Once upon a time, Dorr Township was an island of Democrats in a sea of Republicans in Allegan County. Those days are gone.
To be sure, there have been pockets of resistance in outlying areas such as Watson Township and Casco Township and the City of Allegan, but the county-wide Republican stampede of elephants somehow was slowed consistently through the years in Dorr, which at times featured 100% Democrats at the local level of government.
As late as 2004, the Dorr Township Board majority (three of five members) was made up of Supervisor Don Kaczanowski, Clerk Dick Dutkiewicz and Trustee Norm Fifelski. Four years later, the board was 100% Republican.
Kaczanowski decided to retire and not seek re-election in 2008, being succeeded by Republican Tammy VanHaitsma.
Dutkiewicz died in December 2006 and was succeeded by Republican Valerie Brummel.
Fifelski was defeated in his re-election bid for one of the four trustees’ seats, the first time Dorr expanded them from two to four. Voters instead chose Republicans Larry Dolegowski, Paul Davis, Josh Otto and Dan Weber. It was clear that Fifelski was turned away for the first time in 20 years because he was a Democrat.
Kaczanowski, when called at his home to get some idea about what happened, said the township’s population changed a great deal with urban sprawl coming from the southwest side of Grand Rapids. And once the old guard Democrats stepped down, they were replaced by Republicans.
Dorr Township 50 years was a solid Democratic bastion led by Polish Catholics who grew up in the tradition of admiring Franklin D. Roosevelt. And though the population demographics changed over the last three decades, perhaps the greatest single reason for the 180-degree switch in party politics was the issue of abortion.
Indeed, Dutkiewicz’s widow, Rusty, has been a fierce champion of the Right Life cause. The issue became so important to her that she publicly endorsed Republican William Lucas in 1986 at a Republican fund-raising dinner, turning away from incumbent Democrat James Blanchard.
Though Dutkiewicz, Kaczanowski and Fifelski always appeared on the ballot as Democrats, they showed signs they weren’t on board with the state and national party on issues.
Dutkiewicz was said by colleagues to have remarked that he didn’t leave the Democratic Party, it left him.
Kaczanowski said he still believes party affiliation isn’t all that important at the local level, but the standard bearer at the top of the ticket can have long coattails. Though Republican Ronald Reagan won Allegan County handily in the 1980s, Dorr Township continued to return the Dems to local offices. In fact, they didn’t often face opposition as incumbents.
“What the Democrats stand for today is different than back then,” said Kaczanowski. “They’ve gotten more liberal over the years… And these days a lot of people vote straight party,” which is an incentive to be a Republican in Dorr Township.
He indicated that the further politics gets from local government, the more partisan it becomes. He said he personally voted for Republicans at times, though he was a Democratic official.
Examining the current Township Board, all Republicans, it might be hard to believe that less than a decade ago the Democrats held the upper hand.
PHOTOS: Don Kaczanowski Norm Fifelski
Dick and Rusty Dutkiewicz