in the CR, and a strong civic ethic — this has been the traditional template, although of course on the Republican side.

The more interesting has been the emergence of CR members to explore candidacies for State races in the city. Mid January, Lori Wiersma, former director for VIS  announced her candidacy for the 29th State Senate.  (VIS is a a diaconal ministry of the local Christian Reformed churches).  And this Sunday, we read of exploratory thinking on the part of Bing Goei for the 75th State House seat.  Now owner of Eastern Floral, Goei was for a number of years the head of Race Relations Commission for the Christian Reformed denomination.  Like others before them, both Wiersma and Goei represent an urban brand of the Christian Reformed politician, socially conservative, but fundamentally pragmatic and by Republican terms, moderate.

So does their emergence indicate that the old coalition is again stirring?

Not likely.  The long term demographics (e.g. the collapse consolidation of the Christian schools) suggests that the base has fundamentally shifted.  That however, does not mean that the Wiersma and Goei candidacies are not interesting, not by a long shot.

Read the rest of this entry »

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

Climate of disappointment

Perhaps Ezra Klein is right.  Congress is not yet ready to take up global warming.  Certainly the House vote on the Climate Change bill gives more than enough evidence,  with virtually the entire GOP in opposition, plus 44 Democrats.  So it wasn’t a surprise that our own Vern Ehlers would be in opposition.  A disappointment, yes, but no surprise.

Nonetheless, Ehler’s statement is filled with a regretful knowing.  This is a major issue, and yes, he  strongly supports efforts “to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions, promote conservation of resources, and develop alternative and more efficient sources of energy.”   And certainly this is an issue that needs more research, but action?  Cap and trade? And couldn’t they have at least asked the Republicans (one is tempted to inquire who he has in mind, given the GOP record of skepticism if not outright denial on global climate change).  Sadly this is a good cause, but

I believe action is needed to minimize the impacts of climate change. However, this bill is the wrong way to do it, and it was rushed through the legislative process at the worst possible time for Michigan’s economy. Our state is hurting badly right now, and the policies in this bill will only make matters worse for Michigan families who are already struggling.

The turn to the economy is useful, but also something of  a mystery given the Congressman’s own (in)action.   As the economic storm strengthened in Fall 2008 and Michigan auto makers struggled to survive, political leaders from both parties took action.  Spoke out.  That honor roll includes Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox, Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, Virg Benaro, mayor of Lansing; and our own City Commissioner, David LaGrand.  Plenty of folks got it.   Yet Ehlers own stance was largely on the sidelines — one mention in The Press, but no risk of political capital on his part.  And certainly no press release until after the vote.

But this time, he gets religion.  Michigan jobs are at stake.  Perhaps.  Others  would say that what he actually got were plenty of phone calls spurred by Rush Limbaugh. Still whether it’s jobs or simply political pressure, there is a strong whiff of disappointment to all this. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Politics, ,

Why the silence?

Looking at the gathering Monday at the Wealthy Street Theatre, you couldn’t really blame Republicans for staying away. It was a meeting on foreclosure dominated by area activists, minorities and Democrats — not exactly the kind of crowd that even City GOP members hang with. Still ceding the issue, letting The Press editorialize on it, leaves the Republican party exposed as being either disinterested, or worse unwilling to help homeowners.  Was it blindness?  Self-interest? Partisanship?

Whatever the case, they are behind the wave, and what is significant in the past week, silent.

The Background

The circumstances are by now, well known.  Last week Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox proposed giving $500,000 to help with Millennium Park, and Crescent Park tucked in the shadow of the Van Andel Institute.  The hitch?  This was money from the foreclosure settlement with Countrywide Mortgage.  And why these particular parks?  They were beloved of well-known Republican (and in fairness civic benefactor) Peter Secchia.

