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

The unspoken contest

The best thing that happened to Senita Lenear in the Third Ward campaign was the silence of the Republican Party. In the last serious contesting for the Third Ward, the GOP jumped in on the side of Patrick Miles Sr. in his race against Scott Bowen, former chair of the Democratic Party. That battle was fierce and expensive, and it polarized the Democratic community: with the GOP on the other side how could they not support Bowen?

As it is, this year’s contest has seen the Democratic vote split between Lenear and Mike Tuffelmire, with African-Americans and a few other Dems supporting Lenear, and more progressive Dems lining up behind Tuffelmire. Given the make-up of the district, this split is likely to doom Tuffelmire — at the very least it has given him a head-wind in terms of reaching out to the high-voting precincts south of 28th and east of Plymouth.

Under the surface other tensions seem to be lurking. It’s flavor can be seen in this comment on MLive

If an individual moves to or re-locates into a community for the perceived purpose of running for an elective office, then that person is considered to be “carpetbagging”. This, it seems, describes Tufflemire if he has just recently, this calendar year even, moved into the Third Ward to run for this seat. This is the “white elephant in the room” and speaks to a lack of integrity in the process if Tufflemire and his supporters are attempting to commandeer this election by basically lying about how long Tufflemire has been a resident in the Third Ward.

While the question of residency in the Third Ward is a relatively minor one (Tuffelmire has long experience in the City generally), the sense that a status quo is being threatened or over-turned is palpable.

Part of the tension is certainly racial (see “white” in “white elephant” above): Lenear represents a new generation of leadership in the African American community, she has received a blessing of sorts from the existing commissioners, and she would be the first African American woman to serve on the City Commission. How could one oppose this?  So we see a fair amount of identity politics at work. The question as to whether Lenear is the best representative or messenger for African-American politics in the City is a more difficult one, not least because some of her supporters are quite to her left.

Another part of the tension surely lies in the issue of gentrification. Tuffelmire’s chief supporters are those who are part of the redevelopment along Wealthy Street and East Hills; young urbanists; entrepreneurs; activists. This tension between the reviving neighborhoods, and the older (and poorer) African American neighborhoods to the south has been simmering in the City. The tragic story of the D&G Party Store captures these tensions. Tucked into the issue of gentrification is that of political power. The rise of the new neighborhoods has brought new voices to the table: owners, developers and the like. The older neighborhoods that were once minority are being shifted, if not pushed out; the success of the redevelopment understandably grates at residents. Does money flow only when white people take part?

And finally, there is the question of political agendas. Tuffelmire and his supporters represent a new politics, or perhaps better, a more robust politics that is moving out of Heritage Hill. When one looks at the issues, it is clear that the primary battleground in the Third Ward this year has been in the part of the district that belongs to the 75th State House seat of Brandon Dillon. Since redistricting, this seat is safe. The tension between Tuffelmire and Lenear is the beginning of the tussle for who will succeed Dillon: will it be someone out of the minority community? or someone out of the progressive neighborhood networks? Or could it fall to bridging figure such as 19th District county Commissioner, Candace Chivis?

Further complicating the political reality is the nature of two other seats: the slightly marginal D of the 76th State House now held by Winnie Brinks, and the 29th State Senate seat, Dave Hildenbrand being the incumbent. Republicans look at the center right stance of Lenear and see a potential candidate (this according to conversations with local party members). Would she go partisan? Her list of significant Republicans endorsements at least give a crack of possibility here, although the presumed commitments she has made to her supporters likely militate against it. For now.

So, if you listen carefully to the race, you can hear the scrape of political chairs being shuffled around. The Tuffelmire-Lenear contest represents a beginning of the reshaping of our City and state politics.

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Uphill Climb? or Children’s Crusade?

Eclectablog and DownWithTyranny are looking with excitement at the possible entry of Trevor Thomas into the race for the Third Congressional. The reasoning is two-fold, first that Justin Amash is weak relative to the Republican Party, he’s an outsider, even an extremist. All true. Second that Thomas would bring a strong progressive resume to the race. Here’s how DWT describes him:

Trevor grew up in the district; his parents worked 30 years each on factory lines, including General Motors and Delphi plants.

