All Politics Is Local: Jon Hoadley for State Representative, 60th District

 jh

We are incredibly fortunate here in Kalamazoo to have an enviably deep bench when it comes to smart, committed people who are willing to step up to serve in leadership positions. I can’t think of a better example of that than the roster of challengers in the Democratic primary for state representative in the 60th district. Last fall, it was looking like choosing among the three worthy candidates was going to be a very difficult decision. But since then, at least for me, one candidate has emerged as the clear choice and the best fit for the 60th district, and that is Jon Hoadley.

Last November, two dear friends invited me to a party at their home to meet Jon. I was reluctant at first to attend, because as anyone who gets invited to a lot of political events well knows, there is usually the expectation that attendees will make campaign contributions. I knew there were multiple candidates vying for the nomination and I was not ready to make a commitment – let alone a campaign contribution – to one. So I didn’t respond to the invitation right away. Anticipating my concern, the party hosts, Jeffrey and David, said, “Just come and meet Jon. That’s all we’re asking.”

So I went. The first thing that struck me as I walked in the door was how thoughtful and organized Jon and his campaign team were, and how well prepared they were for the campaign even 9 months out from the primary. From the campaign materials distributed at the party (which were creative and effective and from which I got some great ideas to try in various projects of my own) and the interaction among the team and the guests, it was clear that they had already done a phenomenal amount of work to craft an overall vision and plan for the campaign.

Jon and his campaign team made it look easy as they interacted with guests and shared information about Jon’s candidacy while also listening and engaging with the interests and concerns of the guests, but it takes a lot of hard work and preparation to make anything look that easy. I chatted with several members of the team, all of them intelligent, interesting, and engaged young people. And then I met Jon and listened what he had to say. I was impressed immediately by his understanding of the issues, his communication and listening skills, and most of all his values, including his ability to articulate them in a compelling way and his determination to act on them on behalf of others. His top priorities include public re-investment in education and infrastructure and support for LGBTQ rights, women’s reproductive rights, and the rights of working people and famiiles. So do mine.

As I’ve gotten to know Jon over the past 10 months, I have had occasion to work with him on other projects unrelated to his campaign for state representative. In my capacity as president of the WMU chapter of the American Association of University Professors, I had the opportunity to work with Jon and his firm, Badlands Strategies, on a project for the WMU-AAUP contract and retention campaigns. In fact, we invited Badlands to submit a proposal in part because of how impressive and engaging his campaign materials had been at Jeffrey and David’s house party that night. The materials not only got my attention, but they also provided me with a ton of great ideas for how we could do a better job of engaging WMU-AAUP members for the chapter’s contract campaign and campus events. In the months after Jeffrey and David’s party, follow-ups from the campaign via email and social media only increased my admiration for Jon’s talents, work ethic, and incredible smarts.

In addition to working together, Jon and I have also become friends, and it has been interesting to observe the development of his campaign and to see this energetic, passionate, and really quite brilliant young man thrive throughout the process. He was as upbeat, motivated, and determined when I saw him two days ago as he was last fall. There is no question in my mind but that Jon has the stamina to thrive in even the most challenging of environments (and the GOP-controlled state legislature is certainly that).

Our local newspaper, the Kalamazoo Gazette, has chosen to endorse another candidate in the primary. They note that Jon is “personable and bright, a strong advocate for LGBT rights” and “able to provide insightful analysis of complex issues, such as education policy,” but withhold their endorsement on the grounds that “he has never held public office.” I have heard similar comments, focusing on Jon’s relative youth (he’s 30), from one or two older acquaintances around town.

Knowing Jon, I can say unequivocally that I believe these concerns to be without foundation. As the Gazette conceded, his knowledge of the issues is deep and nuanced, and his understanding of how politics works is sophisticated and thoughtful. For an example of the kinds of things Jon is capable of accomplishing, locals in the 60th district need only look to the One Kalamazoo campaign in 2009, which led to the passage by an overwhelming majority of an anti-discrimination ordinance. As campaign manager for One Kalamazoo, Jon and his team engaged and mobilized diverse communities of people, guided by a wisdom beyond his years, an off-the-charts work ethic, and political instincts from which many politicians twice his age could learn a lot. His talents for building coalitions, generating support and excitement for new ideas, and then doing the difficult work of turning those ideas into action will serve us well if we do the right thing and send him to Lansing.

My mind was made up about Jon some time ago, but because this is going to be a tightly contested primary election, I am going on the record (here and as a community endorser of the campaign) in support of his candidacy. We are indeed fortunate to be in a position to choose among three very fine people who are willing to serve, and I am sure that any one of the three candidates would probably vote in the legislature the way I would want my state rep to vote.

