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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, , , , , , , ,

Two Dems better than one Republican

Tomorrow morning Steve Pestka joins Trevor Thomas in the race for the Third Congressional.

Pestka brings a solid record as a moderate, pro-life Democrat, a background that has attracted attacks by some, as well as spurred doubts by progressives in the community. To date, none have gone public with their misgivings.

Thomas has a local connection (Wyoming native, GVSU graduate) and comes off of a big win for the overturning of Dont Ask Don’t Tell. This work has brought him to national attention, at least in the LGBT communities. And Thomas is also young, 28.

Both are driven by a combination of the redrawn lines of the Third, and by the staunchly conservative stands taken by the incumbent, Justin Amash. Add to this that the prospect that 2012 may in fact look like 2008 (so Ruy Teixiera), the candidacy becomes hot property. In 2008, the new district basically broke even in its vote for Obama (177,195 McCain, 180,021 Obama).

If the district looks like a possible win, how are the two Dems ready for the challenge? Read the rest of this entry »

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

That Hoekstra Dog Whistle

Bad ads are rarely an accident. Quite the contrary, sometimes the things most offensive are the very things most planned. Ask GoDaddy. Or perhaps Peter Hoekstra.

Hoekstra’s infamous  Asian-bashing xenophobic Super Bowl ad went viral, receiving mention in The Atlantic, the New York Times, the New Yorker and countless other blogs (including those in China). A disaster. And now it’s pulled — a mercy death, surely. Still, it deserves an autopsy, in part because in examining the corpse, we we may be able to see something of the thinking of the Hoekstra campaign and its electoral strategy.

After all, this is a Michigan MBA, the former vice-president of marketing at Herman Miller, a smart guy. So just what was he thinking?

Her Lips say Finance but Her Eyes say Jobs

Advertising works on two levels: there is the direct cognitive message, charged with the main marketing points; then wrapping it are the associations created by allusions, the visuals, the manner of presentation.  This latter makes another unspoken argument.  When these two go together the effect can be can be quite powerful, as Ronald Reagan’s  Morning in America ad demonstrates. The twin message paths also lure political advertisers to create ads with two messages, a nominal message and a “dog whistle” inside message created for some subset of the audience.

And the two message approach seems to be the approach of the Hoekstra ad.

On the face of it (and in subsequent ads, here) Hoekstra goes after Sen. Debbie Stabenow and her (profligate) spending, positioning Hoekstra as a fiscal conservative. This is actually boring and forgettable. The images, the emotional vehicle is something else again.

The “dog whistle” is about jobs.

For all the mocking tone of our debt to China, in Michigan the issue of the economy is less that of finance than of manufacturing. The story of the past decade is the near-death of domestic auto manufacturing, the loss of 800,000 jobs from GM alone; a story of shuttered factories, faltering communities, and nation-leading unemployment.

It goes to the gut.

And that seems to be what  Hoekstra was looking to do: a two-fer.  Nominally, this was going to be an ad about Debbie Stabenow and her (profligate) ways and positioning Hoekstra as a fiscal conservative. A good message for the managerial suburbs like those of eastern Kent County or Oakland County. Underneath, in visuals a different emotional message was going to be told, one aimed at the working class suburbs of Muskegon, Wyoming, Downriver or  Macomb County.

In looking at the presentation of this appeal, we can see the subset Hoekstra was hoping to reach. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Michigan, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Furniture City, meet Cereal City

The state Republican Party released their planned congressional redistricting map. While the contortions in the northern burbs of Detroit make this another piece of court bait, the map for the local 3rd Congressional is certainly interesting, linking as it does Calhoun County and Battle Creek with the folks of the Furniture City.

Perhaps the most intriguing part is how the GOP gives up Battle Creek — a definite Democratic stronghold. The explanation no doubt lies in an attempt to save Rep. Tim Walberg (CD – 7). For those in Kent County this looks to be something of a fair trade. The new 3rd Congressional gets a Democratic stronghold, but needs to surrender (parts of?) Wyoming. By most lights that would be a fair trade. If the GOP plan does anything it formally creates a more competitive seat.