Trevor, who spent five years as a producer and reporter at WOOD-TV and WGVU-TV in Grand Rapids, went on to work for Governor Jennifer Granholm and later helped lead the national effort to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”  And he’s done his legwork, meeting with local electeds in the district since November and charting a well-thought out, early grassroots plan to win.

There’s a lot in Trevor to like, but he faces something of an uphill climb. Progressives have run in MI-3 before (Lynnes, 2002; Sanchez, 2008), none gained much traction, in part because of a strong incumbent, Vern Ehlers. Because the seat seemed so safe, it was often the territory for small, under-funded campaigns. Only with the Obama victory did it look as if the right candidate might actually take it; hence the well funded but unsuccessful campaign of Pat Miles Jr.

A progressive like Trevor faces two barriers. Financially, the race for MI-3 has become more expensive with the addition of Calhoun county (Battle Creek), forcing campaigns to wage a two-media market war. Secondly, in partisan races outside Grand Rapids, the region tends to be socially conservative, D or R,a function of underlying Catholic (principally Polish) and conservative Protestant (Dutch) communities. Winning coalitions must tap both these communities to win. Organizing the ground game will take work and plenty of allies, this is not something done by the progressives alone.

When we turn to the City proper, things look brighter, notably the creation of a safe (and progressive) state house seat (MI-75), but this will not be vacant until 2016. Our City Commission races also have glimmers of progressive leadership, particularly in the Second Ward. Likewise, the School Board has a strong progressive cast to it, as well, many having enjoyed the support of Progressive Women’s Alliance(PWA) — I think that this would be the likely pool for candidates to actually emerge.

Add to all this, we may note the changing media market itself. On one hand, the shift to social media may well benefit a young campaign with lots of smarts. Sadly for challengers, that’s the field pioneered by Rep. Amash. Any challenger will need to be at least as adept as he has shown himself to be. Second, the demise of print product in the region takes away some of the easier advertising and publicity options (and so pushes for the use of broadcast media). This too, will take finesse but also lots of cash.

In short,  it will be the presence of significant financing and a clear strategy that will determine whether Thomas brings a challenge, or one more children’s crusade.


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

Return of the Windmill?

As the election cycle begins to kick in, there is evidence that the old Dutch/Christian Reformed political connections are alive.

Of course, there is David LaGrand the Democratic Party candidate for the 29th State Senate.  Calvin grad, deep roots in the CR, and a strong civic ethic — this has been the traditional template, although of course on the Republican side.

The more interesting has been the emergence of CR members to explore candidacies for State races in the city. Mid January, Lori Wiersma, former director for VIS  announced her candidacy for the 29th State Senate.  (VIS is a a diaconal ministry of the local Christian Reformed churches).  And this Sunday, we read of exploratory thinking on the part of Bing Goei for the 75th State House seat.  Now owner of Eastern Floral, Goei was for a number of years the head of Race Relations Commission for the Christian Reformed denomination.  Like others before them, both Wiersma and Goei represent an urban brand of the Christian Reformed politician, socially conservative, but fundamentally pragmatic and by Republican terms, moderate.

So does their emergence indicate that the old coalition is again stirring?

Not likely.  The long term demographics (e.g. the collapse consolidation of the Christian schools) suggests that the base has fundamentally shifted.  That however, does not mean that the Wiersma and Goei candidacies are not interesting, not by a long shot.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Can Palin Move Michigan?

The post-convention bounce is well underway and recent polls underscore how much the race has tightened up. The recent poll by Public Policy Polling gave Obama a rather one point lead (47/46) – a tie given the 2.9% margin of error.

This post-convention bounce has certainly troubled Democrats nationally, but should Dems be worried here in the Great Lakes State?

A look under the “hood” and at local races is in order. Fortunately the survey breaks down the results by gender, race and age.

Gender. In a breakout of the poll subsets, Palin’s likeability among women (“does McCain’s selection of Palin make you more or less likely to vote for him”) matches their preference for McCain. Gender does not seem to be in immediate play, however with one in five remaining neutral, women will be a continuing object of GOP outreach.

Turn to race and age, however, and we can see the impact of Palin.