But I am supporting Jon because he will do a lot more than just vote right. He has the energy and – more important – the courage to stand up for his constituents and for what’s right, to challenge the status quo, to shake things up in Lansing. As anyone who has been paying attention to state-level politics knows, just voting right isn’t enough anymore. We’ve got to have proactive leadership. For the 60th district in 2014, that means we’ve got to elect Jon Hoadley.

So, local friends and colleagues in the 60th district, please make a point of going to the polls on August 5. And when you get there, if you share my values (and Jon’s) and my desire for active, progressive leadership, I strongly encourage you to join me in voting for Jon Hoadley.

 


Learn more about Jon:

 

Support Jon’s campaign:

 

College Presidents Selling Out to Gov. Rick Snyder?

Cross-posted at Daily Kos.

Those of us who live in the United States are fortunate to live in a country in which we are all free to speak our minds, including with respect to the political candidates and causes we choose to support. This is America, and that is how it is supposed to work. (Theoretically, at least. Some citizens are certainly freer to be heard than others.)

However, for each of us, there is a difference between supporting and endorsing political causes and candidates as a private citizen and doing so as a representative of an institution. This difference is especially critical if the institution is publicly funded or financed with student tuition dollars or with the support of alumni or other donors or any or all of the above.

For example, if you are, say, the president of a college or university, and you are thinking of exercising your rights as a citizen to participate in a public way in the political process, you should probably keep in mind that you answer, as they used to say in the old Hebrew National hotdog commercials, to a higher authority, namely your students, alumni, faculty, and staff.

This topic is on my mind because recently my job-creator husband received an invitation to a campaign fundraiser to be held on Monday, November 11, on behalf of the governor of our fine state, the population of which deserves a lot better than Gov. Rick Snyder (R-MakeItStop), which is who we’ve got and who is in what appears to be an increasingly tight race for re-election next year. I am not sure how Mr. Alevei ended up on this particular mailing list, although job-creating business owner that he is, he has been known to end up on strange mailing lists before.

Anyway, the invitation includes a list of notables with whom, for a monetary contribution to an outfit name of “Rick Snyder for Michigan” (no link — deal with it), attendees can ostensibly schmooze. I was surprised to see that two such notables are presidents of local colleges: Kalamazoo College‘s Eileen Wilson-Oyelaran and Kalamazoo Valley Community College‘s Marilyn Schlack, will be lending their considerable credibility to the Snyder campaign by appearing at the event on Monday, dubbed “NerdFest 2013.”

I would link here to news articles reporting on “NerdFest 2013,” but I can’t, because it turns out that there aren’t any, at least not so far. When I had occasion to mention “NerdFest” to a local reporter earlier today, she had not heard anything about it, even though the event is coming up just two days from now. There is nothing about it on Rick Snyder’s campaign website (like I said, no link) or on the site of the venue where it is being held. This invisibility is puzzling, since it seems to me that an event featuring the governor and a panel of prominent leaders in the arts, business, education, healthcare, and agriculture — what the invitation calls “Special Guest Panel Representatives” — would be newsworthy. The reporter I mentioned it to earlier this afternoon seemed to agree.

Not only is the event itself newsworthy, but so especially is the participation of the two college presidents. By agreeing to appear at a candidate’s fundraiser, and as you can see from the enlargement of the text below, it is clear from the invitation that this is not merely a conference of ideas but an actual campaign fundraising event, Presidents Wilson-Oyelaran and Schlack appear essentially to be endorsing Gov. Snyder’s candidacy for re-election.

Now, that would be perfectly fine if they were doing so as private citizens, but they are not. They are identified in the invitation as presidents of their respective institutions (although it actually gets the name of Kalamazoo Valley Community College wrong), which is to say that the two women are participating specifically and deliberately as representatives of their respective institutions.

I have to wonder what the students, alumni, faculty, and staff of Kalamazoo College and KVCC might think about all this, or whether they even know about it. The apparent circumspection with which the event is being treated by the campaign (no press releases, no mention of the event on the campaign website) suggest that it is not public knowledge at this point.

According to the invitation, “This event is a gathering of the minds to discuss, debate, and dictate the direction of your group or industry for the future. Your support helps ensure that our great [sic] Governor helps Michigan stay on the path to success for another four years.” (Emphasis added.)

Now, my personal feelings about Gov. Snyder are fairly well known to regular readers of these pages, especially those who follow Michigan politics, and his many weaknesses and failings are also well documented by other members of the DKos community.

