2012 Federal/State/Local Endorsements for Grand Rapids, Michigan

November 6 is less than a month away, but already the battle lines are drawn. Herewith are my personal endorsements for candidates and my recommendations for sundry ballot proposals that we face on the state and municipal levels.

President of the United States

Only Mitt Romney and his running mate, Paul Ryan, have what it takes to correct the wild fiscal imprudence and geostrategic incompetence of Team Obama. Whether it’s “leading from behind” — as Iran ticks closer to the Bomb — or taking over one-sixth of the U.S. economy with a one-size-fits-all approach to socialized medicine, Barack Obama (D) has been a miserable failure whose ego is outmatched only by his ham-handed management of the federal treasury. America deserves leaders like Romney and Ryan, men who understand what it takes to get Americans working again and how to keep our public finances sane. We need Mitt and Paul. Vote Romney/Ryan!

United States Senator

As far as senators go, Debbie Stabenow (D) hasn’t been bad. But she hasn’t been a leader, either. With the Senate in a state of mortal combat, Stabenow could have shown courage to resist the worst of Harry Reid’s bumbling machinations. Instead, she blithely sings to the majority leader’s hyperpartisan tune. We need someone who’s not just average, but someone above average — someone like Republican Pete Hoekstra, whose bipartisan leadership of the House Intelligence Committee and keen grasp of the issues we face as a nation make him the right man at the right time. Vote Pete Hoekstra!

United States Representative, 3rd District

Steve Pestka is a good guy. He’s a Democrat, but no one’s perfect, and he’s more of a centrist than most. Republican Justin Amash is a socially awkward acolyte of Ron Paul — someone who opposed defunding Planned Parenthood because it was “a bill of attainder.” (Do you see that? It’s the sight of a blogger’s eyes rolling.) Inasmuch as I’d love to have a solid Republican to support, we’re stuck with a libertarian in sheep’s clothing who’s been written off even among the GOP Congressional leadership. Endorsement goes to Steve Pestka.

Michigan Representative, 75th District

No endorsement. Neither candidate has done anything whatsoever to inform voters about his positions.

State Board of Education; Regents of the University of Michigan; Trustees of Michigan State University; Governors of Wayne State University

No endorsements.  Radio silence from all the candidates.

Kent County Prosecuting Attorney

Republican William Forsyth is running unopposed, which makes sense because he’s been a stalwart who gets the job done. Vote for Forsyth.

Kent County Sheriff

The long-time sheriff, Lawrence Stelma, is up for re-election. I have no personal reason to oppose him, but there’s been a lot of talk among some locals about the need for a change. Democrat James Farris is endorsed instead; Farris was a deputy chief who was passed up for the top slot in the Grand Rapids Police Department. Some say it’s because he’s black. I don’t know about that, but I do know that people who are clued into local law enforcement say Farris has served with dignity and grace even when he was passed over. Time for a promotion to the sheriff’s office, methinks.

Kent County Clerk and Register of Deeds

This one’s easy; Republican Mary Hollinrake runs a clean and efficient operation and deserves re-election. Vote Hollinrake.

Kent County Treasurer

Like the clerk, Republican Kenneth Parrish is not flashy, but he is effective. Vote Parrish.

Kent County Drain Commissioner

Drain commissioner nod goes to Bill Byl, who’s been an able local public servant over the years.

Kent County Commissioner for the 17th District

No endorsements.  Radio silence from all the candidates.

Judicial Elections; Grand Rapids Public School Board

None of these are contested elections at the local level, except the six-year term for the Kent County Probate Court. In that race, I endorse the non-partisan incumbents Patricia Gardner and G. Patrick Hillary for re-election.

For the Michigan Supreme Court’s non-partisan ballot, I endorse the re-election of Justice Stephen Markman and the election of Judge Colleen O’Brien for full eight-year terms, and I endorse Justice Brian Zahra for re-election to a partial term.

