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KENT COUNTY DEMOCRATIC PARTY ENDORSES LOCAL CANDIDATES & READY BY 5 MILLAGE

[GRAND RAPIDS, MI – June 20] – The Kent County Democratic Party is proud to endorse the following eight candidates, who are running for local nonpartisan offices:

  • David LaGrand, Grand Rapids Mayor
  • AliciaMarie Belchak, Grand Rapids City Commissioner, Ward 1
  • Milinda Ysasi, Grand Rapids City Commissioner, Ward 2
  • Marshall Kilgore, Grand Rapids City Commissioner, Ward 3
  • Micah Perkins, Board of Trustees Grand Rapids Community College
  • Robert Kilgo, Wyoming City Council At-Large
  • Charissa Huang, Judge of 17th Circuit Court (Non-incumbent)
  • Peter Kulas-Domingueuz, Judge of Probate Court (Kent, Non-Incumbent) At-Large

The Kent County Democratic Party also enthusiastically endorses the Kent County Ready By Five Early Childhood Millage for renewal as an investment in a strong future for our community. The Ready by Five Early Childhood Millage helps children in Kent County enter kindergarten healthy and ready to learn and succeed. 

The Kent Dems strongly encourage a “Yes” vote on this millage and for these endorsed local candidates. The Kent County Democratic Party endorses initiatives and candidates in nonpartisan races to help voters decide about candidates and issues they may not know about. 

“We believe these are the best candidates for the office,” said Gary Stark, Endorsement Committee Chair. “They share many of our values. They care about the policies we care about, and they are committed to opening up the political process to better reflect the broad range of people who make up our community.

The Endorsement Committee, consisting of nine people, reviewed all the candidates who filed for nonpartisan races by the April deadline and contacted approximately 50 of whom were thought open to considering a Democratic endorsement. About a dozen responded and completed the Kent Dems questionnaire. 

After considering their responses, interviewing a few in greater depth, and soliciting the opinions of elected Democratic office-holders in the county, the Endorsement Committee made its recommendations last week to the Kent County Democratic County Committee, who by a two-thirds vote, affirmed these recommendations.

“We are thrilled to see such talented, qualified individuals willing to step up to run for office and eager to represent us in Kent County,” said Chair Kim Gates. “It once again highlights the importance of voting not just for the top of the ticket, but all the way down to the local nonpartisan races that impact our everyday lives the most.”

For the full endorsement policy and process of the Kent County Democratic Party, please visit https://kentdems.com/candidates.

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ABOUT KENT COUNTY DEMOCRATS 

For more than three decades, the Kent County Democratic Party has been a grassroots organization centered on advancing progressive goals like quality public education, affordable health care, economic and racial justice, workers’ rights, gender equality, and protecting the environment. We work hard all year, every year, to elect Democrats and move our country forward.

Contact us by email at info@kentdems.com, call (616) 406-1573, or stop by our office at 301 Fuller NE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503. Our office is currently open Monday-Friday from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM through the entire election cycle. www.kentdems.com 

ABOUT READY BY FIVE MILLAGE

The Ready by Five Early Childhood Millage helps thousands of children in Kent County enter kindergarten healthy and ready to learn and succeed. Kent County voters have the opportunity to renew this critical funding during the Aug. 6, 2024 election. 

The millage is funded by a 0.25 mill property tax that generates about $7 million a year, totaling $37 million since Ready by Five was overwhelmingly supported by Kent County voters in 2018. Visit yesreadyby5.com for more info.

Kent Dems PRIDE

Happy Pride Month!

Kent County Democrats are proud and strong as we step fully into this campaign season and step up our activities. Like the Pride flag, we continue to see democratic dedication and diversity shine with the brilliance of a rainbow — each color representing our vibrant coalition and the unique perspectives we value under our BIG Tent.

June is all about celebrating the progress we made to protect and lift up the LGBTQIA+ community. From recent legislative wins to the history and leadership of activists like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, there’s so much to celebrate and recognize this month.

