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

Mapping the Future

MI76 : Gov 14 map This is a map that will drive many crazy in the GOP. As the red dots indicate, Gov. Snyder won decisively in the 76th District. Eleven precincts gave him at least a 20 point margin (and some came close to a full 40; a 70-30 split). The places where the party dominated on the SE side, the NE fringe (with the Riverside neighborhood tossed in) demonstrate why the district has the shape that it does. They were supposed to win in the off year, except, they didn’t. The gerrymander failed.

For party strategists, this map represents a what-if, a secret nudge of hope. But that partisan reading may miss the message. Take a look at the results for Winnie Brink.

MI76 14 mapPrecincts that were in the GOP column are now in her’s and what is more, they are there in decisive shape, with her winning with twenty percent margins (look at precinct 2-42, or precincts 3-77, and 3-59). Even in precincts where the Governor won big, the Brinks campaign tightened the margin (look at precinct 1-6).

One can look at this as a matter of hard work, that the campaign worked and earned the win. That is certainly the case. But this is also a map of hope, of a future.

Brinks strength even in the usually conservative neighborhoods points to the power of pragmatism within the City. The fact that both Brinks and Snyder win the same seats suggests a common persona, one of moderation, a look past the partisanship. There is surprisingly little of the Tea Party in this map (perhaps pct 1-21 or 1-23).

The Brinks campaign modeled this moderation as well, her’s was a campaign emphasized hard-work and pragmatic solutions. Where the term limits opponents had stumbled in the blue collar neighborhoods, Brinks won comfortably, sometimes even spectacularly.  And this was done without running away from her stance on abortion — a killer for most candidates a decade ago. Brinks again demonstrated that where one is moderate and hard-working, the questions on abortion can be handled.

As the City explores how it should continue to develop (that long conversation between the downtown and the left out), the Brinks win maps what a coalition might very well look like. Yes, we will always have the west side but most in the City want to see it succeed. And to do that, they are willing to cross lines and work together. It’s the sweat equity of hope.

And it bodes well for our City.

Note on the maps: The dots measure the size of the margin, from the lightest representing less than a one percent difference (a margin +/- 0.5 percent) to the darkest representing at least a twenty percent margin (60/40)

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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 that in Bing’s eye?

Bing Goei’s announcement the other day that he would have a write in campaign for the 76th state house seat, the one fouled by Roy Schmidt, is certainly a move that challenges wisdom.

Perhaps his business is doing really, really well and he has money to cast around. Perhaps it really is a matter of pique.Or perhaps he has something else in mind.

Formally, it is hard to see how the race makes any electoral sense. With a strong Dem already on the field, there is little room to go and pick up the disaffected centrists. To do so, Goei would have to campaign against Brinks, and to date, there is little of that on the field. On the right of Schmidt (and Goei) is Keith Allard, who has been running a verbally aggressive campaign, staking out claims for right to life, fiscal conservatism, and actively drawing contrasts with both Schmidt and Brinks.

But if Goei cannot pick up the center and the right wing is covered, what’s left? Even assuming a total Schmidt collapse, there are not enough votes out there to make it work, all the more with the state and region sliding to the D side at the national level.

The motivation, apparently is the same as that of Schmidt (originally): the mayor’s office. And here, Goei’s campaign is anything but quixotic. The independent write-in campaign symbolically detaches him from the GOP (even if we all know where he stands), and gives him the the independent creds necessary for a non-partisan race.  Plus – provided that I’ve read the  law right —  money raised for the statehouse run can be transferred to another political campaign.

So for now, Goei rebuilds networks, gains visibility, raises money — all tools that can really help in a run for the Mayor’s office. His may not be on Lansing at all, but on Ottawa Avenue.

Filed under: Elections, Uncategorized, , , ,

Where is Peter Bratt when you need him?

Political consultant and former resident, Peter Bratt understood the importance of data — his models became part of the Democratic redistricting efforts in 2011. It now appears that Grand Rapids and its Clerk, Lauri Parks could have used his help.

The task was fairly simple: following instructions from the Secretary of State, Grand Rapids was to change the numbering of its precincts from ward specific to a sequential pattern (so no more of having three precinct 24s, say).

This would be a minor thing, or should be. The result has been problematic, however, and may require an additional fix.

In her revamp, Parks redrew boundaries of several precincts. Most entailed better aligning Ward 1, Precinct 13 (the near west side neighborhood along the river from Bridge to Leonard), a more significant change took place in the far northwest where three precincts (23, 24 and 31) were combined into two, 23 and 21, basically by dividing up 24. Now this may seem arcane, but for those who track voter behavior, the merge and split means that data will now have to be consolidated into one chunk, a combined 23 and 21. This is a small loss of granular data.

