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

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?

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

Game Changer

The Michigan GOP may finally have hit bottom  last week.  It wasn’t one last act of outrageousness, but a move of a different sort: Terri Lynn Land dropped out of the Governor race, and endorsed Mike Bouchard.

The move certainly shocked some observers throughout the State, but to those who have been following her press trail it was only a confirmation.  As an early front runner, there was surprisingly little in the way of commentary about the economic storm clouds heading Michigan’s way.  Where Peter Hoekstra tacked, and Mike Cox spoke forcefully about the auto crisis, she kept her peace.  And other observers have suggested that she didn’t seem to have the ideas and fire for a gubernatorial campaign.

No desire?  Or desiring something else?

There is other evidence however that she has a different office in sight.  Cranson and Golder at The Press suggest as much.  Could this be a play for the Lt. Governor’s spot, a quid pro quo?  A Bouchard-Land ticket would bring some definite strengths.  Of course, it may simply be that Bouchard’s east side connections are sufficiently deep enough that some third party will benefit, making the endorsement a sort of three-way play.

More intriguing has been the notion that she has her eye on the Third Congressional seat centered in Grand Rapids.  The endorsement of Bouchard puts her in contrast to the national partisan ways of Hoekstra, and on the side of pragmatic government – the very ideals the voting public associates with Rep. Vern Ehlers. And even in a redrawn map, this would be a highly winnable seat for a moderate Republican.  Of course, if the map gets sliced the way Peter Bratt intends, Land would have to move back to her native Grandville.

The gift.

Land’s endorsement of Bouchard’s candidacy lifts the Oakland County sheriff to the top tier of contenders.  Her moderate creds and lack of baggage elevates Bouchard’s standing in the GOP drop out contingent — those independents who fled the party in 08.  And just as important, she provides Bouchard with a campaign network centered in western and southern Kent County.

This network is certainly the significant resource.  As a practical matter, it means that Hoekstra will need to pay more attention to W. Michigan; and by expanding Bouchard’s reach beyond the east side, it forces Macomb resident Cox to devote more time and energy building his own team in the West. While the endorsement offers tactical advantages, its real impact is strategic. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Elections, Politics, , ,

Why the silence?

Looking at the gathering Monday at the Wealthy Street Theatre, you couldn’t really blame Republicans for staying away. It was a meeting on foreclosure dominated by area activists, minorities and Democrats — not exactly the kind of crowd that even City GOP members hang with. Still ceding the issue, letting The Press editorialize on it, leaves the Republican party exposed as being either disinterested, or worse unwilling to help homeowners.  Was it blindness?  Self-interest? Partisanship?

Whatever the case, they are behind the wave, and what is significant in the past week, silent.

The Background

The circumstances are by now, well known.  Last week Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox proposed giving $500,000 to help with Millennium Park, and Crescent Park tucked in the shadow of the Van Andel Institute.  The hitch?  This was money from the foreclosure settlement with Countrywide Mortgage.  And why these particular parks?  They were beloved of well-known Republican (and in fairness civic benefactor) Peter Secchia.

Yet this gift went unappreciated.  As it should.  With 10 foreclosures a day taking place in Kent County, and 5.5%  of all homes in foreclosure in 2008 according to this report from Dyer-Ives, parks were not the first thing that comes to mind in helping people, neighborhoods and cities handle foreclosures.  While the Mayor waffled, County Commissioner Brandon Dillon and Carol Hennessey, and Grand Rapids Second Ward Commissioner Dave LaGrand urged a better use of the funds, and last Friday, the AG relented.

(Phil Skaggs was also on the case big time — the story making it to the Chicago papers.)

So What Were They Thinking?

It is not at all obvious that home foreclosure should be the province of just one party.  Apart from the personal tragedy of lost home, foreclosures impact neighborhoods, lowering property values and reducing municipal revenue.   It would seem, this is the definition of a voting issue.

For the social conservatives, this would be especially important.  Home ownership is a commitment to place and family; loss of home is a family tragedy.  The neighborhoods that are hit — those along Burton, not to mention the villages of Kent City and Sand Lake — these are places where a Republican brand could take hold.

Could. That’s what has me thinking.  Helping homeowners, showing interest in their struggles is certainly consonant with what are purported to be Republican values, especially for social conservatives.  At a time when their brand has taken such a shellacking would it make sense to say something?

As a practical matter, there would be two kinds of political hay to be made here.  The first benefit would have been to be seen favorably by the very neighborhoods affected.  This would clearly be the case for anyone who had aspirations of running in the 75th to replace Robert Dean.  To not care about foreclosure can easily be read as not caring about the city.  That’s why it is so important to say something, anything.  The second benefit lies with those moderates who care about the issues but live in the suburbs.  Caring for the city has direct benefits for these voters — this is the standard ploy that so many of the Dutch Republicans have previously made on race; why Vern is considered a “moderate.”

If there is so much practical upside, why the silence?  Several reasons present themselves.

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Filed under: Community, Economy, , , , , , ,

Standing with GM

The future of Michigan and West Michigan politics is being decided not in our state, but in the corridors of Washington. For a few smart pols have seen the writing: now is the time to stand up for the state and yes, for the much maligned General Motors and the much-maligned auto industry. What is remarkable is the way that so many area and state politicians have become remarkably tongue tied about this. Some have not.

Bluntly, this is one of the most important issues to have faced our state. The enormity of a potential failure, the continuing impact of “successful” bailout can immobilize civic leaders.  The enemy at hand is the sense of helplessness, a sense that muffles our voice and dulls our imagination.

That silence is all to present. Where is Vern Ehlers? The last news on his official site is dated November 21. Is it too much to ask that we see him speaking out for jobs here in our community? Where is governor-wannabe Terri Land? Meanwhile Hoekstra has certainly said some things even backtracked, the better to protect his gubernatorial chances (of course, with the requisite, right-from-the-playbook swipe at unions).

Yet if some are tongue-tied, others are not.

Virg Benero speaks out eloquently, forcefully on the problem.

Grand Rapids City Commissioner David LaGrand has not only spoken, but is paying his way to lobby in Washington.  “Ten thousand jobs on the line” is how he puts it (and leaves you wondering about other leaders along the Grand)

And to be bi-partisan:

Gubernatorial candidate and Attorney General Mike Cox has argued early.

And Thaddeus McCotter (CD-11) matches Benero for passion and forthright speaking.

This is a battle that will define Michigan politics for the next two years, and likely for far longer than that.  For those who aspire to real leadership in our communities they will have to stand up and be counted. Make not mistake, the battle for 2010 has already started.

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , ,

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, , , ,

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