Yet this gift went unappreciated.  As it should.  With 10 foreclosures a day taking place in Kent County, and 5.5%  of all homes in foreclosure in 2008 according to this report from Dyer-Ives, parks were not the first thing that comes to mind in helping people, neighborhoods and cities handle foreclosures.  While the Mayor waffled, County Commissioner Brandon Dillon and Carol Hennessey, and Grand Rapids Second Ward Commissioner Dave LaGrand urged a better use of the funds, and last Friday, the AG relented.

(Phil Skaggs was also on the case big time — the story making it to the Chicago papers.)

So What Were They Thinking?

It is not at all obvious that home foreclosure should be the province of just one party.  Apart from the personal tragedy of lost home, foreclosures impact neighborhoods, lowering property values and reducing municipal revenue.   It would seem, this is the definition of a voting issue.

For the social conservatives, this would be especially important.  Home ownership is a commitment to place and family; loss of home is a family tragedy.  The neighborhoods that are hit — those along Burton, not to mention the villages of Kent City and Sand Lake — these are places where a Republican brand could take hold.

Could. That’s what has me thinking.  Helping homeowners, showing interest in their struggles is certainly consonant with what are purported to be Republican values, especially for social conservatives.  At a time when their brand has taken such a shellacking would it make sense to say something?

As a practical matter, there would be two kinds of political hay to be made here.  The first benefit would have been to be seen favorably by the very neighborhoods affected.  This would clearly be the case for anyone who had aspirations of running in the 75th to replace Robert Dean.  To not care about foreclosure can easily be read as not caring about the city.  That’s why it is so important to say something, anything.  The second benefit lies with those moderates who care about the issues but live in the suburbs.  Caring for the city has direct benefits for these voters — this is the standard ploy that so many of the Dutch Republicans have previously made on race; why Vern is considered a “moderate.”

If there is so much practical upside, why the silence?  Several reasons present themselves.

Read the rest of this entry »

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

Still Bill

Better late to the party than never.

While the storm over Barack the Magic Negro has raged for over a week, our own state senator  stayed quiet until the last day of the year.  So there is a sort of gratitude that Sen. Bill Hardiman and the local GOP finally spoke out. Indeed they had to, if their party is to have any relevance within Grand Rapids or Kentwood.  Indeed, historically the issue of race has been far closer to the hearts of the Dutch members of the GOP.

The reticence to speak out, however, is rather interesting.  In part, it no doubt owes to the ambiguous relationship the West Michigan party has had with its state chair, Saul Anuzis.  He’s been out front on this in his race for the chair of the Republican National Committee, but his leadership in Michigan has been the source of grumbling here on the West side.  After all, this was the heartland for the Huckabee insurgency, and it was Huckabee’s campaign manager who sent out the offending CD.

But talking with area Republicans, there’s a sense in which they are tone deaf to the issue itself.  Barack... is considered mere humor –what’s the deal?  The embracing of a perceived political incorrectness  becomes a kind of self-testimony to their “maverick” nature, their willingness to buck the trends, and in a conservative way, to “speak truth to (cultural) power.”  The self-affirmation blinds them to the racial sub-text of their opinion.

Yet this reticence of conservatives in West Michigan cannot be simply chalked up to the whacky doings of the cultural warriors.  On both national and state issues, the local party leadership has been noticeably low key.   At a time when West Michigan is increasing in prominence in the state, and showing real romise on the economic front, the nominal political leadership remains silent.

In the auto bailout battle last month, who spoke up for the auto makers?  It was not the local party, nor the office of our Congressman Vern Ehlers.  Instead  City Commissioner  David LaGrand picked up the charge, and that out of his own pocket.   While other GOP leaders spoke out, the locals, including governor wannabe Terri Land said nothing.

Again, this odd reticence.

And in Lansing, the region is largely served by back benchers–reliable supporters but hardly champions of the area or its possibilities. This disease of back-bencherism may be the explanation.  A generation of partisan warring has created a mentality that privileges team loyalty over governing or community leadership.  So instead we get a hesitation, a caution, a reticence. The failure to speak out and the resulting ceding of voice to extreme elements in the conservative coalition will only lead them further away into the political wilderness.

