Recent political developments in Allegan County have promoted some unpleasant memories from my old stomping grounds of Barry County.
The three-pronged attack on fairness and open government involving “retiring” Circuit Judge Kevin Cronin, his “annointed” replacement Roberts Kengis and temporary County Clerk turning State Senator Bob Genetski tells me yet again that George Carlin was right — “The game is rigged… but nobody seems to notice, nobody seems to care.”
The rigging of political power in Barry County became an art form in days gone by. It went like this:
• County Clerk Nancy Boersma retired midway into her last four-year term and her deputy, Deb Smith was appointed to succeed her. Smith ran for election a couple of years later as an incumbent.
• County Sheriff David Wood retired midway into his last term and Steve DeBoer was appointed his successor. DeBoer was the incumbent Republican in the 1996 election.
• County Treasurer Juanita Yarger retired midway into her last term and Sue Vandecar was appointed her successor, thereby giving her the incumbent’s advantage in the next election.
• County Register of Deeds Sandy Schondelmayer resigned his job before his his last term was up and Darla Burghdoff was appointed his successor. Of course, she was the incumbent in the next election.
• County Drain Commissioner Robert Shaffer stepped down before the completion of his last term and his successor, Tom Doyle was appointed. You know the rest of the story.
• County Prosecutor Dale Crowley resigned before his term was up and Gordon Shane McNeill was his appointed successor and incumbent in the following election.
At one point, only one of the seven county elected officials, Surveyor Brian Reynolds, was the only one of the gang who had been elected to his first full term.
This unpleasant data showed a system in which those in power stayed in power and even some of them chose their successors. The key ingredient is that incumbent Republicans almost always win and that’s how the system gets gamed.
In just the last couple of months has come the news that former State Rep. Bob Genetski, who was elected county clerk in 2016 by name recognition, not by experience, now wants to leave this job after less than two years to run for the 26th District State Senate seat now held by Tonya Schuitmaker, who is being term limited.
Genetski chose not to run against her in 2014, indicating to was too busy “spending more time with family” to run for Schuitmaker’s job. The district includes all of Allegan and Van Buren counties and the City of Kentwood and Gaines Township.
Now comes the news that Allegan County Circuit Judge Kevin Cronin is “retiring” despite having almost three more years left in his six-year term. Word on the street is that Prosecutor Roberts Kengis, himself elected for the first time only a year ago, wants to succeed Cronin on the bench, and it appears he has the right connections. Retiring County Commissioner Don Black already has endorsed him as “a good guy.”
Nearly all of us remain in the dark about why Cronin has decided to retire almost three years before his term expires. And he’s not talking, not even the perfunctory “stepping down to spend more time with his family.”
So the old revolving door of political cronies seems to have crept into politics closer to home. I’ve seen this dog and pony show before. It’s very manufactured and has little, if anything, to do with fairness and the elusive “will of the people.”
Too many West Michigan Republicans have taken the voters of this area for granted, as complicit, for chumps who will just rubber stamp whomever they set before them. And they’re going to get what they want because we collectively let them.