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

Mapping the Future

MI76 : Gov 14 map This is a map that will drive many crazy in the GOP. As the red dots indicate, Gov. Snyder won decisively in the 76th District. Eleven precincts gave him at least a 20 point margin (and some came close to a full 40; a 70-30 split). The places where the party dominated on the SE side, the NE fringe (with the Riverside neighborhood tossed in) demonstrate why the district has the shape that it does. They were supposed to win in the off year, except, they didn’t. The gerrymander failed.

For party strategists, this map represents a what-if, a secret nudge of hope. But that partisan reading may miss the message. Take a look at the results for Winnie Brink.

MI76 14 mapPrecincts that were in the GOP column are now in her’s and what is more, they are there in decisive shape, with her winning with twenty percent margins (look at precinct 2-42, or precincts 3-77, and 3-59). Even in precincts where the Governor won big, the Brinks campaign tightened the margin (look at precinct 1-6).

One can look at this as a matter of hard work, that the campaign worked and earned the win. That is certainly the case. But this is also a map of hope, of a future.

Brinks strength even in the usually conservative neighborhoods points to the power of pragmatism within the City. The fact that both Brinks and Snyder win the same seats suggests a common persona, one of moderation, a look past the partisanship. There is surprisingly little of the Tea Party in this map (perhaps pct 1-21 or 1-23).

The Brinks campaign modeled this moderation as well, her’s was a campaign emphasized hard-work and pragmatic solutions. Where the term limits opponents had stumbled in the blue collar neighborhoods, Brinks won comfortably, sometimes even spectacularly.  And this was done without running away from her stance on abortion — a killer for most candidates a decade ago. Brinks again demonstrated that where one is moderate and hard-working, the questions on abortion can be handled.

As the City explores how it should continue to develop (that long conversation between the downtown and the left out), the Brinks win maps what a coalition might very well look like. Yes, we will always have the west side but most in the City want to see it succeed. And to do that, they are willing to cross lines and work together. It’s the sweat equity of hope.

And it bodes well for our City.

Note on the maps: The dots measure the size of the margin, from the lightest representing less than a one percent difference (a margin +/- 0.5 percent) to the darkest representing at least a twenty percent margin (60/40)

Filed under: Uncategorized, , , , , ,

A Muffled Voice

There’s a voice coming from the political closet: Michigan’s moderate Republicans. To hear what it’s saying (and understand the problems of Michigan’s GOP)  look no further than a recent ad from Donnijo DeJonge.

She’s pissed (or at least trying to be — this is the election season, after all). Winnie Brinks is a liar, or at least her allies are lying about who and what Ms DeJonge stands for:

Winnie claims I support the tax on pensions. This is a lie. I have never said I supported the pension tax. In fact, I support a reduction in the income tax and with that the repeal of the pension tax. I support fair and efficient tax policy. I support reducing the tax burden for hardworking Michigan families.

One can understand the confusion here. DeJonge’s web page is silent on issues of any kind. Nor was the pension tax  mentioned in the candidate profile. Then again, others would point to the interview with the MLive editorial board. Let’s just say that on pensions, it was awkward:

“You can call it a hike in tax. What I call it is making tax policy fair (by taxing pension and 401(k) income the same).”

So what’s going on here?

Brutally, some part may simply be lying. The pension tax attack has got traction and so Republicans of all sorts have to adjust, no matter what the paper trail says. It’s the old story of “I was for it before I was against it.”

DeJonge, however, is rather smarter than that, and certainly more principled. Her core positioning has been that of taking the high ground, and in that light, her words are something of a gaffe. Of course, the fiscal conservative (now) knows, the program of Gov. Rick Snyder to shift the tax burden to the individual tax payer was wrong. It was wrong, but she (and other moderate Republicans) can’t put the policy at the Governor’s feet. It was wrong, but they are unwilling to place it at the feet of their corporate benefactors.

And it may be personally wrong: an idea held once in good faith, but now exposed. Repentance can be a good thing.

There’s more. It’s not just the repeal of the pension tax, it is also the reduction of the income tax. Whether the Democratic “middle class taxpayer” or the Republican “hardworking Michigan family” the point is the same; Michigan citizens need their taxes reduced. DeJonge’s problems (and those of the moderate GOP) compound: to reduce the burden on the taxpayer means raising taxes somewhere else, or cutting programs somewhere else. And what are those trade-offs?

