Windmillin'

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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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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, , , , , ,

Friends Helping Friends

Senate aspirations for Rep. Robert Dean hit a major snag in today’s Grand Rapids Press.  Chris Knape shed more light on the opaque real estate deal that is Hangar 54, revealing not only that Rep. Dean has intervened on behalf of the developers, but that his chief of staff,  Noah Seifullah has long-standing ties with the owner of the property, Jack Buchanan Jr.

And this wasn’t the first time for the trio of Seifullah, Dean and developer  Buchanan. Other projects included a failed development of the old Imperial Screw plant, and a proposed redevelopment of the now-demolished Iroquois Middle School.

The story goes into the ins and outs of the deal, but the short hand is that owner (Buchanan) and the developer valued the property at $45 million in a land contract purchase.  This in turn put them in line for a $10 million incentive payment from Lansing.  But in the meantime, the contractors are left swinging in the wind waiting for the payment.  And of course, no paperwork.  It is the classic sweetheart development deal, with the added touch of friends helping friends.

With no documentation, the deal looked suspicious.  Rep. Dean’s intervention to get the State to release the incentive payment makes him look as if he, too, is party to the deal.  That would be surprising if he were, but the impression remains, all the more if the Attorney General begins an investigation.  And this is deadly for Dean.  At a time when the stories of corruption roll out of Detroit, the last thing he needs is appearance that he will do the bidding on behalf of his friends.  To solve the crisis in Lansing will take a very stiff backbone. This is not a good sign.

The bigger picture

As the Iroquois deal suggests, this isn’t the first time that politicians and developers have eyed buildings in the community for “redevelopment.”  There was the proposed sale of Indian Trails golf course as a possible home to Meijer; and the proposed sale of  City Hall for a hotel project.  These deals keep coming up.  Invariably they blend two aspects: the fiscal conservativism of politicians looking for some fiscal out, and the itch of some developer.

Even after the failed sale of City Hall, others still look at the property.  The latest has been Bing Goei, candidate for the State House 75.  The answer for the City’s fiscal woes?  Sell the property.  Move City services to some abandoned or underused  property. Given the trouble that Dean is currently in, it does make one wonder: who is blowing in Bing’s ear?

Filed under: Community, Politics, , ,

Another Adult Enters the Room

Local TV and The Grand Rapids Press report that Grand Rapids Comptroller Stan Milanowski is thinking he has a political future.  The late Friday news has Milanowski contemplating entering the 29th State Senate or running for the Third Congressional seat now held by Vern Ehlers.

Milanowski’s moderate profile would fit both prospective runs, so the bigger questions must be those of which does he pick.  And why?

While many aspire to go to Washington, that doesn’t seem to be in his future.  With both Steve Heacock and Bill Hardiman already declared for the seat, it is difficult to see what another moderate would bring to the table, except perhaps an Amash win.  The state senate run seems more practical.  Milanowski has some obvious governmental creds, plus he brings a clear Grand Rapids connection.  The two current candidates lack one or both of these, especially Lori Wiersma beloved of  the old Dutch network (but backed by the folks in Wyoming).

The obvious weakness to a Milanowski campaign is that he lacks the core electioneering experience.  The learning curve is huge for a race like this.  Of course, at this time, things are still in the “exploratory stage” as they should be.  That he’s even talking about the campaign suggests that others have been speaking with him already.

Milanowski’s proposed campaign may also be the sign of something more: is the tide ebbing?  What else does it tell us?  Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Elections, , , , , , ,

Hardiman Steps In. Sort of.

The news of the day is the announced candidacy of State Senator Bill Hardiman fore the Third Congressional District.  While this hardly counts as a surprise — he had sent out a press release last week announcing the event in Grandville — nonetheless it is a surprise at how unprepared Hardiman actually is.  Although the announcement was anticipated, no web site went live to greet the new campaign; also of note, few supporters were lined up to go on line at Mlive or the TV stations to put in a good word.  The result, in short, is that of a campaign not quite in gear.

This is perhaps not surprising. Hardiman finished the year with little left in his state accounts, with less than $400 in his senate account, and less than $2,000 in his Leadership Fund.  That he should be in this position, underfunded and not quite ready speaks plenty about the state of affairs in the Kent County GOP.

