Windmillin'

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

The Future of Pro Life

Marcie Wheeler raises some interesting questions about the status of anti-choice in the Democratic constellation here in Kent County. The short version: is pro-life the dominant, requisite force that it once was, one that requires women to take it and say nothing?

There is a right way and a wrong way, IMO, to run an anti-choice candidate. Telling voters–particularly the women voters being impacted by anti-choice Dems of late–they can’t talk about it bc they don’t know enough is not the way to do it.

Particularly in the context of a run for the Third by Steve Pestka, the question of the pro-life Dems again rises up. The pro-life stance (or “anti-choice”) has been seen as a prerequisite for competitive candidates since the Clinton election, in part because recruiting drew from the Catholic west side community and the Christian Reformed — both distinctly pro-life. Their victories and general growth in the number of elected officials seemed to confirm the stance. Wheeler’s challenge (and others) invites a reconsideration of this political axiom. The question of abortion may not be the deal breaker that it was 10 or 15 years ago.

One sign of change has been the growing political leadership in the City, on the school board (Tony Baker, Wendy Falb), and especially in the Second Ward with Ruth Kelley and Rosalynn Bliss.

A second sigh of change has been the diminishing of the cultural drivers for anti-choice over the past 10 years. It’s traditional electoral base has been in the Catholic and Dutch Reformed communities, the latter especially weakening demographically and broadening over this time. The interesting aspect about the redistricting of the Third has been the removal of some of these traditional bastions for the anti-choice side in the cities of Wyoming and Kentwood.

A third change is generational. The Life/Choice battle is a Boomer/Gen X issues. Anecdotally and by surveys, young evangelicals are not as wrapped up in the cultural war aspects — other issues, e.g. sex slavery or development, carry greater weight. This broadening of concern allows Dems to frame other compelling moral arguments away from the Life/Choice arena. While most young evangelicals will continue to vote R, the wider, more holistic range offers opportunity to pick up votes, perhaps moving from 25 percent D to 30 percent.

And finally,  there are the efforts of the Republican Party itself. Turning Life into a voting issue certainly assisted them in the 90s; it clearly motivates their base.  However, the very scope of their victory has capped their votes; once you have the significant plurality of pro-life votes, how many more are there? The pool of voters for whom Life is a voting issue has shrunk, most are Republican already. Moreover the radicalization of the GOP on this and general women’s health issues also functions to confirm present voters but push away moderates.  Internal victory and radicalization has reduced the penalty for being Choice, in fact may render it moot.

Something like this can be seen in Justin Amash, himself. While in a nominal way pro-life, his own libertarian tendencies push him away from a (self) definition as pro-life. (Consider that in two years he has issued four news releases related to abortion).

If the Life/Choice battle is no longer the deal breaker it once was, what should Dems do? Read the rest of this entry »

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Filed under: Democratic Party, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Trevor Jumps In

Word  today is the entry of Trevor Thomas into the race for the Third District. He released an introductory video this morning as well as  kicking off the campaign by filing paperwork. The formal announcement will be next month. At this point, the media coverage or lack of it will need to be the story. The bloggers picked it up (DailyKos, Blogging for Michigan/ Eclectablog, and Empty Wheel) — all good. So did the Battle Creek Enquirer, and the Chicago Tribune. The slow response in Grand Rapids indicates something of the hill that needs to be climbed for a successful campaign.

The announcement video is a low-key affair, in the style of the Chrysler Super Bowl footage, if not shot in as robust fashion (oh, those folks from Wieden + Kennedy are very, very good). Thomas links to West Michigan and especially the links to the Wyoming auto plants where his parents worked — a part of Kent County that has been shuffled off to the Second District, now represented by Bill Huizinga.  Perhaps more importantly, he links to President Gerald  Ford

It’s time for us to return to the values of Jerry Ford, who put politics aside to do what was best for our country.On the video he works to claim the heritage of Jerry Ford.

As a matter of record, this is the stuff of piety but not fact. Representative Jerry Ford was every bit the Republican. This is a the sort of newbie mistake, trying to say that you are just like the other guy, but not.

From the footage, the message — this suggests a campaign still in the formation. For Thomas to offer a progressive vision that takes hold, he will need some help. And certainly more discipline.

Filed under: Democratic Party, Elections, , , ,

That Hoekstra Dog Whistle

Bad ads are rarely an accident. Quite the contrary, sometimes the things most offensive are the very things most planned. Ask GoDaddy. Or perhaps Peter Hoekstra.

Hoekstra’s infamous  Asian-bashing xenophobic Super Bowl ad went viral, receiving mention in The Atlantic, the New York Times, the New Yorker and countless other blogs (including those in China). A disaster. And now it’s pulled — a mercy death, surely. Still, it deserves an autopsy, in part because in examining the corpse, we we may be able to see something of the thinking of the Hoekstra campaign and its electoral strategy.

After all, this is a Michigan MBA, the former vice-president of marketing at Herman Miller, a smart guy. So just what was he thinking?

