Grand Rapids Dem Telling People to Shut Up about Choice Again

Even as Rick Santorum was losing MI, largely because he attacked women’s autonomy, the same local operative who told me I wasn’t well-informed enough to express an opinion on my own congressional district’s politics was telling Howie Klein he should not criticize Trevor Thomas’ presumed primary challenger, Steve Pestka, for his anti-choice views. Here’s what Howie said:

Today we now know Trevor will have a challenger for the Democratic nomination. Steve Pestka, who has started talking to the local media about his campaign, may be a nominal Democrats… but not when it comes to equality for women. This guy is an anti-Choice fanatic of the Bart Stupak school of misogyny. MIRS, the Michigan political news service, reported:


We reported earlier this month about rumors that folks with the local Grand Rapids establishment were looking at an anti-Choice, multimillionaire conservative who’d run on the Democratic ticket. It’s now clear they found Pestka. They apparently miss the fact that this election is going to be about the working and middle class families hurting right now– not millionaires like Pestka and Amash– and it’s quickly now turning to the rights of women.


Trevor is the fighting progressive we need. He comes from a working class family and he has a record of helping to pass major federal legislation, namely the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. But he needs our help to be the nominee against Amash. As we know, early dollars are critical. Let’s help spread the word and work to stop this faux-Democratic challenge and stand by our party’s platform to help protect women now.

And here’s what Phil Skaggs wrote on Facebook:

Trevor Thomas, I’m calling on you to publicly disavow this attack on Steve Pestka. To call someone who has been a Democratic County Commissioner, a Democratic State Representative, and a supporter of Democratic and progressive candidates for decades a “nominal Democrats” [sic] and a misogynist is simply juvenile and “not consistent with the facts.”
Trevor, when Marcy Wheeler called Grand Rapids Democrats “bigots” for not immediately supporting you, you told me personally that you did not tell her anything of the sort and didn’t believe such things about us. But, again and again, your friends and surrogates have attacked hard-working, long-time Democrats and progressives in Kent County. Steve Pestka is a West Michigan Democrat with West Michigan values. The last thing we need are folks coming from Washington and Lansing carpet-bagging here with their hyper-partisan rhetoric and hatred. That’s not our way.
Trevor Thomas, I call on you to publicly demand that your friends stop their negative and personal attacks on Grand Rapids Democrats and Steve Pestka.

Note, Skaggs didn’t dispute that Pestka is anti-choice. He just objects that someone insulted what he calls Pestka’s “West Michigan values” using language Howie has used to describe Dems across the country–including far more conservative areas than Grand Rapids–who believe women should not have autonomy.

Now, first of all, you’d think Skaggs would be honest enough to mention I apologized (both in a post and to him directly via email) for using the word “bigot.” Apparently, repeated good faith apologies are not enough for him. Or, he prefers to dishonestly leave the impression that I haven’t apologized.

But I’m even more offended that Skaggs talked to Trevor about my post, as if those two men were in charge of what I was allowed to say or not, as if Trevor (or frankly, anyone else) tells me what to say in my posts. (Maybe Phil just repeated whatever political people told him to write back when he blogged, but I do not.)

I am not Trevor’s “surrogate.” I am a voter in Grand Rapids who expressed an opinion about my own congressional district. And in response to that Skaggs told me I shouldn’t speak.

In a democracy, you see, citizens are permitted to express opinions.

One more thing. Skaggs goes on to write,

Steve’s photo is from a fundraiser for the Michigan League of Conservation Voters this past summer. Steve Pestka was a host and has been a long-time supporter of environmental causes our pure Michigan. Indeed, in his years in the State House he had a 100% voting record on environmental issues as scored by the LCV. But Trevor and his surrogates don’t know any of this (in part because they didn’t live in the district this past August).

I assume Skaggs was including me again in that claim that “they didn’t live in the district this past August.” Skaggs’ repeated erroneous claims about when I did and didn’t live in Grand Rapids is getting downright stalkerish, particularly since I told him clearly I’ve lived here longer than that (as would be apparent if he read my blog).