First, let’s state the obvious: Hardiman was not planning a run or Congress.  Either Vern Ehlers had thought he was going ahead, or Hardiman had been thinking about retiring, but in either case finishing up 2009, there is little evidence that Hardiman was amassing the resources necessary for a run.  To fail on the web site also suggests that the personnel are not in place — who exactly is going to help manage a touch campaign against Justin Amash?  (And how will he — or she — be paid?)

The Hardiman candidacy also gives a window into the world of GOP internal politics.

If we posit Hardiman as an anti-Amash vote, then what is it about Justin that others don’t like?  Can we make out the outlines of the doubt about Amash?

To begin with, there is the split between Ada and Grandville.  Kent County divides east and west in both parties; here, it is between the center of economic power in Ada, and that found in west.  The stumbling search for a candidate to run against David LaGrand speaks to a breakdown of the GOP, and especially of its current leader, Joeanne Voorhees.  Even before the Amash candidacy there had been rumors of deep dissatisfaction with the Kent County leadership.

But the road surely runs both ways.  Where Amash fights against the perceived forced unionization of day care providers, Hardiman trumpets his standing up for marriage.  It’s Tea Party v. Church Coffee. Grandville makes sense then, not only as the source of needed money (e.g. the Land Victory Fund), but as the political home for Hardiman’s politics.

Such a move should not give centrists in the County any comfort.  If Amash’s cup of tea is not the popular taste, there is likewise little evidence that a return to social conservatism is any better (though, in fairness, Hardiman scarcely is the firebrand that others have been). That moment has passed.  That said,  Hardiman’s presence would certainly dampen a Kooiman candidacy (again, with the west side being his natural political home), although the lack of resources in the Hardiman camp will be tempting for Kooiman to jump in.

But the big story lies elsewhere.  An under-resourced Hardiman is the best news possible for former County Commissioner Steve Heacock, who is also planning to toss his hat in the ring later this week.  His presence would be that of the “adult” the economic centrist.  The question however will be whether the party wants an adult, or does it want to rock?  Or will it settle for the comforting outlnes of a mature believer?

Filed under: Elections, , , , ,

What Should Dems Look For?

With the retirement of Vern Ehlers from the Third District Congressional seat, Democrats will face a decision: what kind of candidate should they be putting forward?  Glenn Barkan offered some ideas earlier today, and they’re good, but really don’t explore some of the real variables. Even in a seat with supposedly no chances, prospective candidates still face  choices about the scope and intensity of the campaign.  This decision in turn will affect  fund-raising,volunteer recruiting and commitment,  as well as basic time commitments.

Of course in West Michigan, Democrats have had plenty of experience in running these up-hill races.  Understanding the choices available to the candidate and his or her campaign help the party make better choices regarding its resources, it also helps the campaign better define for itself what the victory conditions are.  How do we run and not be weary?

We can think of these choices under four headings. Read the rest of this entry »

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

The Windmill Turns

The big news in the last 24 hours was the emergence of Justin Amash as a candidate for the Third Congressional seat, and the retirement of the incumbent, Vern Ehlers.

Foremost, this marks the end of a long political career, one that exemplifies the Dutch engagement on issues over the years:

  • 1970s -An environmental activist, campaigning for recycling.
  • 1975-1983 – County Commissioner
  • 1983-85 – State Representative
  • 1985-1993 – State Senator
  • 1993-2010 – US Congressman

Those familiar with the SE side recognize the pattern, the movement from local issues to the County Commission, and then using that as a springboard to larger offices.  It was this groundedness in local politics, in neighborhoods, but even more, in the web of Dutch American culture that gave such office holders their peculiar form of moderation.  They were conservative (even the Democrats) but rarely ideological.  Ehlers could play the role of party apparatchik as well as anyone, yet for his constituents maintained a moderate image — much to the frustration of his opponents.

Yet, with Ehlers’ departure, a certain hole opens up in the body politic.  Who will replace him?  The old neighborhood culture has at the very least thinned.  (When Ehlers went to Congress the city still had six Christian elementary schools, next year there will be two. ) Grand Rapids has now expanded to an urban area encompassing Kentwood, Wyoming and Grand Rapids, the issues at the heart are more identifiably urban; meanwhile  the southern and eastern suburbs have become homes for more militant forms of conservatism — social as well as economic.

What then will the new post-Ehlers world bring?

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: 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 »

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

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