Men, Prayer, Politics, Horses, Detroit
Michigan is embroiled in one political foible after another, a virtual shit storm of playground antics that truly do rival the appalling circus that is the GOP on a national scale these days. While the big boys in D.C. entertain us with their contortions in a game of pretzel politics, the wannabe’s here in Michigan are giving it a go, doing their best to mimic their idols inside the beltway. If it were not so serious, to the point of being deadly, it would be relegated to the entertainment section. But it is not entertainment, far from it.
It is the ongoing hypocrisy and political prostitution that corrupts our Democratic process, the same antics that have a lot of us plotting our evacuation come November 2016 when the WTF Party might very well head to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Here in Michigan, we are a lot of things: naturally beautiful, home to some really smart people, some really talented people and some fantastic places to live and call home. We are also ground zero for all that has trickled down from the decades of the GOP’s slow decent into endemic mental illness.
I traveled to Lansing this week to give testimony in a hearing of the Local Government Committee. On the agenda was house bill 5232 which calls for the gutting of the 46-year old Public Act 169 that serves to protect Michigan’s extensive historic cultural legacy via the establishment of Historic Districts for both residential and commercial properties.
What makes HB 5232 so peculiar is this: it is a proposed solution to a ‘problem’, a problem nobody has ever heard of. We did not have protesters marching on Lansing calling for the repeal of PA 169. We did not have candidates adding the ‘issue’ to campaign platforms; we did not have headlines flowing with controversy over the implications of the act. NOTHING to indicate PA 169 was a problem in need of a legislative solution.
Suddenly comes a state representative out of Grand Rapids, one Chris Afendoulis (who by-the-way has received campaign contributions from a fellow by the name of Mark Murray. I’ll get to that later.) Mr. Afendoulis was in receipt of a legislative proposal that was given to him by a man named McAlvey, Jeff McAlvey of McAlvey, Merchant & Associates, a Lansing ‘consulting’ firm, otherwise referred to as lobbyists.
Front and center on the home page of McAlvey, Merchant and Associates web site is a curious term: Integrity. Indeed, it takes a whole barrel full of integrity to accept payment from a prominent executive of a well known Michigan corporation in exchange for writing legislation that guts existing law and poses a potentially catastrophic threat to Michigan, refrain from conducting virtually ANY due diligence beyond how to spell ‘historic’ on said proposed legislation and deliver it to an eager Republican representative. Did I mention that Afendoulis received campaign contributions from that fellow I referred to earlier, Mark Murray? Feeling the integrity yet?
Chris Afendoulis is a young politician relatively speaking, family guy, son of a dry cleaner owner, damn proud of his Greek heritage. Chris wants to run with the big boys, he wants to move and shake and rattle and roll. To Chris that means doing what you think all your red state buddies are doing from from the halls of Lansing to the halls of THEE house of Representatives: prostitute yourself to those who feed your campaign coffers and to hell with the minions who wandered into a voting booth and elected you. What was that word? Oh yes, integrity. I N T E G R I T Y. Alrighty then, back to the story…
Mr. Afendoulis, obedient and ambitious, makes a few token edits and marches that bought and paid for piece of legislation right on down to the Local Government Committee, run by the untouchably clean 26-year old father of four, Republican Lee Chatfield… don’t get me started.
Meanwhile, over in the Senate sits their version of the bill, known at Senate Bill 720. Poised and ready for action, easy peasy Chris thinks to himself, who the hell has ever even heard of PA 169, it’s 46 years old! Nobody will even notice we are destroying the very fabric upon which much of Michigan’s tourism industry relies, the foundation of much of Detroit’s recent “rebirth”, the one tool both homeowners and developers have to preserve and protect their investments in cities, small towns and suburbs throughout the state. Besides, everybody is over in Flint with their mics and cameras trying to figure out how the hell to remove a billion miles of lead pipe.
Cocky and confident, Mr. Afendoulis assured his man- I got this, don’t you worry. Stand and deliver he did….right into the jaws of a state seething with highly qualified preservationists who haven’t had a blood kill in a very long time. Little did Chris know the largest graduate program in Historic Preservation, one of 50 in the country, is located right here in Michigan. ‘Let loose the hounds! could be heard from the Irish Hills to Ishpeming.
I arrived a tad late to the hearing in Lansing, only to find Mr. Afendoulis in the chair before a committee of a dozen or so of his colleagues, in a room packed with panting, wild eyed preservationists, sizing him up in the flesh. The overflow sat just as ready to pounce in the adjacent room. I was in the doorway, the only spot left, when Mr. Afendoulis, having accomplished his goal of buying more time, rose, turned and bolted for the door before any leashes broke. The look on his face was familiar, I had observed the same desperation in a Sergio Leone flick as a rustler tried to get the hell out of dodge before the posse showed up.
