Windmillin'

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

So that’s the plan?

Thursday, the County approved the GOP redistricting plan — no real surprises here, it’s the same one presented two weeks ago:

Over at MLive, there are plenty of disgruntled reactions, as well there should be.  The plan comes with several flaws, repeating the same flaw of the Dem’s plan, but also adding in the more problematic weighting of districts. The most notorious being the difference between districts 17 and 19 — a near ten percent spread. Add to all this the problems with Hispanic representation and this is a plan almost certain to be going to court.

But for now, perhaps a few broad observations can be made (detailed notes will come later).

The plan speaks to a  surrender of the city, metaphorically and literally. What is so striking about the 18th and 19th districts is that they go outside the City to gain some sort of (presumed) partisan edge. The action alone functions as a concession that in the present configuration the seats are too marginal, and behind that the realization that the City itself cannot support the GOP in state races. When you go outside for help, you admit that you no longer possess the electoral power to hold the City.

There also appears to be a metaphorical surrender when it comes to Grand Rapids and perhaps urban areas generally in Kent County. However much the proposed districts meet the formal requirements, their broken quality most notoriously seen in the twisting 15th suggests a lack of understanding for how the urban area is actually linked. This is a map composed by some one on the outside, not one who lives here. Contrast again the map developed in 2000 by the late Glenn Steil Sr., a conservative map that understood these inner connections far better.

The map also hints at what appears to be an intra-party feud within the local GOP, between the true believers and, as they would have it, the RINOs. There is of course, the lack of urban understanding (the city being where RINOs like to roam), but it can be most clearly seen in the split of East Grand Rapids, the separation of Lowell from its namesake township, and in the putting of Commissioners Boelema and Ponstein in the same district (7).  The combination of the older urban central neighborhoods of Wyoming with the suburban and even more conservative neighborhoods in districts 8 and 9 also seems to reflect his same trend.

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

Plan B.

Finally, the Dems came up with a real plan, one that was legible, backed by numbers, and largely work. Unfortunately, it was released a tad late, at the redistricting hearing Tuesday.  While not perfect (more on that in a moment), the plan nonetheless keeps districts generally in line with the underlying social realities, the neighborhoods and communities — and that’s all for the better.

Of course, many will miss it,so here it is:

As can be seen, the districts roughly correspond to the existing social reality on the ground in the city. And that is important.

Districts that cohere with neighborhoods or communities not only help those communities have a voice, but they help the County understand and make better policy decisions.

The plan as submitted still has its errors, most egregiously in the breaking in two of Plainfield Township and East Grand Rapids. Long time West Michigan observer and now head of redistricting for Dallas TX, Peter Bratt explains the ins and outs:

Section 46.404 of MCL states the standards for creating districts. It essentially follows the Apol standards (codified in MCL 363.261), and Section E discourages townships, villages and cities shall be divided only if necessary to meet the population standards. The acceptable range 5% deviation for population is 30,132 to 33,303. Plainfield’s population of 30,952 easily falls within the acceptable deviation. The same goes for East Grand Rapids.

The very short answer: you do not need to contort yourself so to get results that work. Both parties can. Whether the citizens will get this immediately or after a law suit depends very much on the decisions being made by the Redistricting Committee today.

Filed under: Elections, , , ,

Map of the Future?

This map from The Rapid not only captures the election results, but in doing so gives a visual map of attitudes in the urban core. Think of it as a sort of psychographic portrait of our politics. The additional numbers give the percent yeas in the close districts.

In many ways the above mirrors the state senate election, particularly in the emergence of the far west side of Grand Rapids as the new home of Republicanism. This will fact will continue to be a key factor in contests for the 76th State House, how much so will depend on the State redistricting out later this month. Meanwhile in the northeast, with most of the precincts lined up or tilting heavily to the Rapid we can see how the 75th State House is solidly in the Dem camp.

More interesting is the portrait emerging to the south in Kentwood. While “traditional” Kentwood along Kalamazoo avenue remains solidly conservative (for reference, this is the home of County Commissioner Harold Mast), the north and the newer developments on the east leaned solidly for the transit. Now that doesn’t assure a Dem win anytime soon, but it does indicate that the underlying political framework is less Tea Party populist, more good government in approach. In terms of recent elections, this suggests that the close call for Richard VanderMolen in 2008 was no accident, but a sign of shifts in the neighborhood.

Looking ahead, Dems can take heart: in the next ten years they may indeed make real inroads into Kentwood, likely sooner than later.

In the west, Wyoming will remain a challenge with an aging white population — the base for the populist, anti-tax stand (n.b. that absentee voters, a generally older subset, went 2-1 against the millage). Practically, this creates instability as to results, particularly in the national election cycles when more minorities get energized and so vote.

For now, The Rapid provides Dems a glimpse to their prospects in the coming years, no matter what redistricting does.

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

Sacrificing Efficiency

When it comes to the proposed plans for redistricting our county, the picture is not pretty. Literally.