We should be proud to live in a state where Michigan Democrats are working to expand civil rights and protections. Since Michigan Democrats took control of the state legislature, Democrats have:

  • Officially declared June as Pride Month through a proclamation signed by Governor Whitmer
  • Passed legislation to protect LGBTQIA+ youth and ban conversion therapy
  • Expanded the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to protect LGBTQ+ Michiganders from discrimination in housing, the workplace, and in the larger community
  • Established the first statewide LGBTQ+ commission to address issues facing Michigan’s LGBTQ+ community

Michigan Democrats are leading our state to expand and protect civil rights for all Michiganders, which is why we must come together to make sure Democrats — up AND down the ballot — can continue to lead our great state and local governments.

Here in Kent County we are proud to have SEVEN candidates from our Pride Caucus running for office! This is a fantastic representation of the diversity in our community and another sign of progress.

Currently, the Victory Institute lists only two out LGBTQ+ elected officials in Kent County – and one of them is retiring. With these seven on the ballot*, that could very well change:

A complete list of candidates* appearing on summer primary ballots in Kent County can be found here. The Kent Dems celebrates each of these candidates* for stepping up to serve in elected roles and for their willingness to put in the work of campaigning.

Will you step up too and help out?

When we come together, we win together. And we need to win BIG in November. We must elect Democrats who are ready to fight for LGBTQIA+ Michiganders at every level of our democratic society. We need Democrats to serve on Kent County’s city, township and county-wide boards and judiciary as well as in Michigan’s state legislature, U.S. Congress, and the White House.

Stand with us in this fight for freedom and protection of our rights! Become a Kent Dems member, join the Michigan Dems, consider a donation, get involved as a volunteer, and, most importantly, VOTE in primaries on August 6 and on election day in November!

*DISCLAIMER: Any candidate announcement here DOES NOT constitute an endorsement from the Kent County Democratic Party. We aim to show widespread support for candidates in the primary process and remain neutral in partisan and nonpartisan *primary* elections.

Distinguished Democrats: Josh Ferguson

Josh Ferguson

Political Consultant & Kent Dems Field Director

Josh is a proud trans woman. She shared, “How you look at me says more about you than what it says about me. I take a great deal of pride in giving people practice in challenging their assumptions.”

Growing up in a household that kept playing West Wing over and over, she thought that being like some of the actors was a job she actually could do and aspired to work in politics, even if it was behind the scenes. 

Pursuing a degree in Economics at Valparaiso University in Indiana, she was inspired by South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s impact on the queer community. 

After Josh graduated, jobs were hard to come by, so she volunteered to do data work for Bryan Berghoef, who was running for office. Every day, Josh would ask for a summer job to be his Campaign Manager. Bryan eventually hired her, because he said nobody wanted the job more than she did. 

Josh said the deep introspection she had to go through, pulling from her internal strengths, helped shape who she was as an authentic person. She said, “The more open and honest you are with people, they respond because they can tell that I have a clear sense of who I am and what I want to do.”

From August, 2021 until November, 2022, she served as a Field Organizer for Governor Whitmer’s campaign. She said, “It was illuminating to work for a massive statewide apparatus versus a local campaign. In the end, all you really have is what you have between your ears.”

In April, 2023, Josh was hired to do consulting work for 270 Strategies to keep an eye on renewable energy in Michigan and to help with its implementation across the state. She has a flexible schedule which allows her to be active in the Kent Dems as a Field Director, where she builds out teams of people to engage neighborhoods in one-to-one conversations. 

Josh says, “In order to cut through divisiveness, we need to get to know each other better. Nothing beats a five minute conversation. No one human can win an election by themselves. It comes down to one collective coalition versus another collective coalition. It is really important to keep the focus on the coalition and having genuine deep conversations. Strong coalitions build strong communities.” 

Josh sees herself as a “trouble maker because I inherently throw people off balance. People make assumptions and by discovering that they were wrong sets people back. Assumptions are rarely challenged on the news or social media, so I take a great deal of pride giving people practice in throwing off their assumptions. Ultimately, it makes the world more wholesome. I am hopeful that through the power of authentic conversations, humans will have the ability to work together better.”

