Windmillin'

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

The way we were

Anna Bennett goes after a Pestka vote on anti-Planned Parenthood bill in 2001. For her, it is proof positive of Pestka’s fundamental anti-woman stance, the crucial attack line for the Trevor Thomas campaign.

Reading it however, one can think of the role of time. After all ten years makes a big difference.

At the start of the millennium Grand Rapids was only beginning to emerge as the shining light in Michigan. Meijer Garden was just beginning to come into its own; downtown, the DeVos campus was newly built; and on the medical complex, a billion dollars worth of new construction was still on the planning boards (if that). Politically, there were stirrings, but in 2002 the new governor, Jennifer Granholm could not take the city; the now powerful Progressive Women’s Alliance had yet to be formed; and a progressive mayor was yet to be elected. The Grand Rapids that can host innovation like Art Prize, that makes a home for young adults and even invites them back, the Grand Rapids that Anna Bennett, Trevor Thomas and a wonderful set of others have found and made their own — that Grand Rapids was still being born.

And ten years ago Trevor Thomas was a high school senior, a good Catholic boy, going to school in the suburbs. What did he think then about this piece of anti-woman legislation? Was he already the pro-choice standard bearer he has become? Or was he like so many others in our city in that day, who worked in the factories during the week and knelt in the pews on Sunday? They voted consistently pro-life.

Now  these were the same working class, skilled trades that knew Steve Pestka, that voted for Steve Pestka. The had nice homes on the NE side, or up on the hill; they attended Blessed Sacrament, Holy Spirit, St. Adalberts, St Als, St Izzies, or out on the west side, Anthony Padua. For ten years, Pestka had walked in their neighborhoods, stopped at their doors, learned their values. They were staunchly right to life; they could be maddeningly parochial, they often were skeptical on racial issues, and they disliked the Republican east-side managerial types. Pestka was not simply their representative, he could be an advocate for education or even for racial justice, but there was one voter for this community, and that was always going to be right to life.

The objection to the Pestka vote is in one deep sense an  objection to the community he represented, and the same community which Thomas calls home. What this young criticism by a Thomas or a Bennett misses is the story of  far we’ve come as a community. The Thomas campaign becomes plausible only because others have labored for a decade on small elections and large to build constituencies. The results of the end of the decade were no fluke. The work of Steve Pestka, his fellow commissioner Jim Talen, candidates like Peter VanderMeulen and others all worked to lay the foundation for a more vibrant party of today.

Ten years ago, no one thought Democrats could challenge for the congressional seat; today we have a sharp primary battle precisely because victory is a possibility. That possibility is the product of a host of pragmatic and progressive, known and unknown political activists, among them being Steve Pestka.

Ten years makes a difference. The question is now what do we do next?

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

Old School Is Out

Tuesday’s primary brought interesting shifts in the land of the Windmill.

One big shift, was the return of Jim Talen. Twenty years ago, Jim was part of a crew that led the challenge to the hegemony of Dutch Republican politics that then dominated the region’s political life. His was a practical, election-focused approach — he was an early adapter of computers, databases and a variety of mailings. Around him gathered a team of campaign workers who in turn fanned out to other campaigns in the area. In 1992, Jim won the first of 4 terms on the County Commission.

In 2006 the election itch began again, with an unsuccessful run for the County Commission (CC16). In 2008 he emerged somewhat refashioned from his earlier days and ran a successfulcampaign to defeat long-time incumbent Paul Mayhue. Allied with radio personality Robert S, Talen positioned himself as “new school” to Mayhue’s “old school.”

But Paul Mayhue wasn’t the only one to fall.

In the far burbs, two long-time County Commissioners Fritz Wahlfield (CC-2, Algoma, Sparta) and David Morren (CC-10, Caledonia, Gaines) also were defeated. Again by “New school” ideas. In this case, that of Farm Preservation.

And Justin Amash (MI-72) turned in the biggest victory, showing the door to “old school” Linda Steil and the rather more responsible Ken Yonker. His youth and brash politics mark this new approach and touches on communities looking for change.

Even when Old School didn’t win, it was threatened.

In the City, the “Old School” style of Jim Vaughn (CC-17) was put on notice when 25 percent of voting Democrats refused to vote for him.

The threat to Old School politics also lies at the door of Rep. Robert Dean. Bob Synk’s strong showing in CC-19 relative to Dean’s is one sign. The failure to carry Ottawa Hills (3-18 ) is another. A third would be to note that the precincts where votes for Dean were in majority, were largely confined to the neighborhoods between Lake, Plymouth, Alger and Eastern — a very old school approach. The underlying dynamics of the election still favor Dean, but the shifting currents of “new school” approaches means even safe seats are a little more precarious.

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

Moving Furniture in SE Grand Rapids

Tuesday’s primary had several races of interest. Even with a low turnout in the city, one could see the rearrangement of political furniture underway. Here are some of the highlights:

Talen Returns

This is the big news. In 2006 Jim Talen lost a tight race in CC-16 against veteran Paul Mayhue. That year, the vote was split between Talen, Mayhue and Robert Womack (known on local radio as Robert S). In 2008, Talen enlisted the support of Robert S and came home with a solid 61/39 win over Mayhue.

In post-election interviews Paul Mayhue attributed his loss to a lower turnout — the election saw a drop-off of 22 percent, or more than 300 votes. Although Paul had been out doing GOTV in some minority neighborhoods, Jim’s door to door work in Heritage Hill (2-7, 2-9, 2-16) plus help from Robert S made the difference.

In looking back, Jim notes something of a sea change underway. After 20 years, there was a perception in the neighborhood that Paul was “old school.” Jim’s alliance with Robert S (definitely “new school”) and with the progressive wing in Heritage Hill (City Commissioner Rosalynn Bliss and commissioner candidate Ruth Kelly) positions him for a more progressive stance on the County Commission somewhat to the left of Brandon Dillon and Dave LaGrand.

The election was also bittersweet one for many, since 20 years ago Paul and Jim had stood side-by-side as reformers on the County Commission and within the Democratic Party. It was clear going that was going to be the last election for either Jim or Paul.

Anybody but Vaughn?

Next door in CC-17, Jim Vaughn may have run unopposed, but most voters still rejected him. One fourth of all voters for Dean did not bother to vote for Vaughn. Couple this with the 495 for the nominal Republican candidate, and the total anti-Vaughn vote of 680 beat the Commissioner’s 651. This is not an especially good sign. The alliance between the conservative Dutch and the conservative black communities stand posed to do the hitherto unthinkable, vote in a Republican in the heart of the city. At the very least, this will likely encourage the Republican candidate for the general.

The mood of dissatisfaction could also be heard in Paul Mayhue’s words. When asked on WOOD-TV8 about the impact of his loss on minority representation, the commissioner said,

the minority community will have to go to Jim Talen and their pastors and preachers to deal with the issues that (they) want to be dealt with.

The failure to mention Vaughn speaks volumes.

Synk Swims

In Commission District 19, Bob Synk also provided some interesting moments of furniture moving. With the exeption of two precints (31, 38) Synk beat Rep. Robert Dean’s numbers by more than 20 percent. Synk’s strong pro-life creds certainly helped him here, but Rev. Dean is no slouch either. It may be the pro-life piece of Tietema eroded some of Dean’s support, or it may be that the SE side of town feels a lack of connection. In either case, Synk’s performance ought to raise storm warnings for Dean.

Filed under: Elections, , , , , , ,

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