Following strong showings in the Aug. 7 primary, it’s obvious a new breed of Republican politicians are gaining support in Delhi Township — and at least two township officials say the shift is contributing to a new era of divisive politics.
The race for township supervisor is particularly nasty. Outgoing Supervisor Stuart Goodrich, who has served for 10 years, was clobbered earlier this month by his primary opponent, Jeff Hall, a conservative minister and former president of Right to Life of Ingham County. Hall picked up 1,384 votes Aug. 7, or 70 percent of Republican voters, which was more than the two Democratic candidates earned combined.
Hall is also running as part of a slate with incumbent township Trustee Derek Bajema and Ingham County Commissioner Steve Dougan, who is running for township treasurer.
The surge of Tea Party support here is contributing to a divisive political climate that has never existed in Delhi, said Goodrich, who identifies himself as a moderate Republican.
“Partisan-based politics have no place in township government,” Goodrich said. He added that this election season, unlike any others in the past, has become rampant with party rhetoric.
“That’s the way politics is at the national level. But we’ve never had it in the township. It’s very unfortunate. There shouldn’t even be parties at the township level,” he said. “Forget the Republicans and Democrats, that sort of thing, you work with who you feel is the best person. I was accused of appointing ‘my people’ and making ‘backroom deals’. I have never made a backroom deal in my life.”
When asked about the apparent divisiveness, Hall’s response was: “The divisive atmosphere is due to the people making their voice clear that their leaders are not willing to listen. Divisiveness comes when people start to push back because these people forgot who they work for.”
The other members of the spend-less, cut-more team pulled in substantial support as well. Bajema, a trustee in his first term, ran against four other Republican trustee candidates and came out with 30 percent of the vote. Dougan, a four-term Ingham County commissioner, ran unopposed and tallied just over 200 more votes than the Democratic incumbent, Roy Sweet, who was a Goodrich appointee.
Hall’s campaign strategy rang with a Tea Party tone: “We are the grassroots,” he said, going door-to-door throughout the township hearing what people have on their minds. Hall claims that between the three of them, they have knocked on 4,000 doors throughout the township.
Hall denies he’s a Tea Party member and says that his positions on fiscal issues simply align with the traditional Republican Party. He is against virtually any new spending. He opposed separate fire and police millages in August 2010 that voters approved by 52 percent and 53 percent, respectively. Hall believes the township board should have looked to cut spending elsewhere.
“When the millage came into Delhi, it was proposed as: If this didn’t happen, you were going to have cuts to fire and police. But the truth is, if it didn’t happen, then the board was going to have to decide where they were going to have to cut the budget,” Hall said. “That’s why you have a balanced budget. Not because people worked hard to make sure it was more balanced. They just went and got more money.”
Delhi Township is roughly bordered by Interstate 96 to the north; College Road to the east; Nichols Road to the south; and Waverly Road to the west. It’s population, which has grown steadily since the 1990 Census, is over 25,000.
Hall believes that if the township taxes were lower, even more people would be moving there.
Two issues Hall hammers on are proposed roundabouts in downtown Holt, an unincorporated community that makes up the main hub of the township, and a supposed “rain tax” that he says is “on the horizon.” Goodrich said the supposed tax has never been on the books and that the township has little control if the county decides to put in roundabouts if it has the funding.
Hall said he and the Bajema/Dougan team are running to unseat the “Good Old Boys’ Club” that he said has plagued Delhi politics for over a decade through appointments and “backroom deals.”
While denying Hall’s accusations of his own Good Old Boys’ Club, Goodrich said Hall, Bajema and Dougan are attempting to form their own in a single election cycle.
“When you have three that are running together, that ‘club’ is formed a whole lot quicker than when you have them running one at a time,” he said.
To say the least, Goodrich is ticked off, not with the fact that he lost, but because of how he was beat — with what he called negative and partisan politics. He said that there is a lot of “misinformation” and “untruths” related to past and present political issues like the sludge dryer (an alternative energy project that voters denied in May), the rain tax and the roundabouts. Moreover, Goodrich said he’s going to endorse Democrat C.J. Davis against Hall because they have similar views on township issues and the role of township government.
Evan Hope, the Delhi Township clerk of 14 years, said in recent years and leading up to this election season there’s been a shadow of “divisive” and “partisan” politics in the township — which is entirely new.
And Davis, the Democrat who narrowly won the primary by three votes against Tim Currin, thinks the campaigns have focused on negative, partisan politics. That will ultimately reflect poorly on the community and create a haze of uncertainty for potential businesses to move in, he said.
“If an atmosphere of strife is seen by outside businesses, they’re not going to come near us,” he said.