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

Showdown in the Motor CIty

While I’m here doing schoolwork and chores, Democrats from across the state are meeting (and voting at this hour)  to elect a chair. And by all accounts, the battle should be a doozy. Certainly the campaign has been intense with both incumbent Mark Brewer and challenger Lon Johnson sending out numerous pleas, as well as motivating their forces. This has already been covered on numerous blogs and posts, perhaps most consistently at Michigan Liberal.

While the battle has been fierce, the issue is finally less about the individuals than the shape of the Party. The painful truth of 2012 is the political weakness, first with the  defeat of Prop 2 and then the lame duck enacting of RTW and other questionable legislation.  The tools to challenge or impede this were noticeably missing. Add to it the  resignation of Supreme Court Justice Diane Hathaway (and her subsequent conviction), and we have a Party that for all its national strength has not found the a way to translate that into state-wide leadership.

The failure is strategic. it does not rest on the shoulders of a single individual, nor can one blame the UAW, that favorite whipping boy of so many. The problems are more structural in nature, something that Johnson caught sight of in his interview on Eclectablog:

This is a very different state structure-wise than any other state that I’ve worked in and I’ve worked in a lot of ‘em.

In what way? What do you mean by that? How is it different?
Institutions play a larger role, without a doubt.

You’re talking unions, in general?
I’m talking unions. I’m talking other groups. We have a respect for institutions. I think our party does and our party activists, not only do they play a larger role, but we see the value in institutions because there is a great value in them. We are a better party because of it.

What has certainly happened is that the balancing and politics of various institutional forms has handicapped the ability of the Dems to field strong state-wide candidates. Without strong leadership on top, it makes the electoral challenge of turning out low-information voters. And this is the strategic question at its core: how do Dems as a whole combine to think in terms of winning the off-year.

On this strategic question, neither the incumbent nor the challenger have suggested any real solutions.

From the Brewer camp has come an emphasis on redistricting as the culprit. Redesigned seats could give one or more congressional seats and perhaps a majority in the State House, but this would do nothing about the core failing in terms of winning state-wide, or of better mobilizing generally in off-years.

For Johnson, the focus has been on the adoption of campaign techniques from OFA, and in particular on the focus on expanding the base to the young, minority, women and low-income. In one sense this is the future, particularly the social media aspects of the outreach. Nonetheless, if the institutional silos remain, the problem of actually mounting winning statewide offices will still be significant.

No matter who wins in this hour, one fact will be true: Michigan Democrats cannot go on as they have.


When it came time, Mark Brewer withdrew his name, leaving only Lon Johnson. The strategic questions remain.


Filed under: Democratic Party, , , , , ,

Longing for the return of the Buffalo

A generation ago Michigan (and midwestern) industrial policy faced two challenges: off shoring and increased union militancy.  That legacy lives on.

Sunday, The Grand Rapids Press began its series on how to bring Michigan back, and initially, some of the solutions seem, well, old.  Apparently to read the thoughts of industrialists, our problem is that of labor policy.  As the comment board at the Press quickly made clear, that was understood as making Michigan a Right to Work (RTW) state.  Some of this arises from the loss of a Toyota plant in Grand Rapids, a fault laid at the feet of the UAW; some part too, comes from an older history of militancy, particularly during the Yokich years. It was not just the militants at Delphi, but a longer narrative of union activity in our state.   And practically speaking, it is the legacy of union pensions, and union-won healthcare — this economic overhang — that left domestic automakers with a burden.

The complaint in short, is that the unions have cost the state opportunity.  Thus, no unions, more growth.  Two observations however should temper this easy (too easy!) manner of thinking.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Economy, , , ,

Rescue Me!

The political horror show that has been the auto hearings took another turn today as Congress and the Republicans refused to offer any relief. As Wednesday’s Times notes,

But with the House set to adjourn at the end of Thursday, the automakers were left with only the dimmest of hopes that Congress would provide any assistance this year.

And faced with this, how does our would-be governor respond?

But (Hoekstra) said if lawmakers are inclined to dole out $25 billion to Ford, General Motors and Chrysler, executives at the Detroit Three and the thousands of employees across the nation need to make concessions, including slashing pay and developing new business models.

While the clock ticks, he’s basically fiddling. Of course new business models have to be found. And yes, it’s pretty clear that workers are going to get it, too. Underneath the reluctance of the present Republican leadership is the hope that maybe, perhaps it won’t be as bad as the executive leadership has portrayed it (though the idea of GM burning through $5 billion a month is simply staggering. That’s not sustainable). So behind their actions lies the rather pathetic hope that if worst comes to worst, there’s always the President

A punt to the President who really doesn’t want to play.

