I've been putting this off mostly because there's so much to say about the past couple of days. So, this is mostly random thoughts as I try to hit as many observations as possible of what has taken place and not delay this any further. I will also be breaking this up into sections since I rambled on a bit and felt it was too long for one post (I'll post my comments on the statewide contests and the local Congressional races in a little while).
Charlton Park millage defeat– It was fairly obvious this one was going down again. The "Friends" of the park didn't mount much of a campaign other than fear tactics about shutting the park and telling voters how stupid we are for not "getting it." To anyone paying attention, it seems pretty obvious that the old gang reaped what they sewed when they ousted the park director and anyone else that wasn't a team player. They drove out several large events that gave the public a reason to use and visit the park and be reminded of its charm — something which might have prompted a few more "yes" votes.
What is needed now is input from the "no" crowd, some sensible reforms, new faces & ideas and a charm offensive that reminds voters of why it's important to Barry County to maintain this great educational tool, link to our past and potentially valuable part of a tourist economy. The new board must enact reforms, reinstill confidence among the voters and put on a charm offensive that restores the understanding among voters about why they chose to help support this resource in the past.
County Board of Commissioners– It's pretty amazing to see the change that has taken over the board over the past two years and I'm pretty confident that we've got a better group of commissioners than we've had for a while. I hope they ask questions, seek input and restore confidence that government can work for its citizens.
I had hoped we could have ended up with at least one Democrat on the board just for the simple fact that having a more relevant Democratic Party in Barry County politics can only help the people achieve better results from their government. Results were encouraging for local Democrats, yet there were only three candidates, none of which were able to crack the 40% threshold due to various dynamics in each of those races. This was an opportunity that somehow slipped away. The Dems must make a commitment to contest every single race and even have a minimum of one contested primary. If they can offer quality candidates at the county level they might even leverage those results in building a party that challenges at higher levels. Otherwise, the Barry County Democratic Party teeters on the brink of continued irrelevancy, a pattern for almost 25 years. This party needs new, more energetic and younger faces.
One of the important things to watch in the county board to be sworn in in January is whether this group can work together effectively. Mike Callton, or whoever ends up as chairman (and how sad this is the first time in over a decade there has not been one woman on the county board), is bound to have their hands full herding the feral cats who may resent Callton's perceived aspirations for higher office. We have a few board members willing to follow but we also have a few that might wander off the reservation and make life rough for the person who needs to show some leadership and a track record when future elections come ‘round. We also have the threat that the “good ole boys” will surely have some new and maybe even some old faces run in two years and try to claw their way back into power. If this board fails to meet its responsibilities to the people who voted for change they may not occupy their chairs for long.
State Rep. & Senate– Suzzette Royston's campaign was able to throw a scare into Pincushion Patty in Eaton County, but it was the same old story in Barry and Allegan. Why didn't she hit Birkholz hard on the casino in Allegan County? One problem is that in a one- party region it's hard to find qualified people from the opposition party willing to take on a quixotic campaign and as long as the long shot odds of winning deter qualified candidates, we will continue to see failure to get positive results, which only creates a perpetual cycle of more defeats.
Doug Kalnbach eclipsed 40 percent in Barry County, which perhaps shows the way for local Democrats — by offering voters a blue collar working class candidate with appeal to constituencies that are typically Republican or don't vote in large numbers (hunters and bikers) while offering enough red meat on economic issues to maintain Democratic support, Democrats could continue to make gains and in another cycle or two compete at the state rep level. Calley performed below the "baseline" number of Republican voters, which showed that some people wished to have a better alternative.