Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Catch Up On Your West Michigan Politics Reading!

Center for Michigan highlights Holland in story about Michigan being unwelcoming

Profile of possible State House candidate Jose Gomez (district looks different because of redistricting)

Profile of likely Ottawa County 58th District Court candidate David Rhem

Interview with "Boycott Holland Until Love is Equal" spokesman Drew Stoppels

Political Circus Coming to Holland

Preview of Holland Gay Rights Vote (we got it wrong)

Meekhof Recall Misguided: Commentary

Meekhof Recall Rebuked, Meekhof solicits funds

Boycott Group Seeks a Re-Vote by Holland City Council-NOT a Referendum by Holland Voters

West Michigan Politics Talks to "Boycott Holland Until Love is Equal" Spokesman Drew Stoppels

The group boycotting Holland over gay rights issues knows exactly what they want-they just don't know which road they'll take to get there.

"Boycott is a very strong word, a word that conveys emotion," Drew Stoppels, spokesman for "Boycott Holland until love is =" told West Michigan Politics. "As we've moved on, their has been discussion about possibly reforming the language."

Stoppels also said the group will likely be emphasizing the second half of their name, "Until Love is =," rather than the part about boycotting Holland.

Holland City Council voted 5-4 on June 17 to reject a measure providing protections for sexual orientation and gender identity under Holland law.

Stoppels said the group is not formally connected with any others, such as "Holland Is Ready."

WMP asked Stoppels what message a boycott sends to undecided Holland voters who might support gay rights but don't think government can help, or folks who look at the situation and believe the group is forcing businesses who might want to stay out of the debate altogether-into a bad situation.

"Let's take a step back," Stoppels said. "Holland City Council can't take a stand and not expect a backlash. This is a proper reaction to Holland City Council's 5-4 vote. Much of the business community supports it-Herman Miller, Hayworth-we want to use this to influence a re-vote by council. Here's what I say to undecided voters: it has to pass. Other people in the city are being effected-lost jobs, lost opportunities. A group of people are being discriminated against and their are no protections for them."

Trying to focus on a re-vote and avoiding a referendum is an interesting strategy.

Stoppels doesn't believe a re-vote would give Holland a perception they can be held hostage by boycotts and political groups.

"The perception would be good," Stoppels said. "(The perception would be) that Holland is welcoming of everyone and respectful of all its citizens."

Stoppels doesn't foresee another cliffhanging vote.

"We do not just want a fifth vote," Stoppels said. "We want it to pass in a re-vote by two or three votes."

Today, the Center for Michigan highlighted Holland in its article "Michigan has schizophrenic response to same-sex relationships."

Stoppels believes perceptions of Holland after the vote will impact a possible second look by council.

"In the face of (gay marriage being passed in) New York and other successes, the vote gives the appearance that Holland is a backwards part of the country," Stoppels said. "That's gonna sway votes."

Apparently the infamous "Dutch Mafia" does exist: Stoppels says much is a foot behind closed doors among Holland's power players.

"Their are behind the scenes negotiations happening that we are influencing," Stoppels said. "Their was behind the scenes discussion before the vote as well, where certain council members were threatened politically by some of Holland's big name families."

If Holland City Council re-votes, it will surely include a religious exemption. WMP asked Stoppels how he feels about that fact.

"I can see the argument to a certain extent," Stoppels said. "Where does it end though? Are you going to exempt black people? Jews? Women?"

Stoppels recognizes the right of religious people to be included in the discussion, but has little patience for religious organizations.

"Religious institutions are tax exempt," Stoppels said. "They need to stay out of the political debate. Either pay taxes or stay out of it."

WMP asked why Saugatuck isn't being boycotted over its rejection of a pro gay sex-ed video.

"Our focus is this issue-the employment and housing vote in Holland," Stoppels said.

Check out West Michigan Politics other coverage on this issue:

Political Circus Coming to Holland

Previewing Tonight's City Council Vote

Center for Michigan Highlights Holland In Article On Michigan Gaining an "Unwelcoming Reputation"


Holland is featured in the CFM's latest piece:

 "In Holland, the city council’s recent decision to omit sexual orientation and gender identity from its anti-discrimination policies has drawn calls for a downtown boycott and criticism from businesses, reports the Grand Rapids Press.  Major area employers such as Herman Miller – a perennial designee in Fortune’s ‘100 Best Places to Work’ ranking — and Haworth had supported the change to the anti-discrimination policy; both firms offer benefits to workers’ same-sex partners.