For a professor of public finance, the silence is hardly golden. She certainly knows the trade-offs. Then why the silence? What keeps her in the closet? Is it fear of the political powers? Is it a sort of magical thinking where some unforeseen event rescues? Is it perhaps simply the dissonance between their economic shibboleths and the impact on people’s lives?

Painful as it is, this dissonance brings some good news to the moderate faction: they still have a heart. What they lack is a voice. They know the truth; it is time to come out.

Filed under: Elections, Michigan, Republican Folly, , , , , , , ,

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.

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

Lessons from the Third Ward race

On Tuesday, Grand Rapids voters will decided on a new city commissioner. And there’s a choice:  one an activist, one a civic leader, and  one out of her element. A month or more ago, it looked to be a fairly heated, even interesting race. As we turn towards the election, the race now looks somewhat bland, at least as the usual horse race goes. And for one, perhaps an opportunity lost.

But first, to review.

By all lights, Senita Lenear is the choice of the civic establishment. She has garnered support from a wide range of civic leaders, including both Democrats and Republicans. This fits her previous experience on the School Board where she earned a fair amount of credibility moving from the perception as a protege of Bernard Taylor to real independence in the post-Taylor period. As she explained to Wood-Tv, she was asked by the Mayor to consider running for the commission seat.

From her work with the school board she has earned the respect of the African American community. Being the wife of Dallas Lenear, one of the pastors at New Hope Baptist, certainly doesn’t hurt in this matter,either.

Her positions are what one might expect: use connections to lobby for the City, act with integrity (this poses a small question: who is it that is not acting with integrity on the Commission? — a vague sort of stance, actually), work with the budget, and in the Wood-Tv interview, address violence — particularly recent gang violence) that has been troubling the urban neighborhoods of the Ward. These are safe positions, consonant with the view of the City Commission as a civic board, and implicitly appealing to the alliance between the African-American community and the residual Dutch of the far suburbs. She’s safe.

In this context, Mike Tuffelmire is for all intents, the challenger. He is younger, a combat veteran and resident now in South Hills (originally from the Mulick Park / IHM neighborhood). His core base has been the new urbanist, local-business advocates that have revitalized East Hills, the Wealthy corridor and downtown. Key support also comes from Democrats, progressives, and the anti-Taylor cluster on the the school board. The support network is younger, more urban if not “Downtown” than Lenear’s. It can easily be misconstrued, as MLive did the other day, labeling Tuffelmire a “marijuana activist” for his work on the Grand Rapids Decriminalize campaign.

The  campaign has focused on community engagement, on getting the neighborhoods heard. The campaign platform is more direct, concrete: stronger neighborhood representation, attention to violence (Tuffelmire separates violence into two categories: the direct violence of the core city neighborhoods, and the property crimes farther out), smarter budgeting, and attention to infrastructure along the business corridors. As with Lenear, these are positions that reflect his community.

Both are clearly competent and knowledgeable about the City. Both are likely to bring new perspectives to the City Commission. Yet this has been a surprisingly bland contest — how is that?

First, the neighborhood focus of both campaigns simply ignores the make up of the far ends of the Ward, out where the  votes are. While in older neighborhoods (say pre-1950) there are strong identities and even associations, as one heads south of 28th, or east from Plymouth the character changes. These are largely suburban in layout and civic orientation. This is especially bad news for Tuffelmire, since the same suburban/civic orientation has these neighborhoods thinking in terms of Downtown, and general managerial competence — this is the strong suit for Lenear. These are also more reliably conservative in vote, another potential disadvantage for a more progressive candidate.

This is not to say it can’t be done, but only that if signs are any — or at least the first — indication, neither campaign has been especially successful in connecting.

Second, there is an absence of big picture vision in either campaign. How do we build a City that supports our neighborhoods? How will we engage in economic promotion? What will we do about our streets? Other infrastructure issues. Tuffelmire begins to get close to this; Lenear settles for pictures of the Calder (a nice subliminal touch) to indicate her Downtown sympathy.