There are of course, some crass political calculations. This has all the makings of a classic stand-off, the kind where the President has stood firm and the Democratic congress blinks. But other factors are also in play. First, the prospect of a new administration certainly is stiffening the spine of some on the Democratic side; and second, there is the question again of legacy. If an economic disaster looms, it threatens to add one lasting black eye to an already punched-out administration.

At the local level, the prospect of a GM collapse doesn’t seem to play so well. If the President doesn’t help, what happens to the perception of the GOP? Can they switch the blame to the UAW? Or are they stuck as the agents of this collapse, willing to spend billions on the financiers but nothing on the guy on the line? It’s Hoover II. This evident political risk renders Hoekstra’s stance all the more peculiar. No amount of righteousness protects them from a collapsed state economy — even the possibility for blaming the UW will scarcely help if the corpse of GM is deposited at the doorstep.

So the politicians — and especially the GOP — seem to be playing the high stakes game. Meanwhile, at the level that most of us understand, at the line at the grocery store, or at the hardware store, this is a situation that threatens us even more. And whoever gets the blame will keep that albatross for a generation. Or more.

Filed under: Economy, Republican Folly, ,

Why Reform Headed South

To understand the motive for the Reformed Michigan Government Now! proposal, one need look no further than this map*:

As the Grand Rapids Press detailed, US Census figures for migration show a state hemorrhaging population. This dark blue vector from Wayne to Saginaw is a dagger to the heart of Michigan’s industry. Collectively, these four counties lost more than 35,000 between 2006 and 2007. That’s 12,000 households with a combined income of perhaps $600 million (assuming $50k/HHI), or $24 million lost to the state budget.

The map reminds us that these departures are not mere statistics, but are associated with very real places, and so with all too real lives. People leave because their hope has vanished. Work is gone. For them the future (in Michigan) is closed.

How then can we control our destiny?

In the midst of this, the extremist, pro-business decisions of the Taylor-led court only further increase the sense of a lack of control. In this light, the RMGN! proposal is all too easily understood. It was time to take back the state; time to take back control of one’s life, even as it drained down I-75. Time, in the words of one east side activist, for “rough action.”

In short, the politics of RMGN arises from a blend of external factors (“issues”) and the economic and psychic hammering that takes place along the I-75 corridor. It’s no wonder, then, that “smoking gun” powerpoint would have shown up where it did, at the UAW 1-C website.

RMGN and Fair Tax?

The issue of control explains much of the populist turn in the measure. One way we re-assert our power is by our thinking that the solution is easy if only we had courage. Here, the RMGN plan is little different than the Fair Tax idea bandied about on the other side: both share the same populist, (pseudo) man-on-the-street solution. Likewise with the redistricting and its 50-50 split: there is the same faith that if one only changed the mechanics of the system then we’ll get better results. Even with the proposed reduction of the courts, there again came this same confidence that the reshuffling of the chairs would produce a better result.

At the heart of RMGN, then, was this defensiveness, an instinct for preservation. In an uncertain world, it sought by essentially mechanical means to regain control of its political life. Its very radicalism speaks to a lack of confidence, a self-doubt about the future. Even as the cars head down I-75, the proposal hoped to halt the damage, to preserve what could be preserved in this time of economic shipwreck.

So what is the future?

Who can blame the authors for trying to turn back this tide? But this concern with preserving present power handicaps us as we look to Michigan’s future. Like old King Canute, we cannot turn back the tide.

What we can do, is work to build the boats — the candidates and the policies — that will allow our State to sail again. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Michigan, ,

A Return to the Old Days

The news that the Reform Michigan Government Now! is the “brain” child of union and Democratic Party, sadly, is not surprising. It brings back an older form of Michigan Democratic politics, and a rift we have worked to heal in Kent Count

And what a rift it was.

In 1984, when I came to the Party, the Kent County Dems were reeling. They had been redistricted out of State Senate seat, no local redistricting plan had been submitted in 1980, so new County Commission seats were shifted, and one commissioner, Kathy Kuhn had switched parties. (In the south end, James Vaughn had threatened to do the same.)

Two groups faced-off in the Party: the Regular Party, fueled by UAW money and members; and a network of activists, the Coalition Democrats: academics, social liberals, minorities. The two groups echoed the split 15 years earlier between Robert Kennedy and Hubert Humphrey. The Coalition were largely from the center and east side of Grand Rapids, the Regulars drew from the west side and the suburbs.

The two groups dueled over precinct delegates. Activists saw delegates as a ground force for organizing elections; Regulars saw the delegates as votes at the State Convention. Thus recruiting delegates was an activity guarded ferociously by union representatives. This was the level of distrust we had between us.

Coalition Dems had focused on local elections, and in turn built up a network of experience about campaigning. Poor Candidate recruitment galled them. The reluctance to engage in party building left many infuriated. There was more than enough bad blood, and it was often highly personalized. Some left. Some of us stayed.

But we healed. And this is a place to name names.

Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Democratic Party, , ,


August 2020