But I find it really funny that Skaggs–who told me he moved here in 2000–is trying to attack Trevor (who was born and raised just outside Grand Rapids) as a carpet-bagger and me because I haven’t been here long enough to have valid views. Apparently, I must be indoctrinated in “West Michigan values” before I’ll be permitted to speak.

I’m being told by a local Dem party activist 1) we shouldn’t talk critically about the local party for actively supporting a guy who–like Bart Stupak, may be otherwise great but opposes autonomy for women, and 2) I’m not entitled to an opinion anyway because I haven’t lived here long enough (no matter that he can’t seem to figure out how long I’ve lived here).

So it’s paternalism on top of paternalism, from an activist with the Democratic Party.

Even Rick Santorum figured out, the hard way, that doesn’t fly in this day and age, not even in the most conservative parts of MI.

26 replies
  1. Phil Perspective says:

    Phil Skaggs:
    Grow a pair. You have more in common, it appears, with Rick “The Frothy One” Santorum then you do Democrats. And what, pray tell, are Western Michigan values? Somehow, I bet The New Deal is still pretty damn popular in Western Michigan. And I don’t care that Pestka was at a LCV fundraiser. After all, Bob Kerrey was once head of that hippie commune called the New School, but it still doesn’t wash the corporate stooge stench off.

  2. orionATL says:

    and in a democracy you see,

    citizens are permitted to challenge the old hands, old-timers, and old party hacks

    and kick their asses out of power if they can.

    that is what this little set-to seems to be about: those who have controlled power are being challenged.

    skaggs is using the tactic of labeling as “socially improper behavior” criticism of him and the “values” he stands for.

    his argument seems to be that there is but one fixed, closed set of values for democrats in the greand rapids area. any other values are “foreign”.

    where i live “carpetbagger” would be the next pejorative deployed against the challengers to current power-holders.

  3. Cathleen says:

    Steve Pestka? Seriously? Again?

    Sigh. Time to drag out the “usual suspects” to run.

    Tells me that they have already written off the 3rd. Not surprising though.

  4. rugger9 says:

    It’s attitudes like that which help the R’s in their “elitist, out of touch” meme. Nice going by a party hack. So, while we must hold our noses this election since any GOP that survives the primary will be by definition worse [it’s the critical takeaway from Snowe’s withdrawal yesterday] we need to develop a true progressive party within the next few year to keep the D’s honest.

  5. joanneleon says:

    Sounds like the Grand Rapids area Dems need some new blood.

    I’ve seen this before where the local party hacks start attacking a candidate who they think will not do things their way.

    Well, Mr. Skaggs, this is why we have primaries. Don’t back down, Marcy. I hope that Trevor tells him he doesn’t have to publicly disavow squat, that he speaks for himself and so do other citizens who get the same number of votes that he (Skaggs) gets on election day. One. And that citizens have every right to participate in their local party and to express opinions about various issues. Man, Mr. Skaggs really has a high opinion of his little authoritarian, paternalistic self, doesn’t he?

    Part of the reason that Dems fail on policy and why we keep moving to the right is because local parties don’t ever give the people a chance to see or vote for progressive candidates who offer progressive alternatives on issues. So many progressive stances on issues are really popular when you look at the polls, but then they never seem to happen. Why? Because of people like Skaggs, IMHO.

  6. moo says:

    Shutting You Up is Dems’ only function. Sometimes people mistake electoral politics for civil society. Electoral politics is a centralized social control mechanism run by a parastatal command structure in which the state’s objective is to drive civil society down the party cattle chutes to slaughter.

  7. orionATL says:


    because, for the most part, democratic candidates are inarticulate, even mute, persons who seem to lack the verbal capacity, or the vision and the verbal capacity, to draw compelling pictures in voters’ minds of a hopeful, happy** alternative to republican party’s rhetoric of persistant rage at some one or another subordinate group in our citizenry.

    where democrats are not inarticulate, they and their consults are timorous, even cowardly, about what they believe in – assuming they believe in anything other than winning.

    the standard democratic party approach to campaigning is to try to slither and worm one’s way into power avoiding conflict as they would avoid varicella.

    **i chose the words “hopeful, happy”. a “hopeful, happy” vision of our future is part of a compelling liberal rhetoric. i say this and hold this despite the obama campaign’s cynical, deceitful exploitation of that promise in 2008.