“We live in a multicultural world and marketplace,” Herman Miller spokesman Mark Schurman told the Grand Rapids Press. “Just as our customers reflect a wider world, we believe our business has to reflect that as well in the people and talent we attract and retain to serve those customers.”

Overt statements such as Herman Miller’s are uncommon among Michigan businesses, which have been fairly mum on the state’s legal and political gyrations relative to same-sex policies — despite a good showing by the state’s for-profit employers when it comes to human resources policies concerning the LGBT communities.

“There haven’t been a whole lot of for-profit business leaders who have spoken out,’ said Michael Gregor, communications director for Equality Michigan. And, he noted, the disconnect between LGBT-friendly employment policies and lack of marriage rights for gays erodes Michigan’s appeal.
“It’s a bit of a conflict when you have corporations here that offer really good policies, but the state doesn’t recognize your relationship,” Gregor said.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

2012 Mini Profiles-David Rhem, Ottawa County 58th District Court

Considering how hard David Rhem worked for the judicial election in 2010, we have no doubt his name will be before Ottawa County voters again as a choice for judge, and 2012 is as good of time as any.

With the retirement of 58th District Court Judge Richard Kloote after more than thirty years on the bench, expect an interesting fight ahead to replace a legend in Ottawa County jurisprudence.

Rhem quit his job at the prestigous Grand Rapids law firm Varnum to campaign in 2010.

And campaign he did.
Rhem ran one of the hardest working campaigns in recent memory in Ottawa County, pulling no punches in his efforts to become a judge on Ottawa County's 20th Circuit Court. Executive Ottawa County Assistant District Attorney Kent Engle beat Rhem out however, taking in 40,352 votes to Rhem's 27,085.

Rhem finished second in the August primary to Engle, and easily beat the third person in the race, Grand Haven lawyer Chris Houghtaling. Engle had 49%, Rhem 39%, Houghtaling, 11%.

After winning in August, Rhem campaigned heavily in Georgetown Township and around Holland, utilizing his status as a Hope alum. He lives in Spring Lake, and has extensive ties with the Grand Haven/Spring Lake/Ferrysburg area.

 The campaign was also refreshingly positive. Instead of negative attacks and cutting down his opponent, Rhem kept it mostly clean and positive-as did Engle. A couple of Rhem's surrogates took some cheap shots in the race's final days, but nothing too major.

After all the work he put in the 2010 race, Rhem is more familiar than ever with what tweaks need to be made in his campaign infrastructure to bring him over the top this time. Rhem will be a top tier candidate regardless if the race gets crowded, and could be the race's frontrunner depending on how the rest of the field develops. If someone from the Ottawa County Prosecutor's Office vies for Kloote's spot, that person and Rhem would likely advance from the August primary and duke it out until November.

Rhem now works at Grand Haven's Scholten Fant. That fact doesn't hurt him-many of Ottawa County's judges worked for the firm at one time.

Will someone from the Ottawa County Prosecutor's office contend for the seat? Will Chris Houghtaling run again? WMP will update you as we know more. Remeber, Rhem's not officially in, he may not run in 2012. However, WMP would bet (for bragging rights only of course) he runs again, and with an opportunity to replace a staple like Judge Kloote, Rhem just might not be able to resist.

A little bit about Rhem, via the Varnum press release when he announced his candidacy:

"Rhem was born in Holland, Michigan and grew up in Spring Lake, Michigan. He completed his undergraduate degree at Hope College and went to Washington D.C. for law school, returning to Michigan after graduation. Rhem has extensive community service in Ottawa County, including serving as president of the Spring Lake Rotary Club, and being a founding board member and president of the Lakeshore Ethnic Diversity Alliance (LEDA) from 1999-2003. He played an instrumental role in LEDA's planning and presentation of the Ottawa Area Summits on Racism held at Hope College.
Rhem currently serves as Vice President of the Ottawa County Bar Association, and is on the Board of Directors of Evergreen Village, a senior citizen housing community in Spring Lake. Rhem has also received many honors and awards during his time with Varnum. He was listed in Best Lawyers in America in 2008, 2009 and 2010 and was also rated in the Top Michigan Lawyers by the Detroit News"

Rhem's Facebook Page for his 2010 run: CLICK HERE

Rhem's LinkedIn: CLICK HERE


Engle Defeats Rhem in Circuit Court Race

Engle, Rhem Advance to November

Varnum Press Release on Rhem Candidacy

David Rhem

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Meekhof Recall Denied, Senator Seeks Donations

CLICK HERE: Meekhof's website asking for donations

 State Senator Arlan Meekhof was quick to capitalize on the denial of recall papers filed by Spring Lake man Jason Collins.