“Formally” is the operative word here. The configuration raises two important campaign challenges, particularly for any Democratic candidate. This is no longer a seat that can be run from the City; it’s no longer “local.” The inclusion of Battle Creek will ask campaigns to divide their time between the two regions — especially Democrats who will need a strong turnout in Calhoun to have any chance of winning, at all. The addition of a second media market also raises the funding bar for any serious campaign.

Likely the most interesting item — and the reason that the GOP likes this configuration (well, apart from saving Walberg) — is how it skews old. Where approximately 25 percent of Kent County is over 62, in Calhoun County the number is over 33 percent, one third. These are generally  more conservative voters, although in the Ryan era and the proposed revision of Medicare this older make-up opens a significant vulnerability to the sitting congressman in the 3rd, Rep. Justin Amash.

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, , , , , ,

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, , , ,

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, , , , , ,

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 Partisan Monoculture

Early in the week, Phil Power had an interesting column on Reform Michigan Government Now (RMGN) , in part reacting to the Chamber’s counter survey (more on that later), and in part looking at the impact of redistricting. With approximately three quarters of all seats defined as strongly favoring one party (“gerrymandered” would be the less polite term) the proposal would create political monocultures. Several problems arise in such cultures for both the majority and the minority parties.

Power highlight the difficulties:

So in both Democratic- and Republican-leaning districts, the real election takes place in the August primary.

That shift, as Power points out, has implications both for election mechanics and policy. To see the electoral mechanics, take a look at a local race I’ve been following, Michigan House District 72 (70/30 R). Read the rest of this entry »

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

Rumble on the Southbelt (3) — the Petri Dish

The Republican primary battle in State House District 72 (S. Kent County) pits three distinctive styles of conservatism against one another. In the August 5 primary we can begin to see the relative strength of each flavor of the party. Let’s take a look at them.

On one hand there is the conventional institutional Republicanism of Linda Steil. Her almost complete lack of external qualifications means her appeal rests on the continuation of a politics advanced by the chamber and by the Republicans in general over the past 15 years. She is the inheritor of term limits, maximal Supreme Court appointments — the sort that breed the counter action of Reform Michigan Government Now, an anti-tax theology, and generally the policy of government by lobbyist/PACs. Two difficulties arise with such a stance, First, this approach like that of its Democratic counterpart (that’s you, Mark Brewer) is largely responsible for the Legislative meltdown. Second, institutional Republicanism is generally a little sloppy as to its own discipline — they like to travel large (the peak at the finance statement shows a repeated pattern of paying top dollar).

With Justin Amash, we see the Movement Republican or Libertarian in full bloom. It is always nice to be an individualist when you already benefit from the lucky gene pool. His argument for “Principle” is little more than a guise for ignoring community concerns. It is also the viewpoint of the young (and the male): this is the classic style found on many conservative web sites; small wonder too, that Amash likes Ron Paul. Amash represents one approach to the Instititutional approach of a Steil — in essence, they are not pure enough. Oddly, in this idealism and youth, Amash taps the same cultural vibe that Obama hits.

A second alternative to institutional Republicanism is the Social Conservative style of Ken Yonker. This approach emphasizes the community — in its hard form, it is the use of legal proscription to enforce certain mores (Rep. Agema is a walking — or is it, hunting? — example of this); in the its soft form the community-focus takes a pragmatic approach. Yonker’s positions partake of both sides. His school board membership, his business history (considerably longer than the others) give a more practical air to his campaign. Relative to the Institutional, this is a focus on cooperation; relative to the Libertarian, it finally rejects it, but just barely (a fine post at The American Scene explores this tension in the Right).

These are the three organisms alive in the precinct petri dish. So what do we look for?

Read the rest of this entry »

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

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