The opening shot by the Dems set up the problem — a virtually illegible map as to actual boundaries, save that city lines were routinely traversed in Grand Rapids. The first follow-up by the Republicans appeared to revel in the word “gerrymander” with its distorted snaking districts through the City of Grand Rapids and Wyoming. A second Republican map is only incidentally better, adjusting boundaries for the 15th and 16th Commission seats.

At the heart lies the determination by both parties to meet their goals by breaking municipal and township lines to create fractional representation. Behind this game playing lies an important and overlooked truth (at least at redistricting): Civic life functions better when community interests and representation are aligned. It’s a classic game scenario, we all win together but it is easy to break equity or in this case, the boundaries.

So what’s at stake?

Greater inefficiency
Mis-aligned districts, increase difficulty of representation. When a district is built of fractional units of government from breaking municipal or township boundaries, is overly contorted (“gerrymandered”) or is too diverse it challenges the commissioner to keep track of major concerns. The fractional add-on, the neighborhood at the far end of the district, these will not get the same attention. In turn that means that the County has less information than it should as to how policies affect residents, or how it meets needs.

Greater friction
Not surprisingly, mis-aligned districts also create problems for the local governments. Fractional representation interferes with the alignment of county and other units of government when it comes to co-operative projects, such as economic development. It’s not that the various entities don’t eventually mesh, but it takes longer. Meanwhile, unnecessary division creates the potential for mixed signals, in short, more friction. In the next decade, Kent County will be challenged in multiple ways to align its governing bodies whether its competing for jobs or expanding services. There’s little to be gained from creating roadblocks.

Greater distance
The last rip in the civic fabric takes place in the voter. Mis-aligned districts encourage disengagement between the voter and the county government. The harm is two-fold. First, the disengagement — this alienation — slows public acceptance of County initiatives, arbitrary districts creating the sense that policies themselves are arbitrary. The second harm rests more with the parties themselves, where the arbitrariness or craziness of the district is then applied to the author of that district. Although the partisan will believe that this second harm is moot, given that they (the disgruntled voter) will not vote for them anyway, this represents in fact, a subverting of future efforts. Not unlike the boy who cried wolf, teaching the voter that the party does not care for them  in redistricting can easily expand to a general distrust of the party in larger, more significant items.

The danger in all this is that the party — the Republicans in particular — not only sacrifice a certain governing efficiency, but that they compromise their future. Really, we can do better.

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

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, , , , , , , , ,

Mob Wisdom

Put 600 business leaders in a room for two days and what do you get?

Well if you’re in West Michigan and at the Regional Policy Conference, you get this:

(P)articipants set these top five priorities for legislative action:

1. Eliminate Michigan Business Tax and corresponding spending cuts.

2. Implement a Right to Work status for the state of Michigan.

3. Increase funding for health care providers with effective prevention practices.

4. Streamline the state’s permitting process.

5. Update funding mechanisms for transportation infrastructure.

This is the politics of the dead end, the politics of rage. It will not restore our State or for that matter safeguard their businesses.

For Democrats, it means we will continue to look opposing candidates who are quite simply, out of touch with the economic needs of our region. Without a positive agenda for the State, they offer little in terms of the way out. I will keep banging the drum, but now is the time for leadership, for a positive future.

And though I seldom (have I ever?) agree with him, Richard DeVos Sr. had it right when he said,

“Stop dreaming somebody’s going to come to town and build us a new factory,” he said. “It’s going to come from here, and we are going to make it happen.”

That’s actually an agenda Democrats can seize.

Cross posted at West Michigan Rising.

Filed under: Economy, Michigan, , ,

High Sticking

We like our hockey in Michigan, especially smash-mouth hockey. And this week self-identified hockey mom Gov. Sarah Palin delivered. An audience of 37 million testifies that we are not alone, plenty others like the that audience also raises the question of what exactly was she tapping?

Was it just the smash mouth politics?

Was it the thrill of watching the death-defying dare devil and the possibility of her failure? Perhaps.

Rather than fear the start of another cultural war, Democrats should recognize this conservative populism grows from the pain and anger of real economic and social loss. The very enthusiasm for Palin is a testimony to the failure of the previous eight years, as well as a desire to get some answers to the economic problems harming our communities. Whatever tactical advantage she bestows on the Republican Party, strategically, she bears witness that the Republican program for our economy does not work.

As the visceral response in the hall also showed, Palin is touching a deep chord in the party and more broadly among social conservatives. Yes, there is the matter of resentment, as Paul Krugman notes. And one can find examples throughout the conservative wing, as this comment from a conservative webzine demonstrates:

The elitism we decry is the opiate of the leftist, so sure of his towering intellect and moral arete that he presses on with every fiber of his being into the teeth of truth, vision still distorted by an economic lens that has been relegated to the scrap heap of history. It is the sneering condescension toward us “mouth breathing troglodytes” by the highly self-regarding and self-anointed custodians of what’s really best for the rest if only we were smart enough to vote for them. The sort of clueless solipsism that says things like “bitter people clinging to their guns and religion.

Not the whole story

But this sense of being put upon is not the whole story to this populism. The narrative of condescension is more meta – than anything, it organizes values and arguments and as such, uses current discontent as its fuel.