Just a few hours after the petition language was rejected by Ottawa County's Election Commission for being unclear, Meekhof posted this on his Facebook fan page:

"Today the Ottawa County Election Commission ruled that the recall petition against me was insufficient. But the law says that the person trying to recall me gets as many tries to create a sufficient petition as he needs. Would you please consider making a small donation of $50 or $25 to help fight off this recall attempt? Click the link below to donate online. Thank you!"

He also has a webpage set up for donations that displays the following message:

On June 7, formal papers were filed requesting for a recall petition. This formally began the process for a recall election against me. On June 21, the first attempt for approval of the petition was denied. I need your help. There will be another attempt at approving language for a petition. Please consider contributing $10, $25, or $50 to help my campaign. I appreciate your support. Together, we can ensure that Michigan returns to prosperity.

WMP opined yesterday that the Meekhof recall is severely misguided. Purely political recalls demean democracy and distract from governing. Apparently the cliche of making lemonade out of lemons is holding true for Senator Meekhof.

State Senator Arlan Meekhof

Gay Rights Issues in Holland Far From Over

WMP ate humble pie after last week's vote by the Holland City Council on a controversial gay rights measure. We thought it would pass 5-4, it was in fact defeated 5-4.

In an email with a Holland Council member after the vote, we said the five hour meeting and hundreds of people who attended would look like a picnic compared to the insanity that was coming.

That part we did get right. The "circus" is coming to Holland. Political circus that is.

The folks upset with the vote are now organizing a boycott of all things Holland, Michigan. The group, "I'm boycotting Holland (MI) until love is =" thought a boycott would be the best way to have an impact, according to WZZM 13 News.

The group is exempting businesses who supported the measure and trying to identify just who those businesses are via email and the Internet.

Also in the works: a ballot measure that will put the issue in front of Holland's voters. Rumor has it however that a religious exemption wouldn't be included in the language, essentially removing any chance of getting Holland's religious institutions to support the proposition.

The Holland Reformed Church Classis boldly SUPPORTED the measure before council, issuing the following statement leading up to the vote:

"We are aware of the current discussion in our community surrounding the consideration of amending a civil rights ordinance in the City of Holland. In the midst of this atmosphere, the Holland Classis offers this statement: The position of the Reformed Church in America is that the denial of human and civil rights based on sexual identity is inconsistent with the biblical witness and Reformed theology*. In faithfulness to this position, the Holland Classis expresses its support for every civil rights ordinance that affirms the value and dignity of each person. In the midst of many theological, political, and social differences, valuing civil rights for all serves the Holland community well. We offer this statement with conviction and humility, as we seek to be faithful to God and to serve our community with gratitude and joy.

While we cannot affirm homosexual behavior, at the same time we are convinced that the denial of human and civil rights to homosexuals is inconsistent with the biblical witness and Reformed theology (Minutes of General Synod 1978: 233-239)."

The boycott and ballot drive seem to be completely separate entities for now. Plus-how can you campaign for your position in Holland if you're boycotting it?

Controversial leader of the American Family Association Gary Glenn was quick to applaud Mayor Dykstra and the majority of Holland City Council in a press release:

“Mayor Dykstra and the city council were right to have the courage to reject demands by homosexual activists and their allies for this discriminatory ordinance. In other cities and states, these so-called ‘sexual orientation’ laws have proven to themselves be discriminatory, being used to discriminate against and punish individual Christians, strip churches of their tax-exempt status, punish Christian business owners, and discriminate against and violate the civil rights and religious freedom of cherished community groups such as the Boy Scouts, Salvation Army, and Catholic Charities who refuse to endanger children by endorsing homosexual activists’ political agenda.”

Glenn also says he will help anyone who runs against Councilmembers who supported the measure. Shawn Miller, who was appointed, didn't run for the seat, so that's open. Jay Peters, the measures most vocal supporter on council, is in a heated three way primary, but don't look for this issue to cost him re-election in Holland's "Liberal Second Ward." The issue may not cost him votes, but it could give his opponents some volunteers and cash, making the race a lot more interesting. Two others are up for re-election, VandeVusse and Hoekstra, but they are unopposed and a write-in candidate would be required.