Distinguished Democrats: Kathi Harris

Kathi Harris
Executive Director, PROACTIVE Project
Executive Committee Member, Kent County Democratic Party 
By Terry Gates

Kathi’s entire 60 years can be summed up in one word: BUSY!

Kathi’s life journey is a remarkable testament to her unwavering commitment to service and community engagement. From her formative years imbued with values of compassion and communal responsibility, Kathi’s upbringing within the nurturing environment of family, and faith, and her mother’s active involvement instilled in her the ethos of giving back and treating others with kindness and respect.

Throughout her life, Kathi has embraced active participation in various facets of society, excluding sports, and instead, finding fulfillment in academic pursuits and community initiatives. After graduating from Grand Rapids Central High School at the young age of 16 in the class of 1980, Kathi seamlessly transitioned into college life while maintaining her fervent engagement with student activities and community endeavors.

However, it was her career path at General Motors and her membership in the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 730 that truly defined her trajectory. Immersing herself in union activities from the outset, Kathi’s rise was swift and groundbreaking. In 1989, she shattered barriers by becoming the first elected female and the sole African American female to hold the position of District Committee Person of the Bargaining Unit at Local 730. Throughout her leadership journey within the union, Kathi remained steadfast in her commitment to amplifying the voices of her fellow members and addressing their needs.

Recognizing the power of collective action, Kathi assumed pivotal roles within the union, including Chair of the Local Union Civil Rights Committee and later Chair of the UAW Region 1D Civil Rights Committee, where she tirelessly championed the rights and interests of the working class.

Beyond her union responsibilities, Kathi felt a deep sense of obligation to the broader community. In 2000, she spearheaded the formation of PROACTIVE, a non-profit coalition dedicated to enhancing the quality of life for underserved communities by fostering leadership, education, and employment opportunities. Kathi understood the importance of mobilizing low-voter turnout communities of color through non-partisan initiatives, recognizing their voices as integral to the democratic process.

Her advocacy extended to nurturing future leaders as an advisor for the NAACP Youth and as a college tour coordinator, where she imparted upon them the significance of civic engagement and advocacy.

Even today, Kathi continues her advocacy work, particularly within the homeless community and the county jail, where she educates individuals on the importance of voting and its impact on their daily lives. Her dedication to democracy and community upliftment remains unwavering. She continues to do the work to help others because of her son, Zachary, and 8-year-old grandson, Zaiden. Kathi often says that she would “hate for them to be out in the community and no one is there to help them”.  

Kathi’s guiding principle, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person,” epitomizes her proactive approach to effecting change. Through her unwavering dedication and leadership, Kathi serves as a beacon of inspiration, underscoring the transformative power of individual commitment to service and community upliftment.

Kent Dems Issues Statement In Support Of Starbucks Unions

Below is the full text of a letter sent to Starbucks CEO Laxman Narasimhan by KCDP Chair Kim Gates:

Dear Mr. Narasimhan,

I am writing to you on behalf of the Kent County Democratic Party to express
our support for the workers at the Starbucks location at 2480 Burton St. SE in
Grand Rapids, Michigan, who have organized under Starbucks Workers
United. As you are aware, this store was the first in Michigan to unionize on
May 13, 2022, marking a significant step forward for labor rights within our
community.

It has come to our attention that despite the establishment of the union, the
store, along with 400 others across the nation representing over 10,000
workers, has yet to secure a contractual agreement with Starbucks
Corporation. We understand from recent statements, including those you
have made, that there is now an openness to negotiate with the union. We
commend this willingness as a positive development towards fair labor
practices.

The Kent County Democratic Party firmly believes in the power of union
solidarity and the fundamental rights of workers to negotiate for fair wages,
benefits, and protections. These elements are essential not only to the well-
being of the workers and their families but also to the broader goal of
expanding the middle class, which remains a core tenet of our party’s
mission.