Michigan Ballot Proposals

  • Vote YES on Proposal 1.  The wording on this is sneaky; if you favor the Emergency Manager law — and you should; it keeps Detroit from totally collapsing — then you need to vote YES on this proposal to keep the law in place. This is a referendum to keep PA 4, which established the emergency-manager role for Michigan.
  • Vote NO on Proposal 2.  How clearly can I say it? Vote HELL NO to enshrining a constitutional right to unionize into the Michigan Constitution.
  • Vote NO on Proposal 3.  Support Prop 3 if you’re in favor of rolling blackouts, since this initiative, if passed, would require Michigan to get 25 percent of all its energy from renewable resources while capping rate increases to 1 percent per year. Gee, who pays for this Green-energy bonanza? Let me guess … the CFL bulb fairy?
  • Vote NO on Proposal 4.  The state constitution isn’t the place to enshrine new bureaucracies. This proposal would seek to create a home-care council to serve as a quasi-public labor union for home-care workers. Vote this nonsense off the island, posthaste.
  • Vote NO on Proposal 5.  Beware Geeks bearing gifts: This proposal looks good at first glance, but it’s a poisoned pill. The proposal would require a 2/3 vote to modify tax law. It also requires a 2/3 vote to reduce taxes. Better to staff the legislature with solid fiscal conservatives than to screw around with supermajorities.
  • Vote NO on Proposal 6.  Just say no to sour grapes. This bill would stymie Gov. Snyder’s necessary drive to get another bridge to Canada. Prop 6 is pushed by the guy who owns (and thereby profits from) the current Ambassador Bridge. Tell this yahoo that the state ballot isn’t a place to solidify his rent-seeking.

Grand Rapids Municipal Proposals

  • Vote NO on Proposal I.  This proposal, if adopted, would make the City Comptroller a position appointed by the City Manager instead of an elected job. No point in reducing the public’s influence on City Hall — particularly when the man in charge, who isn’t elected, leads a city with a weak mayoral structure.
  • Vote NO on Proposal II.  This basically legalizes pot in a big way — making it (at most) a $100 fine and darned difficult to prosecute.

Remember — it’s your civic duty to vote; it’s your moral duty to vote as I prefer. 🙂

Why I Love 100-Degree Days: An Ode to Michigan

My fellow Michiganders no doubt appreciate that this is the hottest and driest summer since 1945. Since I got back from Las Vegas five weeks ago, we’ve seen quite a few days above 100 degrees, and most of them have been above 90. With high humidity but almost no rain, unwatered lawns look like a crude approximation of the Mojave.

So I hear the whining: Oh, it’s soooo hot.

Yet I reflect — exactly six months from now we’ll be in the dead of winter and temperatures may well be in the teens. And we’ll be whining about how cold and snowy it is.

I get it: Some people like perpetually lukewarm weather. Those people should get the hell out of Michigan, a state that includes arid, snowy, subzero winters and hot, humid, dry summers. You get the full range of the earth’s climate without ever having to travel more than a mile in any direction.

But if climate variation isn’t your thing — I hear San Diego’s nice.

Short Reflections on Recent Items of Note

The best defense against cynicism remains a wild-eyed sense of wonder that things really can get more screwed up than they need to be.

  1. Oh, you silly Michigan Republicans. Yes, I voted in the primary. Yes, I voted for Mitt Romney. Yes, I want to see Romney prevail in the delegate count. No, I don’t want Saul Anuzis to put his thumb on the scale. Give Santorum his stupid delegate and be done with it. Intentions aside, retroactively “interpreting” the rules to favor a favored candidate smacks of dishonesty even if such interpretation is valid and squeaky clean. The appearance of impropriety is what matters, not the actuality of impropriety.
  2. Speaking of the primary — time for Gingrich to exit stage right and Paul to exit stage kooky. This has turned into a two-man race. Actually, a one-man race, but Santorum hasn’t figured this out yet and he deserves time to internalize it. I’ll admit that Santorum surprised me a bit; I didn’t think his dogged insistence on fighting the culture wars of the ’90s would resonate with primary voters as much as it has, especially when serious matters — like national security and the economy — deserve pride of place this cycle. I think the Romney likability factor plays into it a bit. What are the odds Huntsman and Pawlenty regret pulling the ejection handle so quickly?
  3. The ongoing drama over Israel’s potential response to an Iranian nuclear weapon highlights the Obama team’s lack of seriousness about Iranian threats. Nuclear Iran presents an existential threat to Israel and will almost surely ignite a nuclear arms race in one of the most volatile regions on the planet. We need more than bluster to win the long-term peace. Although I certainly don’t want a war with Iran, I also don’t want a nuclear Iran. If the latter goal cannot be achieved peaceably — and the Persian running down of the clock suggests it won’t be — then other action must be contemplated.
  4. After the Holocaust, the West said, “Never again.” After half-assing it in Bosnia, we said we really meant it — next time. Then we looked the other way in Darfur and Chechnya and Tibet. And now we look the other way in Syria — because we pretend that enfeebled Russia’s protection of its sole remaining Mediterranean client remains geopolitically significant. Genocide continues, and we whine that the politics of weakness at the U.N. means that we have no more effective alternative than to lodge diplomatic protests while thousands die at the hands of a cruel despot. The technical term for this pseudolegal equivocation is “moral depravity.” On our part, as well as Assad’s.
  5. I’m not all that worried about $5 gas. I am worried that $5 gas means that politicians across the ideological spectrum will put on their silly hats and promote short-term policies that make no long-term sense simply to pander to voters who don’t grasp the complexities of energy policy.
  6. Have we reached a tipping point? The ongoing privacy black eyes from Google and Facebook may well prove decisive in finally getting politicians to draft consumer-friendly data protection laws. About damn time.