  8. Tom Allen says:

    Oh my gosh, he’s clutching his pearls! Whatever will the bridge club say?

    (Three no trump and pass the sherry, is my guess.)

  9. Steve says:

    This whole article is a load of shit, anyone that knows democratic politics in Grand Rapids knows that Phil Skaggs has done more for Dems in the last 5 years than the author of this lame facebook comment has done in a lifetime. Trevor Thomas and his band of idiot bloggers are clearly in the wrong on this one, attacking Steve Pestka, Phill Skaggs and countless other Dems for reasons that are beyond me. You don’t know what you’re talking about so please shut up, you’re making Dems in Kent County look bad.

  10. Steve says:

    “I told him clearly I’ve lived here longer than that (as would be apparent if he read my blog).” Is that why you’re mad Marcy, somebody doesn’t read your blog? it seems to me that you have a personal vendetta against Phil or Steve… grow up.

  11. emptywheel says:

    @Steve: Um, when Dems in Kent County repeatedly tell voters in Kent County they shouldn’t speak on issues of politics, how does that make them look?

  12. Steve says:

    @emptywheels: Oh you’re speaking out on issues? Seems to me youre attacking two guys that have done a lot for dems in GR. I think your shrill attacks do a disservice to all liberals in GR, you’re completely off base comparing these two to Rick Santorum and this rant against a Facebook post makes you and Trevor Thomas look like the narrow minded ideologues that you hate so much. Phil and Steve aren’t attacking trev because he’s gay or prochoice, your rhetoric does a disservice to your argument and makes you look foolish. Here’s the deal ( I’ll clue you in b/c you’re new to the area) the people of west Michigan practice a different kind of politics than they do on the east side of the state, we are adverse to gutter politics and personal attacks, this stuff turns us off… Stick to the issues and maybe you’ll earn some respect from the locals… Otherwise you’re just some nag with a live journal and zero credibility.

  13. Rob says:

    me thinks that steve is about to get his royal a** kicked. Where do we sign up for contributions Marcy? Michigan needs some GOOD reliable progressive Democratic Legislators, to at least throw out the current piece of crap governor.

  14. William Harris says:

    The difficulty with so much of this thinking is how divorced it is from the actual political life on the ground. While there are some clear bastions for Democrats now in Kent County (notably in the City of Grand Rapids, its non-partisan races, and now the redrawn MI-75), the larger metropolitan region poses an environment that is challenging and has required a more pragmatic approach. Sure I like my ideals, but any real success will be built from coalitions. These coalitions are as much personal in nature as ideological, and above all they remain relationships nourished in the actual doing of politics, campaign after campaign. In that light, the idea that Steve Pestka is a Bart Stupak clone is really alien, speaking to a distance to the lives people have invested here. (Now, for some one who will be more expressively progressive, you may want to look at another Kent County candidate beloved by all, Lupe Ramos-Montigny, running for the State Board of Education — and when you do, ask her about Steve, too).

  15. emptywheel says:

    @William Harris: William

    Thanks for the really balanced comment. I appreciate it.

    I can understand the viewpoint that says an anti-choice candidate might do better here. I don’t support it, partly bc Dems got killed in 2010 when they lost women and have only gotten them back in response to anti-choice overkill from Republicans. And also because of that, choice will be a political issue on which the Democratic party nationally will be on the side of women this year–it’s going to be an issue whether local Dems want it to be or not3.

    Furthermore, my point about Stupak is that the arguments folks are making about Pestka are the same ones made about Stupak (and Kildee and Kaptur and, for that matter, Bob Casey, who yesterday voted to let employers wily nilly cut off health care by invoking moral beliefs). All of these Dems are otherwise great Dems and I don’t doubt their faith (though note that none of them have the number of children that would suggest they follow the Church’s rules on birth control, which suggests they may choose to impose some of the Church’s doctrines on others while at the same time choosing to ignore other doctrines for themselves). Given that reality, it is no longer acceptable for me for the Democrats to affirmatively pursue an anti-choice stance. That’s my vote, just one vote, but I am entitled to that vote. My public comment on this is a means of giving voice to the damage that Dems have done to women’s rights of late, to make it clear that for some of us, the possibility of continued damage is no longer acceptable.