The larger problem, however comes with the naming of the precincts themselves. All online archive records at Election Magic or at the Secretary of State,  present the data in a fixed order (ward 1 beginning with precinct 1, ward 2, etc), this generally has allowed for tracking from year to year. The new numbering system sought to give new names that resemble the old ones (e.g. in Ward 3, pct 5 becomes 55, pct 18, 68; pct 21, 71). The difficulty is that such a numbering substantially breaks down the earlier order of precincts, that order used all other analyses.

Oh, what is a poor boy to do?

For starters, get a key. The excel sheet gives the new number codes for the old precinct numbers. by using them next to the old precinct lists, one can sort them so archive data sets match current order or precincts. Yes, that’s confusing. It would be so much easier for data analysis had Ms Parks simply kept the order, and changed the number.

Practically, what this all means is that the amateur and limited fund campaigns will need to take extra time in building their data sets. And one thing we know for sure: Peter Bratt would not approve that.




Filed under: Elections, , ,

First Map on State Senate 29

The Michigan Dems released their redistricting map for the state senate on Tuesday. While we can’t say much about redistricting elsewhere, the proposed map for Kent County has a lot to recommend:

To understand what’s going on, keep in mind three numbers: Kent County’s population (602,622), the minimum size for a senate distict (247,091), and the maximum (273,100).  With these numbers, the county is entitled to 2.2-2.4 State Senate seats. Or to look at it another way, between 50,000 and 100,000 residents will be attached to a district outside of the county.

From a Kent County perspective, the proposed map matches the districts fairly well with the underlying social reality. The city of Grand Rapids is paired with Wyoming (for Dems, a happy thought, giving at least the possibility of a win); the southern tier of townships are sent to neighboring Allegan county, again a happy match of the economic populist/libertarians; and the remaining townships form the second complete district — one strongly Republican but also with a mix of economic and social conservatives. This last would be Hildenbrand’s seat.

But if this map is modestly happy for Dems, that’s a pretty good reason why it’s not likely to be adopted. Several other configurations suggest themselves for the GOP, chief would be the sending off the top two tiers of northern townships (roughly 50,000).  Grand Rapids would then be paired with Plainfield, Cannon, GR Twp, EGR Ada, Vergennes and Lowell. Again, an easy district for Sen. Hildenbrand. The second seat would then be Wyoming, Kentwood and surrounding western and southern townships – a district more in line with social conservatives.  There are other configurations, but as to sending folks away, the GOP would be advised to keep their social conservatives on the west intact (Alpine down to Byron Center).

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

Dying. Really?

All the hoopla of the Newsweek article listing Grand Rapids as a “dying city” certainly stirred up a discussion.  And most of it off track.

A great deal of the defense turned on the vitality of the downtown shows. From Rob Bliss to Art Prize, how could this not be an alive, happening place?  However, if staging a great party were a sign of health, New Orleans would be in the pink of things. But of course, it’s not.

Rather the commotion touches one of the key questions before any metro region: do all parts share in the prosperity, in the distribution of various social goods? Looking past the events and the Rob Bliss adventures, another story may be unfolding,  in effect are we looking at a Potemkin village that hides a creeping collapse?

That skeptical question is important.  After all, the City is different from the County, the neighborhoods  different from downtown. A metro area may thrive while  individual municipalities or neighborhoods suffer. , e.g. one need only travel west down the 28th Street corridor in to see something that indeed looks like collapse, from the vacant stores, the empty lots to the plans for urban redevelopment to look at all the vacant stores and sense the collapse. Yet even here, Wyoming itself has not yet suffered a collapse, even if its northern neighborhoods do appear on the decline.

However to understand if Grand Rapids is in decline we need to confront both the metrics and the rhetoric.

Fear of a black (planet)

The language of decline does not simply refer to a set of metrics, but participates in a narrative urban dysfunction. To speak of decline we do not mean declining fortunes or opportunities — from a middle class perspective, we can always escape — rather, the object is that of the increase in a certain kind of community: the urban poor, the urban minority poor.  In Eugene Robinson’s words, these are the Abandoned, this (growing) urban underclass. The narrative carries with it an inevitable racial cast; while Sioux City may decline, Buffalo dies. In the narrative of the urban poor, the dying city is to be blamed (e.g. too many social services, too much social dysfunction), or ignored, and certainly separated from, even if that means crossing a municipal boundary or moving to the townships.

The dying city narrative at its best is one of condescension that barely masks a despair underneath.

Should Grand Rapids be considered in this narrative or not?  The condition of the city will not be found by press release, but by data.  Read the rest of this entry »

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Pragmatic Politics

One of the consequences of the Democratic implosion has been the need to reformulate how we deal with the other side.  What sort of cooperation do we maintain?  Do we allow ourselves to support GOP candidates in non-winnable districts, if they are right on at least some issues?