Life’s been good on the personal front, too:

  1. A few weeks ago, columnist Florence King of National Review penned her last “Bent Pin” column. I had been a fan of hers since I was a teenager; she used to write “The Misanthrope’s Corner,” then semi-retired, then came back. Now she’s permanently retired from regular columns and will now occasionally submit reviews. Having been duly saddened by her new retirement, I wrote her a letter. To my great delight, she replied with a lovely handwritten card. I think I’ll frame it.
  2. ‘Tis been lovely on the social front. Yesterday, Tony and I went to Battle Creek, to the Firekeepers casino. The original plan was to go to the smoke shop in Battle Creek, but we were delayed too much in Lansing so we detoured to the casino instead and partook of some light gambling and heaving dining. Last weekend, Tony and Jen came to town to celebrate Jen’s 30th birthday. Also attending: her brother Joe, and her friends Heidi and Pete. Tony/Joe/Jen/Jason started with dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse, then we met Pete and Heidi and trudged off to Mixology at Six One Six for cocktails; we eventually ended up at Cygnus 27 for even more cocktails before the evening met its natural conclusion. And last Thursday I enjoyed cigars and Scotch with Rick and Sondra at Grand River Cigar. All these events provided a strong measure of fun and connectedness.
  3. Celebrated another writer’s event on Friday. These gatherings are more social than productive but it’s still nice to connect with fellow scribes. And I got to learn about Charlie the Unicorn.
  4. My truck was victimized by a local ne’er-do-well. Someone broke into the back window and rifled through the contents of the truck cab. As far as I can tell, the only things taken were less than $2 in coin plus my spare copies of my license, proof of insurance and registration. I filed a police report anyway. And that evening, I saw my neighbor — a G.R. police officer — but he already had been informed by the detective who reviewed my report.
  5. I’ve been kept full-to-brimming with contract work over the last six weeks. One of my clients invited me into a special project that has consumed a large amount of time. Happily, they’re paying above-market rates for the work I’m doing. Plus, I received a fabulous referral for some Web marketing work for a law firm in southern Michigan; contract negotiations begin next week. It’s a rare treat to make money faster than you can spend it. However, much of this work may well fund a late-summer trip to Italy. Stay tuned.

All for now.

Autumn Returns

The air chilled yesterday, enough to encourage me to build the first fire of the season. The dried ash logs burned slowly and cleanly; the flames danced across the living room as the popping wood randomly punctuated my nocturnal musings. The glass of Bunnahabbain — neat, double — helped.

I awoke to a bedroom cold enough to numb my fingers as I checked messages on my phone. I live in a century-old house in the South Hill neighborhood — and my bedroom probably used to be a solarium:  Large windows along the front and back, French doors leading into the living room and another set to the three-season porch, a huge brick fireplace along the outer wall, and burnt orange terra-cotta floor tiles with no basement beneath. It gets cold in there. Delightfully, wickedly cold.

The leaves are just beginning to turn. I’ve pulled out the sweaters and fetched the blankets from the closet and washed my house coat.