Filed under: Community, , , , ,

Standing with GM

The future of Michigan and West Michigan politics is being decided not in our state, but in the corridors of Washington. For a few smart pols have seen the writing: now is the time to stand up for the state and yes, for the much maligned General Motors and the much-maligned auto industry. What is remarkable is the way that so many area and state politicians have become remarkably tongue tied about this. Some have not.

Bluntly, this is one of the most important issues to have faced our state. The enormity of a potential failure, the continuing impact of “successful” bailout can immobilize civic leaders.  The enemy at hand is the sense of helplessness, a sense that muffles our voice and dulls our imagination.

That silence is all to present. Where is Vern Ehlers? The last news on his official site is dated November 21. Is it too much to ask that we see him speaking out for jobs here in our community? Where is governor-wannabe Terri Land? Meanwhile Hoekstra has certainly said some things even backtracked, the better to protect his gubernatorial chances (of course, with the requisite, right-from-the-playbook swipe at unions).

Yet if some are tongue-tied, others are not.

Virg Benero speaks out eloquently, forcefully on the problem.

Grand Rapids City Commissioner David LaGrand has not only spoken, but is paying his way to lobby in Washington.  “Ten thousand jobs on the line” is how he puts it (and leaves you wondering about other leaders along the Grand)

And to be bi-partisan:

Gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Mike Cox has argued early.

And Thaddeus McCotter (CD-11) matches Benero for passion and forthright speaking.

This is a battle that will define Michigan politics for the next two years, and likely for far longer than that.  For those who aspire to real leadership in our communities they will have to stand up and be counted. Make not mistake, the battle for 2010 has already started.

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , ,

Will Faith Walk to Obama?

The news from Politico (and Gallup) is not good today. All the work of the past year has not (apparently) moved the dial when it comes to the religious voter.

The Gallup Poll now shows Obama backed by 28 percent of white voters who attend church at least once a week — a group that makes up a roughly a third of all voters — which would be no improvement from the 29 percent of these voters who, according to exit polls, backed Democrats John Kerry and Al Gore in the previous two presidential election.

There is something of a body blow to this, given the work that folks like Amy Sullivan and Mara Vanderslice have done, as well as the more explicit outreach efforts of the Democrats generally. Has nothing really changed? Pulling apart the article and looking at other recent data suggest that more be happening here than the top line numbers suggest.

Perceptions change. As the article notes

Democrats have made some gains in improving the public’s perception of their openness to religious Americans. Some 38 percent of Americans believe the Democratic Party is “generally friendly toward religion,” up from a low point of 26 percent in 2006, according to the annual August Pew Religion and Public Life Survey[.]

The true significance of such a move lies in the broader move of the Democratic party to the center out of a sectarian stance. The danger of its secularity had been that party would be seen as representing a niche in American society rather than the as a coalition of various subgroups. Ironically, the ascendency of true believers in the Republican party seems to be propelling that party into a similar sectarian stance. Too intense a religious commitment may be as dangerous as too little for a party aspiring to national leadership.

Moderate Shifts. As David Kuhn reports, occasional believers and Catholics are both showing shifts in allegiance to the Democrats. Here, the increasing Evangelical profile in the GOP works against it – groups that would otherwise share in their values nonetheless do not share the sociological identity of Evangelicals. So even if the sectarian box holds, others in the religious community seem to be abandoning it.

But the real give away in all this is the noting that the Democrats have stopped losing. The pattern of losing weekly church goers by increasingly larger margins has now flattened. This suggests again that outreach efforts have been successful at least in stopping the bleeding. The secular story is no longer seen as a self-defeating behavior that it has been where secular stances lead to rejection lead to secular stances. The bleeding has stopped.

But that’s not all the story.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Democratic Party, Faith, , , ,

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