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

The Future of Pro Life

Marcie Wheeler raises some interesting questions about the status of anti-choice in the Democratic constellation here in Kent County. The short version: is pro-life the dominant, requisite force that it once was, one that requires women to take it and say nothing?

There is a right way and a wrong way, IMO, to run an anti-choice candidate. Telling voters–particularly the women voters being impacted by anti-choice Dems of late–they can’t talk about it bc they don’t know enough is not the way to do it.

Particularly in the context of a run for the Third by Steve Pestka, the question of the pro-life Dems again rises up. The pro-life stance (or “anti-choice”) has been seen as a prerequisite for competitive candidates since the Clinton election, in part because recruiting drew from the Catholic west side community and the Christian Reformed — both distinctly pro-life. Their victories and general growth in the number of elected officials seemed to confirm the stance. Wheeler’s challenge (and others) invites a reconsideration of this political axiom. The question of abortion may not be the deal breaker that it was 10 or 15 years ago.

One sign of change has been the growing political leadership in the City, on the school board (Tony Baker, Wendy Falb), and especially in the Second Ward with Ruth Kelley and Rosalynn Bliss.

A second sigh of change has been the diminishing of the cultural drivers for anti-choice over the past 10 years. It’s traditional electoral base has been in the Catholic and Dutch Reformed communities, the latter especially weakening demographically and broadening over this time. The interesting aspect about the redistricting of the Third has been the removal of some of these traditional bastions for the anti-choice side in the cities of Wyoming and Kentwood.

A third change is generational. The Life/Choice battle is a Boomer/Gen X issues. Anecdotally and by surveys, young evangelicals are not as wrapped up in the cultural war aspects — other issues, e.g. sex slavery or development, carry greater weight. This broadening of concern allows Dems to frame other compelling moral arguments away from the Life/Choice arena. While most young evangelicals will continue to vote R, the wider, more holistic range offers opportunity to pick up votes, perhaps moving from 25 percent D to 30 percent.

And finally,  there are the efforts of the Republican Party itself. Turning Life into a voting issue certainly assisted them in the 90s; it clearly motivates their base.  However, the very scope of their victory has capped their votes; once you have the significant plurality of pro-life votes, how many more are there? The pool of voters for whom Life is a voting issue has shrunk, most are Republican already. Moreover the radicalization of the GOP on this and general women’s health issues also functions to confirm present voters but push away moderates.  Internal victory and radicalization has reduced the penalty for being Choice, in fact may render it moot.

Something like this can be seen in Justin Amash, himself. While in a nominal way pro-life, his own libertarian tendencies push him away from a (self) definition as pro-life. (Consider that in two years he has issued four news releases related to abortion).

If the Life/Choice battle is no longer the deal breaker it once was, what should Dems do? Read the rest of this entry »

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

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, , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , , ,

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, , , , , , , ,

Rumble on the Southbelt (1)

In the 72nd District State House Seat in South Kent County, three strong candidates face off in one of the more interesting races in our region. Their battle not only hints at the struggle internally for the GOP, but also reflects some long-standing divisions within Kent County. Yes, our “friends” suffer from the same east-west division.

But before we can meet the players and the conflict, we need to look at the district. This will be post 1. I can see we’re going long.

Meet the 72nd.

The District is made up of one city (Kentwood) and three townships: Cascade, Caledonia (with the village included), and Gaines.

one city and three townships

SH 72: one city and three townships

Kentwood is the largest region in the district, it is also separated from the other three townships by highways, I-96, and the M-6, aka the Southbelt. Founded in 1967, Kentwood was originally suburban in orientation. In the 90s the city filled in, the last farms disappeared, and with the M-6 it became effectively part of the Grand Rapids urban region. Kentwood is literally now on the wrong side of the road.

For those considering the district, it is important to think of the city as developing from west to east. In the post war environment, both Wyoming and Grand Rapids had been incorporating neighborhoods in the northwest corner of what was then Paris Township. The oldest neighborhoods are found on the west along Division Avenue. These precincts are gaining in Dem share. In the north, along the Grand Rapids border are a number of large apartment/condominium complexes, these also are a little less reflexively Republican. Generally the precincts along Kalamazoo Ave (that’s the diagonal line in the map) are the most civic in orientation. Moving east one runs into newer developments, as well as extensive industrial parks centered on the airport and the Steelcase office/mfg complex in the SE corner of the city.

The political culture of Kentwood is dominated by the Dutch — though the city has a 20 percent minority population (9 percent African American, with a significant Vietnamese communty). There is a strong vector out of the older Dutch neighborhoods in GR running down Kalamazoo and out into Gaines Township. Contributing to this orientation is a large Missouri Synod Lutheran congregation. The community has voted Republican, but recent elections show some softening. Kentwood is the home base for Sen. Bill Hardiman.

And Kentwood, still pervasively Republican.

Registration: 32,500. Turn out 42 percent (min:30 percent; max 61 percent) Here is the opportunity for the Dems, such as it is.

GOP base: the median precinct size 47 percent — that’s 47 percent of total vote.

Remember, this is the most favorable. What can be said about the three suburbs? Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Elections, , , , ,

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