Third, status quo issues. Here, the Tuffelmire campaign likely missed how much they were going to run as an insurgent. To be the alternative, one must make a critique of the present situation. Lenear’s presumptive role as successor is the barrier.  Again, the diversity of the Ward enters in here: change for the better in the suburban neighborhoods (e.g. Ridgemoor, Shawnee, Sherwood Park, Ken-o-Sha to use the school names) will have a different feel than those who live in the core neighborhoods along Eastern, Kalamazoo or Wealthy.

Fourth, campaign experience. The Lenear campaign has experience, and a fluency in front of the camera. The number of supporters also means that networks can be leveraged. Tuffelmire has shown a greater facility with digital communications, but has not properly thought through the issues sufficient to make the case. A challenger campaign cannot afford to coast, it has to push. What is perhaps most distressing is the let-down after the Fourth. Whether it came from self-doubt, money, time the result was that mid-July there was a pause.

And Fifth, the missing. One of the most interesting aspects of the entire campaign has been the silence of certain communities. Neither campaign has shown any ability (or perhaps interest) in reaching into the old Dutch community. Although no longer as strong as it was a generation ago, the names are still important. Likewise, both campaigns have only a sprinkling of Hispanic names — again, this speaks to the limits of their own networks. And finally, there notable actors who are obviously interested in the outcome, but studiously neutral: the commissioners of the Second Ward (Rosalynn Bliss, Ruth Kelley), and the district’s other state representative, Winnie Brinks.

At this point, with the final weekend upon us, it would seem to be Lenear’s to lose.

 

 

 

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

The price of the Switch

That seems to be the sense of the Schmidt text messages released this past week. Two items stand out as worthy of comment:

First there was the Lisa Posthumus Lyons urging Roy to get extra protection on the day of his switch. A touching, no doubt heart-felt comment, looking out for his safety. But tucked into that was a set of assumptions, not least was that people would be that upset at Roy. And why should that  be, but for the manner not the fact of his switch. Lyons and the party establishment were fundamentally on the side of gamesmanship of the switch — the same gamesmanship that drove Bing Goei crazy (and why, one should note, a Goei write-in is not likely to get much support from the GOP establishment). Were Lyons a better friend, she would have told Roy to switch earlier, not later.

A second pillow secret that comes up is that of the motive: Roy’s desire to run against Mayor Heartwell. The underlying strategy seems to be that by switching, Schmidt ingratiates himself to the monied powers in Ada, Cascade and Caledonia. Thus we end up with the sad spectacle of a man who had built a long-standing relationship with the unions in the City, particularly or fire and police, now seeking support from those interests who are actually aligned against those same unions. The fundamental position that Schmidt had relative to the Mayor was to stand up for the police and fire against proposed cutbacks from City Hall. Instead, by making the implicit play to the anti-union crowd, he basically took the side of City Hall, invalidating his basic working stiff creds.

Hardly the stuff for success.

In terms of city politics, the switch makes even less sense for the mayor’s race. The nature of the east-west split in the City is that politics of the SE side, shaped by Dutch Calvinism, wants to focus on principles. It’s not accident that all the challengers to Schmidt (Brinks, Goei, Allard) come from these neighborhoods.

 

Filed under: Republican Folly, , , , , ,

Goeing, Goeing, Gone?

Does Bing Goei know something we don’t? Or is he just really pissed? In today’s press conference, he suggested a little bit of both:

“I had to rethink my position,” Goei said. “I’ve always challenged people, when they see a wrong, to stand up and challenge it and make it right. I’ve been asking other people to stand up and this became ‘Am I going to stand up?’”
“I can’t let a wrong or an injustice go unanswered and unchallenged. And when I look at Roy being a Republican leader for Grand Rapids, that move was made in Lansing. No one has said he’s a Republican here and I want this to be a choice.”

Perhaps we can attribute it to blood in the water, but Goei has been pretty cautious — after all he considered running earlier and then declined to run. So some other recalculation has taken place. Whatever the reason, Goei’s entry makes the task for Roy Schmidt all that much harder.

Tactically, Goei faces a challenge: his write-in campaign will need 4,000 – 6,000 votes for a clean win. That scale is certainly larger than his mailing list from his last run. His clear advantage is that he will be a known quantity for many in the district if nothing else, from his last run.