I love autumn. The season prompts fond memories of my childhood — of harvesting grapes and apples and corn with my grandfather, of trick-or-treating with Steven and the gang, of burning leaves in the back yard, of closing the pool and making sure we had enough sawdust and hay for the horses for the winter, of getting ready for the massive Thanksgiving feast prepared by my grandmother that served as the official kick-off to the extended holiday season.

Autumn tugs at the corners of your soul, nagging you to recollect yourself and prepare for the summer to come. The die-off of foliage and insects directs one’s thoughts to Last Things, a seasonal counterpoint to the new spring of hope that arrives in Michigan every April. Marks a perfect opportunity to sit in the waning sun with Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life. Preferably with a glass of port and the time to practice lectio divina.

Humans need seasonality. One benefit of being Catholic and residing in Michigan is that both physically and spiritually, the annual calendar divides into defined periods of rebirth (spring/Easter), living (summer/ordinary time), reflecting (autumn/Advent) and preparing to do it all again (winter/Christmas/Lent). The liturgical calendar and the weather collaborate to interrupt the monotony of daily life.

October has, by happy coincidence, turned into my Deciding Month these last few years. It’s my time to think about what I want the new year to bring, and to lay the framework for how I’m going to make it happen. Some years, the planning is more effective than others — 2011 was a happy year, thanks to more prudent planning in 2010 — but the thought of using the winter months to put your head down and do the heavy lifting to be ready to flower the following spring makes a lot of sense to me.  Magical thinking though it may be, the prospect of emerging from a cocoon in the spring as a new, improved person exerts a powerful tug on my imagination. But the metamorphosis occurs during the hard, quiet work of winter — time to improve yourself on the sly while focusing outwardly on the relentless progression of Things to Celebrate that punctuate the frigid months like the tolling of a bell.

Autumn has returned. Hallelujah.

Reflections on a Return from Reed City

Last Friday, I spent nearly two hours at my hospital’s Reed City location to meet with two of my honored colleagues. The meeting was pleasant, and the trip there was uneventful. Reed City is about 60 miles north of me, and the hospital is a stone’s throw away from the US-131/US-10 interchange.

I took the scenic route home. I drove US-10 from Reed City to Baldwin, a village of about 1,100 people and the seat of Lake County. Baldwin is 17 miles due west of Reed City along US-10, and located in the middle of the Manistee National Forest. At Baldwin, I turned south and followed M-37 all the way back into Grand Rapids, a journey of about 75 miles, meandering through White Cloud, Newaygo, Grant and Sparta before hitting Comstock Park and the northernmost outer-ring suburbs of the Grand Rapids metro area.

The trek from Reed City back to Grand Rapids, on a cool but sunny early-spring day, prompted reflection of the sights I saw along the way. A few highlights stand out.

First, I was pleasantly surprised to see signs advertising the North County National Scenic Trail. The NCT stretches more than 4,000 miles, from eastern New York into North Dakota and passing through Michigan; the NCT’s advocacy association is actually headquartered in nearby Lowell, Mich. I’m going to have to do some exploring this summer.

Second, the visual appeal of mid-Michigan is unparalleled. A simple 100-mile journey included river crossings, drives through pine forests, cruises through grasslands, flat stretches, hilly stretches and enough natural beauty to warm the most frigid of souls.

Third, the ongoing human depopulation is on full display. On US-10 in particular, entire stretches of ramshackle houses were boarded up, abandoned, or with rusty “bank-owned” sale signs out front. A majority of the houses between Reed City and Baldwin stood vacant. Mobile homes with distinct 1960s design characteristics seeded the roadway, accompanied by rusty cars, broken windows, and the long-abandoned stone foundations of large barns.

Fourth, the population development between White Cloud and Sparta is a study in contrasts. Large McMansions pop up at random, in the middle of nowhere; tidy little houses stand betwixt boarded-up farmhouses; towns that no longer exist, with commercial properties that haven’t seen a patron in decades, dot the landscape.

Part of me wonders: What might some of these places been like in their heyday? I drove through Brohman, part of Merrill Township in Newaygo County. Brohman is an “unincorporated community” in a township with a population of less than 600 in the 2000 census and a median income of just over $22,000. Yet Brohman, as run-down as any Nevada ghost town, boasts of a large, vacant-looking two-story brick building with the name “Brohman Town Hall” prominently affixed to its front, with a long-dormant railroad track beside it. What might Brohman have been like 50 years ago? A century ago? Was Brohman a bustling little rural town when the town hall was built at the turn of the 20th century? Did people go to school there, attend church there, and engage in the various accoutrements of local civic pride? What caused the town to die? Will any trace remain 50 years hence?