Sarah Palin is the face of a specific community – that’s the meaning of her small town. Wasilla in all its quirkiness stands in for towns we know throughout Michigan – the Eaton Rapids, Allegan, Hesperia and Hersey, and thousand more. In her they see themselves. She may be a high-stickin’ hockey momma, but for folks in such towns (and in the ‘burbs) she’s their hockey mom. Her words become cathartic. As other minorities know – even as Democrats out of power know – to hear their arguments delivered boldly is thrilling and energizing.

At last, at a national level, they get heard. The voice is no longer mediated by the slick (e.g. John Ashcroft, himself an Assemblies of God member, albeit a graduate of Yale), or by the outsider (e.g. James Dobson). This is what takes her candidacy past the politics of resentment. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Community, Michigan, , , , ,

Amy Sullivan was right

Up north, I had the opportunity to finally get to some reading, including Amy Sullivan’s The Party Faithful. There’s more to be said about the book, but of immediate interest (certainly with the election breathing down on us) was her view of the current state of evangelicals and the Democrats. The hyper-partisan nature of the previous elections hides how often the two groups actually share common views. That was certainly the case when the conversation turned to politics at our camp; two in particular stood out. Both were self-described evangelicals; both also held significant positions in Fortune 400 companies. And as each described his own confusion about the issues, what troubled him and how he was leaning, I could hear echoes of Amy Sullivan’s point in her recent book

One friend spoke about the issue of social inequality and how the poor and the middle class are increasingly vulnerable. He was unsure about Obama, and naturally trusted the perceived experience of a McCain, but this question about our society and justice — this bothered him. Something had to be done.

The next conversation was even more striking. It was the war, and its toll. He was adamant that we should be getting out; that in economic terms alone, the war was a disaster for our economy. On other issues he longed for an overturning of Roe v. Wade. But even there, pushing a bit more, the notion of reducing the overall number of abortions (birth control availability, better education, more economic security for young mothers — see the Democratic platform) was certainly appealing, and not one to be rejected.

The two conversations underscored Sullivan’s point that Evangelicals have shared many progressive attitudes. This is good news for Democrats, all the more as the Republican Party (at least at its local level) seems intent on repeating the nostrums of the political past. These issues held close to the heart, these issues that nag the conscience of even conservatives gives freedom to Dems to be bold.  All the more as the model of abortion reduction appears to be a path to dampening the usual critiques.  In short, now is no time to shut up.

Filed under: Community, Faith, , , , ,

Selling Out Our Values

The item is relatively small, almost a toss away. Under the guise of election reform the Reform Michigan Government Now! proposal would “prohibit illegal immigrants from registering or voting” (as the UAW PowerPoint summarizes it).

Who could be against that? By definition you need to be a citizen to vote.  Rather obvious, really. Unless, of course,  our county clerks actually are registering large numbers of illegal immigrants. Were that the case, you would think Mike Cox would be all over this problem; the silence from his office certainly suggests that something else is going on.

So what motives would there be for this clause?

Motive 1: The Sweet Smell of Xenophobia. At the most obvious, RMGN is selling its reform based on xenophobia, on the fear of “illegal immigrants.” But not just any illegals — it’s not that the coffee shop conversations worry about Canadians or Irish sneaking in, it’s Hispanics. So we build a wall; we criminalize the worker (and force her to have her baby in jail); we abuse them. Or go to the conservative site and read the discussion, the casual contempt. The clause, then, can be seen as an appeal to a resident popular prejudice, one with more than a whiff of racism to it. As a Democrat, does this make sense? Hasn’t the anti-illegal immigrant stance o the Republican Party alienated the political affections of Hispanics and sent them to our side of the street?

Why then are we helping the other side out?

Historically, such a stance is not that foreign to some wings of the Democratic Party. It was, after all, the party of the segregationist South. On occasion, unions have barred access based on race. And the blue collar neighborhoods of Macomb north of 8 Mile have (home of the so-called Reagan Democrats) have their own complicated relationship with race.

Motive 2: “Protect” the ballot. It may be that this measure is there to tap the resentment expressed the recent voter ID measure. But as repeated reports have shown, this concern about voter fraud has been repeatedly shown to be a non-problem. Instead, it appears to be the creature of Republican operatives designed to raise the barriers to voting directly, or by creating doubts in potential voters. Not surprising, many Democrats and others concerned with civil liberties have raised objections to such measures: these have the intent of barring the poor and racial minorities from voting — populations that coincidentally tend to vote Democratic.

Again, should we suppose that RMGN would support such a flawed policy from the other side? Does it even make sense given the operational success of the voter registration drives of the past two cycles?

Motive 3: Trap Cox and Land. I suppose we could come up with a rather Machiavellian interpretation, that such a measure is designed to somehow embarrass Terri Land. Or perhaps to encourage Cox to overplay his hand as Attorney General. I suppose. I love the idea of setting up the other side. But since they already have helped us out with Voter ID and the like such a motive would be too clever by half.

So then, should we consider the phrase is there only as a matter of stupidity? Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Community, Democratic Party, Michigan, , , , , , ,

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