Race. African Americans understandably are strongly for the Democratic ticket, with only 9 percent expressing a preference for McCain. Nonetheless, 13 percent find Palin attractive. The extra four percent of this segment (worth one point in overall results) may reflect a reversion to mean for the African American vote –the breakthrough status of Palin validating a return to the GOP fold for moderate black conservatives. If so, this would

Age. Younger voters (age 18-29) also may seem to be in play. While 41% are for McCain, 45% look favorably. Other age cohorts’ enthusiasm for Palin remains proportionate to their support of McCain. This of course suggests that something like the youth/celebrity of the Alaskan governor is helping her. This may be more pop culture than electoral planning. At least so far.

The danger is likely that if youth energy decreases, then this pop identity takes over, and Obama loses a crucial edge. This is the threat.

So the first brush suggests that she has earned people’s attention, even in the minority community. For local races the issue gets a little more serious: how will she affect local races?
Read the rest of this entry »

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

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, , , , , , ,

Well, that explains it

One of the mysteries of the primary season was T. J. Carnegie, the (evidently) favored son, designated to challenge Robert Dean. As July wore on it became increasingly clear that despite his early endorsement by The Grand Rapids Press and the Chamber of Commerce, Carnegie was lagging in his race. The financial reports gave a grimmer story: money was short, the financials were late, hand-written rather than electronically filed.

So what had happened?

Sunday’s Press provided us the answer: it seems that Carnegie had only bothered to vote once in his entire life. It’s not surprising that electoral politics then posed a challenge. And on top of it, he was a late starter (Burdo had filed in January, Tietema in March). Given the low turnout of the primary coupled with the high name recognition, this is not disastrous, but still it’s not a good sign in terms of an election.

Yet there is something else nagging me, here. Read the rest of this entry »

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Making the most of Right to Life

You can’t battle for the Michigan State House District 75 without confronting Right to Life. The sizeable Dutch, Catholic, and Black communities make this issue. It’s just that Republican candidate Dan Tietema stepped up rather early in a recent postcard:

What many of you don’t know is that Dean almost lost (the Right to Life) endorsement for failing to show any leadership or initiative in advancing the Pro-life message, and for refusing to stand up against his Pro Choice Democratic friends.

Hard criticism, although the positioning yourself as the presumptive choice is politically smart. But what comes next kind of takes the cake:

It’s unfortunate that our most cherished beliefs don’t come as naturally to Mr. Dean as they do for us.

I really like that “for us” part. That pretty much summarizes the difficulties with any Right to Life campaign. Once we make it into Us v. Them, then of course we come to immediate righteous clarity. Yet being pro-life is far more than a few simple votes, or checking off the right box on a form. This naturally frustrates Tietema to no end; he complains on the card that Dean received the endorsement “on some technicality.” (More than a few Dems have muttered the same thing. Dan’s not alone)

I would submit that the test of pro-life lies more in how that concern permeates other parts of legislative agenda. Caring for the weak and the innocent certainly doesn’t stop at birth. This is the position that motivates Carol Hennessy, Brandon Dillon, Dave LaGrand, and yes, Rev. Robert Dean.

After the fold is the postcard.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Elections, ,

Running on Empty

Well, there’s a reason we haven’t seen a lot of T J Carnegie, an early favorite of the Grand Rapids Press: he’s running on empty. The financial statement released this morning reveal a campaign that has raised $10,025 (with another fundraiser past the filing date). The books also show expenses of $9999.89, with in-kind expenditures of $650. Ouch! $25 in the account?

Even if one assumes this campaign will find the money to run an ad or a mailing, they are woefully out-gunned considering that Dan Tietema reported $5,000 in cash reserves, and dark horse Michael Burdo had $15,000 on hand.

Reading through the details of Carnegie’s expenditures gives some of the grim details: over-expenditure on some items, and too many meals charged to the campaign — all the tell-tale marks of a newcomer to politics. The burn-rate is the give away. At the very least, candidates advance money (this is what Burdo did to $15,000 — and how much money does he have left?). Of course, some money and expenses are kept off the table, but without cash on hand it looks as if the Carnegie people don’t have the plan to sew it up on Tuesday.

And while we’re at it, where are the Dutch?

Reading through the donor lists, you will look high and low for the usual crew of Dutch Republicans. (Doesn’t any body know the address of Raybrook?) As noted yesterday, we have three campaigns that really are independent of this community and its political network. There are a couple of names on Carnegie’s donor list that know more about this network, especially Ginny Seyferth. Between her and the Chamber he should have had made a better connection.

Filed under: Elections,


August 2020