The big news of the 2010 census is that Michigan is the only state to have lost population. A minuscule percentage, to be sure, and concentrated in the Detroit area. Yet as I drive the rural byways — not just of west-central Michigan, but also along Grand River Drive from Grand Rapids to Lansing — I see signs of decay everywhere. Abandoned homes, mobile homes with plywood and tarps for repair, rusty homes, shuttered businesses.

And I wonder. What where these places like in their prime, and why did they decline?

Election Review: We Remembered November, Now What?

The Republican Governors Association encouraged us to remember November. We listened; after the midterm elections, the GOP picked up more than 60 seats in the House of Representatives, six seats in the U.S. Senate, a majority of governorships, a majority of statehouses, and — for the first time since the 1920s — an absolute majority of state legislators.

In Michigan, the GOP kept the offices of Attorney General and Secretary of State and, in a landslide, our “tough nerd” Rick Snyder reclaimed the Governor’s mansion for the first time since John Engler. In addition, Republicans took the state House, picked up two U.S. House seats, and earned a majority-conservative state Supreme Court. The Republicans have a solid lock on all three branches of state government and a majority of the state’s Congressmen (nine of 16). The lone ranking Democrats are the state’s two U.S. Senators, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow. And lest we forget, Michigan had a Republican Senator as recently as 2000, when Spencer Abraham — a good Senator but weak campaigner — lost his re-election bid to “Liberal Debbie.”

So now what?

On a national level, the House Republicans are sounding the best possible note. No triumphalism. No gloating. No elephants parading down Pennsylvania Avenue. Instead, John Boehner is making all the right moves, opening the door to compromise but making it clear that the major mandate the GOP possesses is to fix the problems that originated in Democratic profligacy. Marco Rubio’s victory speech was dead on — the GOP didn’t get a resounding endorsement, it got probation. The next two years will decide whether this probation is eligible for early termination or whether the Elephant goes back into solitary confinement.

On a state level, I sincerely hope that Rick Snyder’s election signifies a change of tone within the state GOP. Michigan is an easy win for Republicans who carry the Reagan Democrat banner, so the state party’s decade-long push for hardcore conservative candidates has been simply wrong-headed, and prior election results proved it. Don’t misunderstand; I want a solid conservative victory. But when the state still has strong UAW membership, conservatism must be taught, not imposed by fiat. The Michigan Republicans have not been up to the educational task these last few years. Ron Weiser’s tenure as chairman has been better, but the whole enterprise still feels a bit inbred and tone-deaf.

Nowhere does the dysfunction of Michigan Republicans play out more clearly than in Kent County. Access is circumscribed unless you have a membership to an Ada country club, or so it seems. There is something significant that this cycle, my three phone calls and emails to the county GOP never merited even a form response, yet both Hoekstra’s primary and Snyder’s gubernatorial campaigns eagerly contacted me to help. This is a sharp contrast to my experiences in Kalamazoo County, where a friend and I were eagerly welcomed into the Executive Committee during our undergrad days as officers at the WMU College Republicans, and my brief stay in Ottawa County, where the chairman asked me to coordinate youth activities for the county party. There are too many big-name, big-dollar fish in Kent County to turn it into anything other than an exclusive club, and that’s a damned shame. As long as the Kent County GOP remains the preserve of the elite, opportunities to expand the Republican message will surely be missed.

