Windmillin'

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

Doubling Down on Palin

There’s no question the selection of Sarah Palin has been a hit with the social conservatives. E.M Zanotti (aka American Princess) loses herself:

I AM SO EXCITED OMG PLEASE LET THIS NOT BE A HEAD FAKE OMG. I have resisted blogging on the whole McCain Veep thing because they kept faking everyone out and telling us that this guy was clearing his schedule and this guy had the Secret Service creeping out and NOW there’s a CHARTERED JET that is landing from ALASKA and OMG SARAH PALIN OMGOMGOMGOMG!

“Whoo-hooo” also seemed to be the reaction of the day. While enthusiasm reigns the politics — the Michigan politics in particular — has me wondering.

Palin clearly comes from the Huckabee side of the Party. For them, Palin’s definitely their gal. In a somewhat parallel way, she plays the same role, receives the same enthusiasm from her base, as Obama does with the African American community. Both look like game changers.

If Palin’s candidacy is seen as fairly successful, if she brings her social conservative creds to the table while also being an effective spokesperson for the ticket — then this will add to the clout of the social conservative wing. she will fulfill her promise as a unifier. The base is rightly seen as fragmented. In terms of the upcoming gubernatorial race, Palin would seem to strengthen Terri Land’s standing, both as a successful woman, and as a social conservative (Land’s natural constituency).

But what if Palin crashes and burns?

Then the blame game comes out, the base fractures. In Michigan state politics we can see a noticeable tension between Mackinac Center and the Religious Right; or to cast it in terms of West Michigan, that tension between Ada and Grandville. The primary race in SH-72 bears the populist social conservative Yonker v. the economic liberatarian, Justin Amash. If a strong Palin run adds to the credibility, a compromised run will open the door to the economic conservatives and their belief that the way out of the political wilderness is to run even more as “a principled conservative.” In that case institutional conservatives like Mike Cox or even Peter Hoekstra would look more plausible.

Whether Palin is game-changer nationally, in Michigan she will either stitch together a party, or open up divisions. Whatever her riskiness is to McCain’s chances, she definitely brings it to State politics.

Filed under: Elections, National, , , ,

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, , , , , ,

What’s with Calvin?

NOTE: for those outside the Dutch community of W. Michigan — this post picks up a more inside game. Thanks for understanding.

Any discussion of life in West Michigan inevitably turns to the impact of the Dutch and that little college of theirs out on the Beltline. Calvin has been a home to progressive and liberal types (see the protest surrounding the appearance of Bush at commencement), and a generator of generations of engaged men and women, some in politics, some in the not-for-profit sectors.

And frankly, most of us in town have a somewhat ambivalent reaction to this engagement. A gathering of community activists can seem like a Calvin alumni association — as the recent informational/fundraising gathering of the local Matthew 25 group at David LaGrand’s made clear. On the Right, more than a few Republican campaigns have been like a gathering of Calvin alums as well (Ehlers being only the most prominent).

This role of cultural leadership, and its general presumption of competence is well known. But can this record, this presumption of civic neutrality remain, if the leadership takes an active, partisan role? Is Calvin at risk of moving farther Right?

The question came to sharp focus reading recent financial statements for the Amash campaign (candidate for SH-72). Among the $500 donors was Calvin’s president, Galen Byker. But it was only $500, right? A check of Fundraiser, reveals that the Bykers have contributed over $18,000 to national Republican campaigns — more than 10 percent of all gifts from that zip code. (UPDATE: a more thorough search from Campaign Money, reveals that the Bykers have given over $59,000 according to FEC filings.)  It’s hard to see the donation as social, or an attempt to get close to other big money donors like the DeVos family. (In some defense, Byker comes by his Republican creds honestly; his father, Gary Byker, served as a state senator from Hudsonville for 10 years, 1968-1978).

So we return to the question: Is this public visibility as a Republican supporter a good thing for the College? Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Community, , , ,

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, , , , , ,

And Not a Dime More

Linda Steil and Justin Amash are keeping some strange company this final week of the primary season: Dave Agema. This happy trio from West Michigan are the only locals to step and sign the No Climate Tax pledge.

This Pledge, a creature of Americans for Prosperity, is part of their campaign against the Climate Security Act, aka the Lieberman-Warner bill. The bill would have instituted a cap-and-trade approach to carbon emissions, but was withdrawn by Senate leadership on June 7 — remember that date.

So our trio fell for a lobbying campaign? Well not quite. Although 54 senators opposed the Lieberman-Warner measure, only one, Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) took the pledge. We are in the territory of fringe Republican politics, here, as the pledge itself makes clear:

I … pledge to the taxpayers of the State of Michigan that I will oppose any legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in state or local government revenue.

Not a dime more to save the planet. The categorical breadth of the pledge, its refusal to consider any measure at all is a stunning sample of a failure to engage. There is a deep irresponsibility at work here, one that elevates a no-tax creed to the summit. In a word this is political idolatry.

Yet almost as incomprehensible, their signed statement is up on the web (see pledges below the fold).

One wants to stop and ask, “What were they thinking?” Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Environment, , , , ,

So Ken, why not tell us what you really feel?

It was a genuine Michael Kinsley moment, when the politician makes a gaffe of accidentally telling the truth.

In the 2008 Election Guide, published by the Grand Rapids Press, Ken Yonker, one of the candidates for the Michigan House of Representatives (SH-72) was asked about utilities:

The state’s largest utilities want a guaranteed customer base before they invest in new plants. Should they have this guarantee?

Ken Yonker: Shakedown. Sorry, but I don’t negotiate with people this way.
There’s coffee all over the keyboard on that one.

Filed under: 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, , , , , , , ,

Rumble on the Southbelt (2) — Meet the Contenders

In an overwhelmingly Republican district such as the Michigan State House 72nd, the primary race is the deciding factor. In its mix of old suburban/urban, money, new suburban and agriculture (see earlier post), the district serves up as a Petri dish for current and future Republican politics.

The current battle three very different leading candidates, along with two minor players. By insider accounts, the race is extremely tight, with significant numbers of voters still undecided. Each of the major candidates exemplifies a different dimension in today’s Michigan Republican party. Who has been doing what with what will come clear this weekend with the release of the financial reports.

Below the fold we’ll take up the candidates, by their bio, platform, social conservative leanings (if any), and campaign.

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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