So it is no secret that in my view, Gov. Snyder and his cronies are among the last people on the planet Earth who should be in a position to dictate the direction of anything. The governor has shown himself to lack courage as well as any real leadership skill, traits that unfortunately lead him to resort to waffling or to flat-out dishonesty at times. He also seems to be rather a shady operator as well as something of an anti-democratic power-grabber, and he has proven over the course of his first (and I pray to God only) term to be particularly hostile to education, especially public education, whether we are talking about K-12 or higher ed, which he apparently thinks is overrated (except for people like him, apparently, since he’s had plenty).

Especially in that context, college presidents in this state ought to be among the very last people to allow themselves to be co-opted by the governor’s re-election campaign, especially since the candidate upon whom Presidents Wilson-Oyelaran and Schlack are bestowing their considerable influence and public standing is doing everything he can to try to decimate public education in this state and to try to circumvent the democratic process.

And yet that is not really the context that matters. The issue is not that these highly respected local leaders are lending the esteem in which they are held in this community to support a candidate I don’t like. Rather, the issue is that they are using it to endorse a candidate at all.

As I said at the beginning of this diary, all individuals have the right to support the political causes and candidates of their choice. However, I have to question the appropriateness of college presidents agreeing to appear at a candidate’s fundraiser and thereby endorsing said candidate, not as private citizens but as representatives of their respective institutions. Click on the photos of the invitation so you can see the text in its entirety and see for yourself. There is no question but that this event is a political fundraiser on behalf of Gov. Snyder.

President Wilson-Oyelaran has a fine record in terms of her commitment to social justice and has more than earned her bona fides as an active proponent of diversity and inclusion, including in her role as the leader of a college that emphasizes service to others as integral to citizenship and intellectual growth. (And according to the K College web page, “Social Justice leadership is at the heart of a Kalamazoo College experience.”) It is likely to seem inexplicable to many of her colleagues and neighbors here in Kalamazoo (when they eventually find out about it) that she would either deliberately support Gov. Snyder’s re-election campaign or allow herself to be co-opted into appearing at a forum that perhaps was not clearly identified to her as a campaign event.

I know less about President Schlack’s background, although I do know that adjunct faculty at KVCC are treated quite abominably, even by the pitiful standards according to which most institutions, sadly, treat part-time faculty. One particularly egregious example is the delay of adjunct faculty paychecks, a situation that has occurred more than once at that institution. I also seem to remember some of President Schlack’s designees speaking publicly in a kind of astonishingly and appallingly tone deaf way in the wake of the most recent paycheck delays. As far as I am concerned, when it comes to the actions and words of college administrator, especially when those words are spoken to the press, the buck stops with the president.

In sum, the concerns here are not about whether individual citizens have the right to support the political causes and candidates of their choice. They absolutely do. The issue is whether it is appropriate for individuals entrusted with leading institutions of higher learning to participate — not as private citizens but as leaders and representatives of their respective institutions —  in fundraising campaigns on behalf of candidates, causes, or parties. Whether it is their intent or not, the participation of Presidents Wilson-Oyelaran and Schlack in Gov. Snyder’s fundraiser clearly suggests an endorsement of his campaign for re-election.

The issue is also not about any particular candidate whom they might choose to support, although it is certainly surprising that they would be willing to appear on behalf of a governor whose commitment to higher education and to public institutions in general is very much in question.

The real problem is with the endorsement of any candidate. The two presidents need to be cognizant of the message their endorsements of Gov. Snyder are likely to send to the students, alumni, faculty, and staff of their institutions as well as to the community that is home to both schools. Their endorsements are potentially highly divisive, and it is inexplicable that this somehow did not occur to Presidents Wilson-Oyelaran and Schlack before they made the decision to participate in Gov. Snyder’s event.

I do have one positive note on which to close. As president of the faculty union at Western Michigan University, which like KVCC and K College is located in Kalamazoo, I don’t often have the opportunity to make public statements in support of our institutional leadership (which many of my colleagues and I find lacking in any number of ways), but I have to say that I really appreciate that WMU President John Dunn is not on the program for Gov. Snyder’s soiree on Monday night. He definitely made the right call this time.

It is astonishing that two other college presidents in Kalamazoo did not. If the organizers were less than transparent with them in making it clear that Monday’s “NerdFest” is in fact a campaign fundraiser, then shame on the organizers. But even if that is the case, critical thinking and due diligence are the stock in trade of higher education, which is something about which even college presidents might occasionally need reminding.