About that Mark Murray. This is where it gets, well, icky. You see Mr. Murray appears to have a history of ignoring this little system known as Democracy. In fact, Mr. Murray seems to enjoy giving the system the noble one finger salute. Let’s take a closer look shall we?
Professionally, Mr. Murray is currently a food guy, make that a big box guy, a big box food store guy. Yes, those butt ugly behemoths that sidle up to our beautiful prototypical small towns all over Michigan, lassoe them with a beltway, and proceed to vampire the very life blood out of their fragile local economies. Revenue that once circulated locally between the Jones family who ran the five and dime, the Richards family who ran the auto repair, the Fergusons who ran the grocery, now gets deposited into the big box store where it disappears forever into a corporate HQ far, far away. That is what Mr. Murray does as the CEO of none other than Meijers, that Michigan food giant based out of…surprise!…Grand Rapids.
So back to Mr. Murray and his relationship with Democracy. Back in 2004 or so, Mr Murray was up in Acme Township, just east of Traverse City. He was on a mission: build his next store in Acme, following the spread east of one of the states most desirable coastal towns.
He bumped into something he didn’t expect: the local idiom. Acme is a farming community, marked with rolling hills and distant bay views enjoyed as a prelude to many a summer vacation on the water by those traveling north to Traverse and beyond. Carving up fields, clear-cutting woodlots and polluting the night sky with parking lot lights was not their idea of community improvement. Besides, Traverse City already had a Meijers. After a contentious battle, the local idiom prevailed and Mr. Murray sauntered back to Grand Rapids, grumbling something to the effect of ‘those #$^^&@$%# commissioners.
Mr. Murray stewed. Mr. Murray built more stores. Mr. Murray stewed some more. Then Mr. Murray got an idea. Mr. Murray became the junkyard dog returning to consume his own vomit, completely forgetting his toxic mistake in the first place.
Back to Acme he went, intent on removing all those commissioners who gave him the boot. Mr. Murray started writing checks. Meijer checks. Meijer CORPORATE checks…to fund the recall of his former foes on the commission. Mr. Murray could have been nothing short of delusional to think himself above the law. His delusion cleared however, after being on the receiving end of a significant penalty for violating campaign finance laws. (Read all the details of the Meijer/Acme dismissal of Democracy HERE)
Today, nearly 15 years later, there sits a shiny new Meijers in the middle of what was a corn field in Acme, Michigan. In the end, Murray got his store. He got his way, in spite of the legal brawl and stiff financial penalties. Feeling himself the winner, he figured he could run the table in this club called Democracy.
Sooo, what does all this have to do with old buildings and a Public Act dating back to 1970? Meanwhile, back on his home turf of Grand Rapids a move was afoot to create a new historic district in East Grand Rapids. While Mr. Murray isn’t exactly the Cliven Bundy type, he does share common values with the welfare cattle rancher, particularly those involving those over-used buzz words of right-wing, fringe-dwelling conservatives: ‘property rights’. You know those rights home buyers have in gated communities everywhere: the right to build a huge concrete wall around their communal claim, dig a matching moat and fill it with riff raff eating designer dogs; the right to demand any newcomers build a house big enough to match the footprint of all the other faux feudal mansions; the right to make you mow your lawn 2x a week, paint your house one of two colors, and demand you keep your vegetables in the back yard and your flowers in front.
Developers favorite tool of enforcement? Deed Restrictions. Deed restrictions that enforce and guide design decisions regarding materials, appearance, maintenance and landscaping. Kind of like a Historic District, only potentially much more restrictive. Just like with established Historic Districts, perspective home buyers can make their own decisions whether or not to buy into a deed-restricted development, a protected Historic District or, go rogue all together, buy a metes and bounds field and stick a yurt in it. Property Rights.
Mr. Murray drew a line in the sand, er, sod. Another historic district in East Grand Rapids? Over his deed restricted body! He had enough of anyone telling him where to put his stores, let alone what to do with his house, or those of his cohesive neighbors. In order to remove the impediment of excessive pediments, he swore on his vinyl siding their would be no more historic districts in GR. But hell, why stop there? The only thing that stood between him and total freedom to let his freewill fly was a little bothersome Democracy. But he would need help, and help he got from his buddy Jeff McAlvey whom he had known during their Engler days together.
It is a sad day when elected legislators accept and sponsor proposals written by paid lobbyists, brought at the behest of private, moneyed interests. Legislators whom you and I elect with the understanding that they will ask questions of us, listen to our needs and craft applicable proposals with their own research, experience and leadership.
What a silly thing for us to wish for.
© 2016 Nancy Kotting All Rights Reserved Reproduction by Permission Only