Her Lips say Finance but Her Eyes say Jobs

Advertising works on two levels: there is the direct cognitive message, charged with the main marketing points; then wrapping it are the associations created by allusions, the visuals, the manner of presentation.  This latter makes another unspoken argument.  When these two go together the effect can be can be quite powerful, as Ronald Reagan’s  Morning in America ad demonstrates. The twin message paths also lure political advertisers to create ads with two messages, a nominal message and a “dog whistle” inside message created for some subset of the audience.

And the two message approach seems to be the approach of the Hoekstra ad.

On the face of it (and in subsequent ads, here) Hoekstra goes after Sen. Debbie Stabenow and her (profligate) spending, positioning Hoekstra as a fiscal conservative. This is actually boring and forgettable. The images, the emotional vehicle is something else again.

The “dog whistle” is about jobs.

For all the mocking tone of our debt to China, in Michigan the issue of the economy is less that of finance than of manufacturing. The story of the past decade is the near-death of domestic auto manufacturing, the loss of 800,000 jobs from GM alone; a story of shuttered factories, faltering communities, and nation-leading unemployment.

It goes to the gut.

And that seems to be what  Hoekstra was looking to do: a two-fer.  Nominally, this was going to be an ad about Debbie Stabenow and her (profligate) ways and positioning Hoekstra as a fiscal conservative. A good message for the managerial suburbs like those of eastern Kent County or Oakland County. Underneath, in visuals a different emotional message was going to be told, one aimed at the working class suburbs of Muskegon, Wyoming, Downriver or  Macomb County.

In looking at the presentation of this appeal, we can see the subset Hoekstra was hoping to reach. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Michigan, Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Furniture City, meet Cereal City

The state Republican Party released their planned congressional redistricting map. While the contortions in the northern burbs of Detroit make this another piece of court bait, the map for the local 3rd Congressional is certainly interesting, linking as it does Calhoun County and Battle Creek with the folks of the Furniture City.

Perhaps the most intriguing part is how the GOP gives up Battle Creek — a definite Democratic stronghold. The explanation no doubt lies in an attempt to save Rep. Tim Walberg (CD – 7). For those in Kent County this looks to be something of a fair trade. The new 3rd Congressional gets a Democratic stronghold, but needs to surrender (parts of?) Wyoming. By most lights that would be a fair trade. If the GOP plan does anything it formally creates a more competitive seat.

“Formally” is the operative word here. The configuration raises two important campaign challenges, particularly for any Democratic candidate. This is no longer a seat that can be run from the City; it’s no longer “local.” The inclusion of Battle Creek will ask campaigns to divide their time between the two regions — especially Democrats who will need a strong turnout in Calhoun to have any chance of winning, at all. The addition of a second media market also raises the funding bar for any serious campaign.

Likely the most interesting item — and the reason that the GOP likes this configuration (well, apart from saving Walberg) — is how it skews old. Where approximately 25 percent of Kent County is over 62, in Calhoun County the number is over 33 percent, one third. These are generally  more conservative voters, although in the Ryan era and the proposed revision of Medicare this older make-up opens a significant vulnerability to the sitting congressman in the 3rd, Rep. Justin Amash.

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

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, , , , , , , ,

Sacrificing Efficiency

When it comes to the proposed plans for redistricting our county, the picture is not pretty. Literally.

The opening shot by the Dems set up the problem — a virtually illegible map as to actual boundaries, save that city lines were routinely traversed in Grand Rapids. The first follow-up by the Republicans appeared to revel in the word “gerrymander” with its distorted snaking districts through the City of Grand Rapids and Wyoming. A second Republican map is only incidentally better, adjusting boundaries for the 15th and 16th Commission seats.

At the heart lies the determination by both parties to meet their goals by breaking municipal and township lines to create fractional representation. Behind this game playing lies an important and overlooked truth (at least at redistricting): Civic life functions better when community interests and representation are aligned. It’s a classic game scenario, we all win together but it is easy to break equity or in this case, the boundaries.

So what’s at stake?

Greater inefficiency
Mis-aligned districts, increase difficulty of representation. When a district is built of fractional units of government from breaking municipal or township boundaries, is overly contorted (“gerrymandered”) or is too diverse it challenges the commissioner to keep track of major concerns. The fractional add-on, the neighborhood at the far end of the district, these will not get the same attention. In turn that means that the County has less information than it should as to how policies affect residents, or how it meets needs.

Greater friction
Not surprisingly, mis-aligned districts also create problems for the local governments. Fractional representation interferes with the alignment of county and other units of government when it comes to co-operative projects, such as economic development. It’s not that the various entities don’t eventually mesh, but it takes longer. Meanwhile, unnecessary division creates the potential for mixed signals, in short, more friction. In the next decade, Kent County will be challenged in multiple ways to align its governing bodies whether its competing for jobs or expanding services. There’s little to be gained from creating roadblocks.