This is the dilemma of the minority party. And there’s no easy way to answer it, since after all, this is politics.

Take the case of Stan Ponstein, R-Grandville, Kent County Commission.

Ponstein is one of those Republicans that some Democrats can like, at least from a distance.  Able to win with big margins (3:1 in 2010), he has the freedom that comes from a safe seat, most notably when it came to  farmland preservation.  And if you sit in some circles, you may even hear a Dem or two note that “if Stan faced a challenge, we’d be willing to help” — that’s the power of pragmatism.  In  effect, “he’s a Republican but he’s our Republican.”

Last Tuesday, Ponstein underscored the first part of his identity: he’s a Republican.  When  it came time to reorganize the County Commission for the upcoming session, Ponstein took the big step backward.  The old deal he helped put in place two years ago? No more requirement for minority party representation on any of the major committees (finance, legislative, human resources), and no minority vice chair, instead return to the shut out caucus days of yore.  Indeed this was precisely what some of the re-elected bulls wanted, notably Harold Mast, and Stan Boelema.

Now as attractive as rule by caucus can seem, for commissioners coming from urban Kent County (the cities of Wyoming, Grand Rapids, and Kentwood), caucus rule means a dampening of their constituents’ concerns.   A caucus whose principle members are the suburban/township with a handful of urban seats necessarily means that urban concerns take second place to those of the suburban/township majority.  Caucus rule is a trap for anyone interested in advancing the pragmatic politics of building Kent County.

Thus it turns out that there remain two dilemmas for the pragmatic politician: for the majority GOP, a temptation to go partisan and so stifle the acting on urban issues; for the minority Dem, the temptation to co-operate so much with the GOP counterpart in the name of pragmatism so as to win a victory but lose the greater battle.

These tensions are only to grow all the more with anticipated redistricting and the shrinkage of the County Commission to 17.

Filed under: Democratic Party, Politics, , , , , , , ,

The Shape of Things to Come

As sure as robin in spring, the hiring of Census workers can only mean one thing: time to again contemplate carving up the political landscape.  And really, nothing is quite so delicious.  Especially in Michigan with likely loss of at least one congressional seat.  A whole new set of winners and losers is ready to be created.

And of the first maps out, is that from Menhen, at Swing State Project. There’s plenty of discussion on the proposal on state-wide aspects, here.  For those on the west side of the state, things get especially interesting.  The second district (Hoekstra) becomes the Ehlers seat, with urbanized Kent County (Grand Rapids, Wyoming, Kentwood, East Grand Rapids) replacing Ottawa County.  Meanwhile, the Third now becomes the “Hoekstra” home, packing together Ottawa, Allegan, Van Buren and about 40 percent of Kent).

Even were the arrangement not prove workable, it nonetheless can be considered as very useful  sort of thought experiment.

Here is how the district gets drawn:

If the map looks familiar, it should: this is essentially the same redistricting solution used for assigning  State Senate seats in he county.  So the 29th (Bill Hardiman, R-Kentwood) includes Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Cascade and some exurb/rural townships to the east.  The rest of Kent County becomes the 28th (Mark Jansen, R-Gaines) surrounding the 29th  like a “C.”  Same topology here in the congressional redesign.

As a Kent County partisan this division can look problematic, especially as the region wrestles with issues of development and of educational equality.  These are contentious enough as it is; this political division could serve to increase the distances between cities and suburbs in ways that work against its best interest.  Indeed, practically speaking, this may be the real point of difficulty for any such plan: both parties maintain real interest in controlling their own destiny, as they have to date.  Thus, the pressure will be to vote for a unified Kent County.

Muskegon and Grand Rapids go together

This is perhaps the most obvious direction that redistricting will take if the Democratic party can control the process.  A District with both Muskegon and Grand Rapids in it would raise the core urban issues with much greater force.   Minorities gain voice.  The experience of representation in Grand Rapids demonstrates how urban issues can sway even otherwise conservative representatives.  That these two cities are also two bastions of Democratic strength in the region makes this a natural combination for Democrats.

Strength in numbers for Kent County

At first,  the division of Kent County looks counter-intuitive to the region’s interest.  Yet, as in the State Senate such an arrangement can potentially  serve to expand and extend the region’s clout.  This will be its great appeal to those engaged in regional planning.  The  risk is no less obvious: potentially the County could not be represented at all, and civic leadership would then have to depend on outsiders, an awkward situation if for no other reason than pride.

A look at raw numbers suggests that this worst case scenario may not be as likely as some fear.