    And my point with this post was not to say that Pestka is a horrible person (again, I apologized for using the word “bigot”). It’s to say that choice is a legitimate issue this year–it’s one of the dominant issues nationally, after all! And yet every time someone wants to talk about Pestka’s anti-choice stance, certain local Dems tell others to shut up. Either an anti-choice stance really will be better for the district, in which case, if anything, talking about it will help Pestka, or the party wants to have their anti-choice stance without admitting it publicly.

    There is a right way and a wrong way, IMO, to run an anti-choice candidate. Telling voters–particularly the women voters being impacted by anti-choice Dems of late–they can’t talk about it bc they don’t know enough is not the way to do it.

  16. orionATL says:



    let me clue you in,

    this “we practice different politics here” is used in every section of every state i’ve ever lived in.

    it is a useful verbal tool for preventing new ideas and new people from entering a closed political system – closed, that is, because the folks currently in power don’t want any challenges.

    the term “liberal”, like the phrase “we practice a different politics here”, is just another verbal defensive weapon employed to ostracize new people and ideas.

    guess what, steve? i live in a state where “liberal” is a pejorative like “bank robber” or “scam artist”.

    and you know what, steve, this same tactic is used by old right-wing republicans against new right-wing republicans when the former worry the latter are moving in on “their” territory.

    so, to repeat, there is nothing unique about your claim, it’s just the usual verbal warfare of politics.

    it would be interesting, though to see what greater success (or failure) dems had where you live were you stalwarts to open up.

    my observation is that dems ROUTINELY barely succeed, or fail, for lack of willingness to set themseves apart from the right-wing view of our future.

  17. William Harris says:

    @emptywheel: Thanks, in turn.

    I agree with you that the questions around women’s health will be central this cycle. The interesting aspect about anti-choice in Kent County has been the diminishing of the cultural drivers in the past 10 years. It’s traditional electoral base has been in the Catholic and Dutch Reformed communities, the latter especially weakening demographically and broadening over this time. The lean in the District was further eroded by the redistricting that removed traditional bastions for the anti-choice side in the cities of Wyoming and Kentwood.

    And as you know, politics by its nature tends to drive a little bit by the rear-view mirror. If we only look at Pestka as he was 10 years ago, we not only miss the changes above, we miss the shaping realities of the 90s when RtL did savage a lot of candidates, when Ds had to craft what were essentially defensive positions in order to run campaigns.

    Have we (the district) changed? Has Steve? I think there are possibilities. I don’t think that an anti-choice candidate is an internal necessity (the district committee leans significantly to the choice side), but instead remains a tactical matter. We want the win.

  18. emptywheel says:

    @William Harris: Right. And my sense is the district committee has been so focused on 1) each other and 2) funding that they have missed that women are screaming about the assault on women’s issues, both nationally and (as Santorum learned to his dismay) even in MI. Not to mention on how to draw contrasts with Amash, who is far better on (non-women) civil liberties and peace than the majority of Dems these days.

  19. orionATL says:

    @William Harris:

    you write like a thoughtful, wise person.

    your district is lucky to have such a one.

    “rear view mirror” or “fighting the last war” –

    neither is a perspective for the leap of growth this nation must make – and soon.

  20. orionATL says:

    @William Harris:

    i will say one other thing:

    in my view of the political world,

    at a time when major change is needed in a nation, wanting and needing to win the immediate race constitutes the greatest sin. under such a circumstance, our current circumstance at the moment, if one is afraid to lose, one should never run and never be chosen to run.

    at a time like now, when change is necessary to survival, victory lies in persistently, consistently talking with voters about issues gov’t has a chance to solve, issues it cannot or should not try to solve, while honestly describing problems looming in the present and the near future, together with some hopeful view of a reasonably happy future.

    “winning” may require several 2-yr congressional cycles to accomplish.

  21. Chuck says:

    @rugger9: Another party is the WRONG way to go. (Nader and Bush, anyone?) Instead, we need to support good, progressive Democrats like Trevor Thomas.

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