Friday, we will weigh in on how a campaign to pass the ordinance via the electorate might want to operate if it hopes to attain the magic number: 50%+1 vote.

Glenn opined that any ballot measure would fail, citing 64% of Hollanders supported the 2004 "Marriage Amendment" that banned gay marriages and civil unions in Michigan. That was 2004 however, concerned marriage, and didn't have the support of Holland's Reformed Church Classis. This measure's original language did, concerns employment and housing, and 2011's politics are different than 2004's.Until the language that would go before voters is finalized, it's awfully hard to predict how Holland will vote.

 First picture: a poster from supporters of the gay rights measure
 Second picture: Holland Mayor Kurt Dykstra
 Third picture: American Family Association Michigan President Gary Glenn

Monday, June 20, 2011

Meekhof Recall Misguided

A Spring Lake man named Jason Collins is attempting to recall State Senator Arlan Meekhof for supporting Governor Rick Snyder's budget proposal. He is also trying to recall Snyder himself. Meekhof won in November 2010 by around 55%, Snyder won by around 18%.

WMP believes the recall is severely misguided.

In early 2010, it appeared that then State Rep. Arlan Meekhof would be heading to the State Senate without any major competition. The top tier of rumored candidates, ex State Rep. Barb VanderVeen, and Ottawa County Clerk Dan Kreuger, hadn't jumped in and it did not appear as if they were going to.

Then in March, enter Brett VanderKamp, co-founder of the New Holland Brewing Company in Holland. Armed with Kreuger as campaign treasurer, VanderKamp threw his hat in the race and gave voters a real alternative to Meekhof.

VanderKamp ran an impressive campaign that might well have beat Meekhof had it gotten more aggressive earlier in the campaign season. Meekhof ended up with 25,901 votes to VanderKamp's 20,506. A third opponent, Tim O'Donnell, received just over 4,000 votes.

Meekhof's Democratic opponent John Chester was M.I.A. throughout the entire campaign. Never returned media inquiries. Never participated in a debate or forum. Had no social media operations. Nothing. The only campaign Mr. Chester had was his name on the ballot line. For an Ottawa County Democratic Party working very hard to compete where possible after impressive showings in 2008, Chester was a disaster of a candidate.

These were the times to take on Arlan Meekhof-August and November 2010. Even if Mr. VanderKamp had won, he would have likely voted for the Snyder budget, and even if Chester had tried to run a campaign, he would not have been able to beat Meekhof or VanderKamp.

Elections matter-they have real consequences. Just because you're mad you lost an election shouldn't give you license to recall the person who just destroyed you at the polls. Michigan's lax recall rules however make this a frequent occurrence.

Recalls for purely political purposes (such as these of Snyder and Meekhof) create a circus like atmosphere that distracts from governing and demean the democratic process. They do help the recall organizers get some ink and TV time though.

Mr. Collins would do well to withdraw his recall petition at tomorrow's clarity hearing and focus his efforts on 2012 local and State House elections. Even if Collins collected the 24,000 signatures, Ottawa County won't vote to recall Meekhof. Even if they did-his replacement would still fundamentally share Meekhof's views and would also probably vote for the Snyder budget. Would Collins try to recall Meekhof's replacement too?


GH Tribune on Meekhof Recall

Sentinel: VanderKamp Calls for Meekhof to Withdraw

MLive: West Michigan Republicans Breeze to Victory

State Senator Arlan Meekhof (R) Olive Township, Ottawa County

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Holland Gay Rights Measure Likely to Pass: Previewing tonight's vote

After over a year of heated debate, the Holland City Council will vote tonight on a measure that would amend the city's non-discrimination policy in housing and employment to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

Changes would come to Holland's Fair Housing Ordinance, the Human Relations Ordinance, and Equal Opportunity policy.

The Human Relations Commission in Holland recommended the change unanimously to Council in October 2010.

The issue was brought to city leaders by local chaplain Bill Freeman after Dustin Lance Black, an Oscar award winning screenplay writer, was banned from speaking at Hope College. Black later relocated to the Park Theater for a screening of the movie "Milk" and discussion on gay issues. Regardless if the changes pass or not, Hope is a private religious institution and therefore exempt.

Even the Holland Reformed Church of America Classis has thrown its support behind the measure.