But it’s going to take money. Here, Rep. Ken Yonkers’ abandoning Schmidt serves as an indication of potential funding. More critically for the campaign will be that of organization. At this point it looks almost certainly like a direct mail campaign rather than a lot of door to door.

At least one commentator on MLive has suggested that House Speaker Jase Bolger is already at work on this, that Goei has at least his tacit blessing, or even more, perhaps the assurance that Schmidt will be gone by August 4.

Of course much of this is good news for Winnie Brinks.

Her background in the Christian Reformed Church dovetails with that of Goei’s — when it comes to the center they appeal to the same audience. In the general this may prove problematic, given Goei’s more visible standing in the Third Ward, but for now, she’s out front and on the doorsteps. As Brandon Dillon showed in 2010, hard work and vigorous campaigning can make a big difference in this district.

The larger question in the next two weeks will be what to do with the Republican Right Wing. In 2010, Goei ran slightly to the left of the militants, (aka Tea Party). For Schmidt, the defensive move will be to shift rightward. The danger is that the Third Ward is conservative but not as anti-government as the militant wing presents itself. Even if going right wins it for Schmidt in the primary, it only serves to confirm to conservative centrists that they will be better with the moderate Winnie Brinks.

But the other option on the  table, that Schmidt will withdraw, also poses a danger for Goei. Does he then lean right to better secure a win in November? Or can he keep reasonably centrist and so suck some air out of a Brinks’ campaign? Here, his first hesitancy probably comes into play. The ideological contortions that would be involved are the sort that can subtly rob a campaign of its attack. And most definitely, a Brinks-Goei battle will need strong, aggressive campaigns.

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

Schmidt storm

When Roy Schmidt switched parties it certainly stirred up a small tempest.

First, of course, was the obvious disarray that it left the local Democratic Party. The loss of an elected official was bad enough, to lose at the last possible minute, to lose with an obvious dummy candidate in place taking the role of a legitimate Democrat — well, that’s the stuff of grudges. There ought to be a law the feeling went, except — only there wasn’t.

Then came the report from Kent County Prosecuting Attorney, William Forsyth, and the small tempest became a major media storm. While the report could find no violations of the law, it nonetheless offered a damning view of the circumstances leading up to the switch, including the negotiations between the representative and Speaker of the House, Rep. Jase Bolger.  Forsyth’s own view was that of outrage. Although he could not prosecute, he was explicit on the violation of integrity.

“Incredibly, while it would be illegal to pay a boxer to take a “dive” or a basketball player to “point-shave”, it is not currently a crime in Michigan to recruit someone to run for public office, place them on the ballot at the “eleventh hour” and essentially pay them to make no effort to win.”

The extensive media attention by MLive and broadcast media have taken Forsyth’s words and made them a virtual campaign in themselves. The Democratic campaign from Winnie Brinks no longer needs to generate outrage, the report provides all the quotes one could use. Tactically this is a great advantage. Yet for all the outrage, is it enough?

Understandably, the sharp words from the Prosecuting Attorney give a morale boost to Democrats, but is it enough to shape the election? Here the actual make up of the redesigned district comes into play. There is no question that the district was restructured to give maximum voice to the GOP in the outer neighborhoods of the city. In the 76th the base leans slightly to the right (2004, .54 R; 2008, .45 R; 2010, .55 R), so depending on how strong the Republican base is motivated, the district becomes more or less difficult. As can be seen, much depends on the scale of turnout the Dems can generate.

To translate this: Roy Schmidt’s future rests with the casual, “persuadable” voter. If the GOP is sufficiently motivated, it may be enough. This is the real impact of the media storm. Yes the Dems can take direct heart, but the real damage is with Schmidt’s image among those who pay casual attention.  We already the see the damage in the jumping in of Bing Goei as a write candidate for Republicans. Like Brinks, he’s another CRC product and reflects the general disgust in the SE side.

For Schmidt to lose the SE side would put his campaign in jeopardy, even assuming a base vote like that of 2004. To win, he will need a partisan race like that of 2004, and not only that, he must also present the case that he is in line with the top of the ticket. That however, can only further erode his standing among the casual and persuadable voters. What he needs to do, is find some strategy to clean up after this storm. There are several available, more on that later.

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

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