Sunday, November 09, 2008

Analysis: Kalamazoo

Out of all the election results in Kalamazoo County, one lesson stands out. If you want to win an office, you should work for it.

Shorter: Campaign, fools!

In 2006, the GOP lost two seats on the county commission. Bob Brink and Joe VanBruggen were in two tough districts. Both had won fairly close reelections in 2004, a good year for the GOP. Brink's opponent was in jail, and he only won by five points. Despite this, Brink's entire 2006 campaign consisted of putting a few signs in vacant lots the night before the election. VanBruggen did somewhat more, but not enough, and both lost.

Several other Republicans were caught napping. State Rep. Jack Hoogendyk was barely reelected. County commissioners Tom Drabik and Jeff Balkema also nearly lost.

See the local results here: Kalamazoo Election Results

In 2008, you'd think that candidates would heed the lessons of 2006. Some did, but some did not. There was ample reason to think that 2008 would be a tough year for Republicans. Many races either were close in 2006 or were in very vulnerable jurisdictions.

The most significant local loss was the Sheriff. Michael Anderson is both a good and decent man and a good Sheriff. None of this should be taken against him personally. But his example must serve as a warning to others. Sheriff Anderson did very little to campaign. In 2004, when he first ran for election, his opponent was a joke who did not campaign. In a good Republican year, he cruised to victory. But this year, the Sheriff had a serious opponent who campaigned hard. The Sheriff lost by seven points.

The Gazette wrote a long article on the race without ever mentioning this. They did identify some contributing factors, however. The sheriff's department employee union was unhappy due to the lack of progress in their contract negotiations. Some townships were unhappy with response times, but they were unwilling to pay for more patrols. Not mentioned by the Gazette is that Fuller ran against raising taxes for a new jail, which Anderson supported. It isn't clear what effect this had on the outcome.

The other countywide loss was the Drain Commissioner. Republican Patrick Krause lost to democrat Patricia Crowley. This race probably wasn't winnable, given Krause's low name recognition and the problems in the drain office associated with Krause's Republican predecessor Bill French, who was removed from office. Krause did much to clean up the office, but was not rewarded for his efforts. It isn't clear whether being a woman helped Crowley, or whether the two candidates having similar names was a factor.

In contrast with others' lackluster efforts, Prosecutor Jeff Fink worked his heart out for months campaigning all across the county. His efforts were rewarded with a fairly narrow victory.

The same goes for Treasurer Mary Balkema, who worked very hard campaigning across the county. She faced a opponent who did not campaign, didn't even fill out surveys, had no qualifications to be treasurer, and reportedly did not even want the job. Yet Mary won by less than 1200 votes. Straight-ticket democrat voters really ought to think about what they are doing.

Clerk Tim Snow managed to win reelection without working too hard, but his margin of victory was down significantly from 2004.

Incoming Surveyor Bill Hahn was the luckiest local Republican of this election season, since the democrats failed to find a licenced surveyor to oppose him. If they had, they would have won.

In the 8th district judicial race, conservative Republican Julie Phillips defeated independent Bill Murphy, who had the support of most local trial lawyers. Phillips campaigned very hard for her victory. She benefited from the fact that judicial races are nonpartisan. She also likely benefited from being a woman, as some general election voters prefer women in races when they are unfamiliar with the candidates. This race resembled the 2006 open judicial race won by Pam Lightvoet, who defeated a more liberal opponent after a field of four was narrowed to two in the primary.

The most surprising result of the night may be the overwhelming rejection of the county transportation millage. It lost by 16 points. Have local voters finally had it with tax increases? The proposal lost overwhelmingly outside Kalamazoo, with only 5 precincts in favor, but it even lost 8 precincts in Kalamazoo city. At least 18000 people who did not vote for McCain voted against the tax increase. Perhaps if local Republicans had run in opposition to the proposal they would have fared somewhat better.

In the races for state representative, both Larry DeShazor and Jase Bolger worked very hard, and it paid off. DeShazor overcame being significantly outspent by radical gay-rights supporter John Stryker to win a narrow victory. The 61st district still leans Republican, though not by as much as before. Bolger's race wasn't targeted by the democrats, but he didn't take anything for granted and worked hard for many months.

In the county commission races, Republicans scored a rare pickup as Ann Nieuwenhuis defeated Leroy Crabtree in the Comstock Township district. However, Republicans lost the district of retiring Tom Drabik after nominee James Graham, the former mayor of Portage, did no campaigning and was defeated by democrat Michael Quinn. Did Graham think that because he was mayor of Portage five years ago that he didn't need to campaign for a seat that Drabik won by only 1% of the vote? Republicans Nasim Ansari, who always campaigns hard, and Jeff Balkema held their seats by narrow margins.

Of course, lots of campaigning is no guarantee of victory. Chris Haenicke lost his bid for county commission in Oshtemo, and Justin VanderArk lost his bid for Kalamazoo Township Supervisor.

Democrats made major gains in the townships, sweeping contested races Kalamazoo and Oshtemo, and all but one in Comstock. Former county commissioner Bob Brink was defeated in his bid for Oshtemo supervisor. Democrat Scott McCormick showed no evidence of a campaign but was elected anyways on the strength of straight ticket voting. Recalled Comstock trustee Bill Shields received the lowest vote total there. A democrat was also elected supervisor of rural Wakeshma township after no Republican filed for the seat. He received fewer votes than most of the Republicans running for township offices.

The national environment obviously hurt local Republicans tremendously. Despite the losses, the results could still have been much worse. If the democrat surge was a few points larger, Republicans would have lost all countywide races, the 61st district, and three more county commissioners.

Kalamazoo Republicans still have a base to build on, but they will have to work hard to win back what was lost in 2008 and 2006. Every candidate should have learned by now the importance of campaigning for the office they seek to win.

2008 Election Preview
Analysis: Local (2006)

1 comment: said...

"Campaign, fools!" Indeed.

Great post. Thanks for the local perspective / recap. Wish we could clone this kind of coverage in every county across the state.