In a Grand Rapids – Muskegon district, Kent County would continue to provide something close to two-thirds of the total vote, thereby making the region a natural home base.  For the new 3rd, things are a little more dicey.  Suburban/exurban Kent County would contribute approximately 40% of the base to the new district, and more importantly be home to some of the deepest Party pockets.   The centripetal pull of fundraising will keep any candidate close to the heart of Kent County.  And likely as not, also be a resident , as well.

likely provide a candidate for the seat.  The result for regional planning would be two members of congress tightly identified with the interests of Kent County.  This would be an improvement from the present situation.

In terms of selling redistricting plan such as this, the potential doubled representation from Kent County will rank high.

The 86th lives

On the Republican side, the plan would mirror the present division in the Kent County party, between the social conservatives  on the west — the party of the Lands, Voorhees, and generally Ottawa County; and the economic, leaning to libertarian conservatives of the east — this is the party of Ada and Amway, and also of Justin Amash.   As in te Democratic Party, the division between east and west is present and active, here best thought of as that of Ada and Grandville.

The present weakened state of the Kent County party not only has left a number of local Republican party members shaking their heads, but has been increasing the rumblings below deck.  As the national party tilts toward and ideological purity, the battle will almost certainly intensify between the economic and the social conservatives.  This division is already present in State House 86, encompassing the social conservatism of Walker and the economic leadership of  Ada Township.  The redistricted 3rd invites a similar sort of battle line.  A civil war among the GOP is not necessarily in the Democrats best interest; such a civil war is as likely to result in the ideological pure winning.  A region where the pure win promises less in terms of the deelopment the region requires for its long-term growth.

Notes on Weaknesses

Such a plan as this is bold,  but some obvious drawbacks do need to be mentioned.

  1. A district that cuts out the money powers from downtown is going to have some difficulty getting through.  Perhaps the region is at the cusp of really going metropolitan, but for many there still remains the hegemonic ideal: a unified political-social-philanthropic culture. This sense of the region as a region extends across party lines. It is not at all obvious that even a Democrat in the 29th State Senate seat would go along with a plan that fractures the congressional seat.
  2. Redistricting plans are better when they follow existing patterns of political or socio-economic organization.  What ever the virtues the partisan gains from a redistrciting plan such as this, it remains far more useful to have the congressional district and the metrolpolitan area(s) correspond with one another.  The questions of recovery and development that are likely to be ours in West Michigan ask for pragmatic leadership.

    Thus, while a Muskegon-Grand Rapids axis makes sense, being part of the same SMSA (Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area).  The northern lakeshore counties share a different set of problems.  Representation that follows basic economic interests is simply going to be more efficient in helping those interests and communities deal with Washington.

  3. Lastly, on practical terms, a revised Muskegon-Grand Rapids district ought to naturally incude Newaygo. Newaygo has become part of the west Michigan metro area.  For the same reason, Ionia ought also to be part of a west Michigan congressional district.

The plan from Swing State Project is not the first to imagine the shape of things to come, but it does begin a useful conversation on how we can better structure our communities for better representation, and continued economic development.

Filed under: Elections, Politics, , , ,

Hail Mary

One of the odder things underway in the current election season is the absence of the Dutch Reformed in the contest for Michigan State House District 75.

For more than a generation this seat has not only been the possession of Republicans, but of a succession of members of the Christian Reformed church: Peter Kok, Paul Henry, Vern Ehlers, Bill Byl, Jerry Kooiman. They were a string of politicians notable for their vision of public servcie; they were men of faith, but not in the sectarian form of the Christian Right; in short their’s was a very distinctive political culture. In 2006 Christian Meyers sought to take his place in this line but lost to Tim Doyle. And as we know, Rev. Robert Dean won instead.

This year we have two exlicit Catholics and a (religiously) unknown running: T J Carnegie, Dan Tietema and Michael Burdo. The only connection to the older Dutch community is in Tietema’s last name. This golden chain has been snapped.

So what is going on? A set of hypothesizes suggest themselves.

Is the Dutch political culture of a generation being eclipsed? Perhaps. The signs are clear that the community, long a feature on the city’s SE side, is shrinking.

As the numbers have waned, there is also evidence that historically staunch neighborhoods (and they still are pretty staunch) have also begun to trend for conservative blacks. E.g., both Third Ward city commissioners are black; and Rep. Dean is a very conservative Democrat, as well.

There is also emerging in the city an east-side Catholic political culture. In the 75th, the Catholic neighborhoods of the north end have been recognized as the deciding neighborhoods. In the third ward, the old Dutch neighborhoods (those out towards Calvin) were balanced by the minority precincts; the neighborhoods north of Fulton were the tie-breaker. And these were Catholic. But until now, it has been a diffused Catholicism — these more suburban neighborhoods lack the political culture of the west side, or of the public service motivation of the old Dutch.

Each of these potential long-term trends will receive further exploration. But for the moment, 2008 makes clear the Catholic boys are in town, and throwing long.

Filed under: Elections, ,


August 2020