Greater distance
The last rip in the civic fabric takes place in the voter. Mis-aligned districts encourage disengagement between the voter and the county government. The harm is two-fold. First, the disengagement — this alienation — slows public acceptance of County initiatives, arbitrary districts creating the sense that policies themselves are arbitrary. The second harm rests more with the parties themselves, where the arbitrariness or craziness of the district is then applied to the author of that district. Although the partisan will believe that this second harm is moot, given that they (the disgruntled voter) will not vote for them anyway, this represents in fact, a subverting of future efforts. Not unlike the boy who cried wolf, teaching the voter that the party does not care for them  in redistricting can easily expand to a general distrust of the party in larger, more significant items.

The danger in all this is that the party — the Republicans in particular — not only sacrifice a certain governing efficiency, but that they compromise their future. Really, we can do better.

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

Dying. Really?

All the hoopla of the Newsweek article listing Grand Rapids as a “dying city” certainly stirred up a discussion.  And most of it off track.

A great deal of the defense turned on the vitality of the downtown shows. From Rob Bliss to Art Prize, how could this not be an alive, happening place?  However, if staging a great party were a sign of health, New Orleans would be in the pink of things. But of course, it’s not.

Rather the commotion touches one of the key questions before any metro region: do all parts share in the prosperity, in the distribution of various social goods? Looking past the events and the Rob Bliss adventures, another story may be unfolding,  in effect are we looking at a Potemkin village that hides a creeping collapse?

That skeptical question is important.  After all, the City is different from the County, the neighborhoods  different from downtown. A metro area may thrive while  individual municipalities or neighborhoods suffer. , e.g. one need only travel west down the 28th Street corridor in to see something that indeed looks like collapse, from the vacant stores, the empty lots to the plans for urban redevelopment to look at all the vacant stores and sense the collapse. Yet even here, Wyoming itself has not yet suffered a collapse, even if its northern neighborhoods do appear on the decline.

However to understand if Grand Rapids is in decline we need to confront both the metrics and the rhetoric.

Fear of a black (planet)

The language of decline does not simply refer to a set of metrics, but participates in a narrative urban dysfunction. To speak of decline we do not mean declining fortunes or opportunities — from a middle class perspective, we can always escape — rather, the object is that of the increase in a certain kind of community: the urban poor, the urban minority poor.  In Eugene Robinson’s words, these are the Abandoned, this (growing) urban underclass. The narrative carries with it an inevitable racial cast; while Sioux City may decline, Buffalo dies. In the narrative of the urban poor, the dying city is to be blamed (e.g. too many social services, too much social dysfunction), or ignored, and certainly separated from, even if that means crossing a municipal boundary or moving to the townships.

The dying city narrative at its best is one of condescension that barely masks a despair underneath.

Should Grand Rapids be considered in this narrative or not?  The condition of the city will not be found by press release, but by data.  Read the rest of this entry »

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

Pragmatic Politics

One of the consequences of the Democratic implosion has been the need to reformulate how we deal with the other side.  What sort of cooperation do we maintain?  Do we allow ourselves to support GOP candidates in non-winnable districts, if they are right on at least some issues?

This is the dilemma of the minority party. And there’s no easy way to answer it, since after all, this is politics.

Take the case of Stan Ponstein, R-Grandville, Kent County Commission.

Ponstein is one of those Republicans that some Democrats can like, at least from a distance.  Able to win with big margins (3:1 in 2010), he has the freedom that comes from a safe seat, most notably when it came to  farmland preservation.  And if you sit in some circles, you may even hear a Dem or two note that “if Stan faced a challenge, we’d be willing to help” — that’s the power of pragmatism.  In  effect, “he’s a Republican but he’s our Republican.”

Last Tuesday, Ponstein underscored the first part of his identity: he’s a Republican.  When  it came time to reorganize the County Commission for the upcoming session, Ponstein took the big step backward.  The old deal he helped put in place two years ago? No more requirement for minority party representation on any of the major committees (finance, legislative, human resources), and no minority vice chair, instead return to the shut out caucus days of yore.  Indeed this was precisely what some of the re-elected bulls wanted, notably Harold Mast, and Stan Boelema.

Now as attractive as rule by caucus can seem, for commissioners coming from urban Kent County (the cities of Wyoming, Grand Rapids, and Kentwood), caucus rule means a dampening of their constituents’ concerns.   A caucus whose principle members are the suburban/township with a handful of urban seats necessarily means that urban concerns take second place to those of the suburban/township majority.  Caucus rule is a trap for anyone interested in advancing the pragmatic politics of building Kent County.

Thus it turns out that there remain two dilemmas for the pragmatic politician: for the majority GOP, a temptation to go partisan and so stifle the acting on urban issues; for the minority Dem, the temptation to co-operate so much with the GOP counterpart in the name of pragmatism so as to win a victory but lose the greater battle.

These tensions are only to grow all the more with anticipated redistricting and the shrinkage of the County Commission to 17.

Filed under: Democratic Party, Politics, , , , , , , ,

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