"We are aware of the current discussion in our community surrounding the consideration of amending a civil rights ordinance in the City of Holland. In the midst of this atmosphere, the Holland Classis offers this statement: The position of the Reformed Church in America is that the denial of human and civil rights based on sexual identity is inconsistent with the biblical witness and Reformed theology*. In faithfulness to this position, the Holland Classis expresses its support for every civil rights ordinance that affirms the value and dignity of each person. In the midst of many theological, political, and social differences, valuing civil rights for all serves the Holland community well. We offer this statement with conviction and humility, as we seek to be faithful to God and to serve our community with gratitude and joy.

While we cannot affirm homosexual behavior, at the same time we are convinced that the denial of human and civil rights to homosexuals is inconsistent with the biblical witness and Reformed theology (Minutes of General Synod 1978: 233-239)."


Jay Peters: The only publicly confirmed yes vote, according to the Holland Sentinel.

Shawn Miller: Miller was recently appointed this spring, replacing councilman Jerome Thomas-Kobes. Mr. Miller seems to have moderate/libertarian tendencies. “I’m really giving this a tremendous amount of consideration,” Miller told the Sentinel. “I don’t want anyone to be or feel discriminated against. But I don’t think an ordinance will help that.”

Brian Burch: Elected in 2009, Burch, like Miller, has a moderate/libertarian side. He has been vocal about the need to keep young people in Holland and in Michigan. Burch clearly thinks an awful lot about the issues, and he has a promising future in Holland.

David Hoekstra: Leaning towards a yes vote, according to the Holland Sentinel.

Nancy DeBoer: Labels herself an "independent conservative," told the Sentinel: “I’m still listening and thinking and pondering and praying and talking to people.”

Myron Tretheway: Questions the need for the measure.

Kurt D. Dykstra, Mayor: Mayor Dykstra has the political capital to vote yes, but will he spend it? Dykstra voted not to send the issue to the HRC for a review, saying it should be a state or national issue. Mayor Dykstra is a dynamic leader who has been lauded for how available he is to Holland residents. He holds regular office hours, has a blog, communicates on Facebook and Twitter, and basically pulls out all the stops trying to interact with his constituents. He balances his Mayoral duties with being a partner at the law firm Warner Norcross and Judd, among other things he is involved in. Mayor Dykstra is not afraid to take risks, but he will also undoubtedly be in contention for higher office one day, and this is a watershed moment for him.

Todd Whiteman: thinks it should be up to a vote of the people, says Holland is evenly divided

Robert Vande Vusse: “In my 20 years on council, it’s probably the most input I’ve gotten on any topic,” he told the Sentinel. His constituents also are about evenly split, maybe a few more in favor than against, he also told the paper.


This vote is extremely tough to call, but WMP will take a shot.

Jay Peters is a confirmed yes. David Hoekstra is a confirmed "leaning yes.", Robert VandeVusse, because his constituents are slightly more in favor than against, and given his moderate politics, is in our estimation is a yes vote. Brian Burch, council's youngest member, will vote in favor of the measure to insure Holland is looked to as a place young people want to come, and for those already here- stay here.

Voting against: Todd Whiteman, who doesn't think it should be up to council, is a likely no vote. Myron Tretheway, who doesn't see the need for the measure, is also a likely no vote.

Miller is a complete coin-flip. For him, the question will be "can government help in this situation?" Given that empirical evidence, as referenced in the Grand Raids Press editorial, shows cities without protections for gays have more instances of discrimination than those without, we think Miller will come down as a yes vote. Miller is big on individual liberty, and if this measure will help uphold the liberty of some of Holland's citizens, Miller won't look at the issue as an inappropriate role for government. Just the opposite-the measure reasonably uses government to attempt to insure the liberty of Holland's gay residents.

Mayor Dykstra never wanted to vote on this, saying it was a national/state issue. Given that the Reformed Church of America's support of this measure can give him "cover" from those unhappy with his vote (and who would try to use it against him in a run for higher office) we think Mayor Dykstra will vote yes. Dykstra is an innovative leader who works extremely hard attempting to move Holland forward on all fronts. His political future won't be defined by this vote.

Nancy DeBoer will decide at the end of the day to vote no.

The above predictions would leave us at a vote of 6-3 in favor of the measure. Even if Miller ended up voting no, the measure would still pass 5-4. We believe that of Dykstra/Burch/Miller it is very possible one might vote against, but we would be quite surprised if two out of those three voted no. This is a bold prediction, but we are ready for plenty of humble pie if we're wrong.