Of course, navel gazing gets us only so far. The midterm results suggest a few points worth considering:

  1. Republicans should keep in mind that this election was a referendum on Democratic incompetence and over-reach, and not a rousing endorsement of  a specifically Republican platform. Rubio is right: The GOP is on probation, and public-opinion polling supports this perspective.
  2. America is a center-right country. The ideals of the Tea Party resonate strongly with a disaffected mass in the center and right. Republicans should take care to incorporate Tea Party ideas — which, in fairness, are overwhelmingly conservative principles — into the GOP governing paradigm. Why? To avoid a third-party challenge in 2012 that would almost certainly restore the Democrats to power. We cannot risk a second Obama term because we couldn’t stop the next Ross Perot from grabbing a chunk of the disaffected electorate.
  3. The GOP owns Michigan. We must not fail in effecting the transition from a manufacturing economy. Snyder is saying the right things about innovation. We must work very hard to deliver on his promises if we want Michigan’s electoral votes credit the GOP presidential nominee in 2012. In particular, we need a new message to help bring rank-and-file union members back into the GOP.
  4. Republicans across the board need to do a much better job at candidate recruiting, starting at the local level. Justin Amash, the newly elected Congressman from the 3rd District, is a great example of the worst possible candidate earning the nomination. State Sen. Bill Hardiman and Kent County leader Steve Heacock split the “adult” vote in the primary, leaving Amash — a 30-something bomb-thrower who had his state House seat purchased for him by his parents — grabbing the nomination. But Amash, besides his lack of qualification, doesn’t speak to the tenor of Kent County. Amash would fit better in a solidly Republican district; I fear that in coming years, this seat will become vulnerable to takeover by a center-right (instead of far-right) candidate. I hope the Congressman-Elect will pay careful attention to why Ehlers, Henry and Ford did so well here, and why Kent County is not a solidly red county. And don’t get me started on Christine O’Donnell, Joe Miller and Sharron Angle.
  5. Republicans at all level, while retaining their humility about their probationary status, must also govern like conservatives. Center-left candidates were tossed out on their asses all across America. Although some compromise will doubtless be necessary from a purely political standpoint, Republicans simply cannot tax, spend and lobby their way to indolence like they did earlier this decade.

The next two years will be interesting.

Vote Hoekstra, Vote Early, Vote Often

As the political campaign season heats up, Michigan prepares for its primary election. The major race to watch, state-wide, is for the governorship, which is due this cycle. Democrat Jennifer Granholm is term-limited out, and Lt. Gov. John Cherry declined to run. Front-runners are emerging in both parties; Lansing mayor Virg Bernero and Speaker of the House Andy Dillon lead the Democratic ballot. On the Republican side, there are five credible candidates: Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard, Attorney General Mike Cox, state Sen. Tom George, U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra, and Gateway mogul Rick Snyder.

So far this race, on the GOP side, looks like a close fight between Cox and Hoekstra. Cox has been aiming for the gubernatorial nod since his run for A.G. — and some of his practices (e.g., adding me to his political email list when I signed up through the state for his official AG email alerts) seem shady in the typical office-seeking vein. Word on the street, among Lansing veterans, is that Cox is ambitious, foul-mouthed and thin-skinned. He suffered a recent high-profile setback when he tried to join the state lawsuits against Obamacare only to be publicly slapped down by Granholm (herself, a two-term state A.G.).

The other candidates have their sundry charms. George is a solid guy but he has relatively limited name recognition and access to funds. Bouchard peaked early; he tapped Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land to serve as his No. 2, although doing so raised the usual Detroit/Outstate argument that still rankles the typical Grand Rapids sense of importance, and the Land selection proved to be not quite as powerful as Bouchard may have hoped. And Snyder? He is effectively painting himself as the candidate of the small-business outsider, and he has money, but not a lot of political experience. That may work for him in this anti-incumbent year — but maybe not, with the GOP grassroots that turns out for the primaries and the Tea Party trying to form its own recognized party organization.

I think the best choice for Michigan this year is Pete Hoekstra. The congressman has held powerful leadership roles in Washington, including most notably as a former chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, and he has been a reliably conservative voice that is rare for being sane and restrained as well as thoughtful. His emphasis on job creation, in particular, deserves careful consideration.

The proof of any candidate’s mettle is in the quality of his support staff. Hoekstra’s campaign is one of the few where I volunteered to help and actually got a real, non-form-generated response from someone who paid attention to what I wrote in my introductory email. Contrast that to the default response of Kent County Republicans, who won’t answer no matter what you do.

Elections matter. The current state of the political climate in Washington is proof of that. This August, Michigan Republicans have a choice — we can support a neophyte businessman, a too-eager attorney general, a sheriff, a little-known state senator, or … Pete Hoekstra.

Join me in supporting Michigan families and Michigan jobs by supporting Pete Hoekstra for governor!