We respectfully urge you to engage in good faith negotiations with Starbucks
Workers United to finalize a fair and just contract for the workers at the Grand
Rapids location and beyond. Such an agreement would not only benefit the
employees but would also set a commendable precedent for labor relations
nationwide.

A copy of this letter will also be shared with the local and national offices of
Starbucks Workers United to affirm our support for their efforts.
Thank you for considering this matter seriously. We look forward to your
positive action, which will undoubtedly enhance the reputation of Starbucks
as a progressive and socially responsible employer.

Sincerely,

Kim Gates
Chair, Kent County Democratic Party

View a downloadable PDF version here:

Distinguished Democrats: Gary Stark

Gary describes himself as “a concerned citizen with lots of experience, doing what he can in the time he has, to work towards what he believes in.”

As a retired professor of German History at GVSU, he can’t help but think about what can happen in America if people are not vigilant and involved in upholding democracy. His advice to young leaders new to the Kent Dems is: “Become involved. There are a whole range of things people can do to bring about change, especially on the local level. Everyone can be doing more; should be doing more.”

Gary decided to become involved himself after attending the 2017 Women’s March on the Mall in D.C., right after Trump got elected. He was impressed with how Katie Fahey, the organizer for Voters Not Politicians (VNP), took an idea to end statewide gerrymandering to reality. He enjoyed using his skills as a presenter for VNP to promote a cause he believed in. Using Katie as an example, Gary said, “You are more powerful than you think you are.”

When Gary decided to check out the Kent Dems, others took note of his leadership abilities and persuaded him to be the Chair in 2017. It was a steep learning curve for him to learn the culture, get to know the members and figure out how things are done. He is proud that along with Jeff Winston, they were able to secure the new headquarters which has made a huge difference. 

During the 2020 elections while he was Chair, the eyes of the nation and the world were on Kent County as one of five “bellwether” counties in the country. Gary said it was “kind of fun” to be dealing with the media and doing telephone interviews from all around the world as Kent County Dems came through and turned the county Blue for the first time in a long time. 

After the election, Gary decided to step down from being the Chair on a high note and reduce stress associated with the job. In 2022, he agreed to chair the 3rd Congressional District and helped to get Hillary Scholten re-elected. He enjoys working with other county parties and to see how well the Kent Dems are doing compared to others in the District. 

Gary is currently the First Vice-Chair, Chair of the Endorsement Committee, Chair of the Rules and Bylaws Committee, and serves on the Fundraising Committee. He also serves on the MI Voter Protection Hotline trouble-shooting voter issues. He enjoys being behind the scenes as a facilitator and helping to get critical infrastructures in place.  

Gary is motivated by a desire for fairness, a sense of justice, and an empathy for people who have been discriminated against. His advice to others is “to pay attention to what is going on in the world. Take on responsibility. Be someone others can count on. Step up and do what needs to be done.”

Become A Precinct Delegate

What’s the difference between a Precinct Delegate and a Precinct Captain?

Precinct Delegate is the easiest job you’ll ever volunteer for. You don’t have to go to meetings or make phone calls or knock on doors. You just need to put your name on a ballot. It’s your chance to make it official: “I’m a Democrat and I’m proud of it.”

Depending on population, some precincts can elect two or three Democrat precinct delegates. We need to register more than 500 precinct delegates by May 7 so we can have the maximum number of Democrat delegates on the ballot in every precinct in Kent County. 

We will have a special Voter Education Session on precinct delegates from 6-7 p.m. April 10 before the next monthly meeting at the Dem headquarters. You can complete the necessary paperwork — an affidavit of identity and receipt of filing — and get that paperwork notarized by Joan Long, who will be available to answer any questions.

If you want to do more in your precinct — organize your neighbors and get the vote out — we will also have a table where Rich Thrush will explain the Precinct Captain’s job and give you an opportunity to sign up for training.  Rich says walking for Democrats increases the vote 8 percent. 

Delegate or captain—your precinct needs you.

https://www.mobilize.us/kentdems/event/591370/

Precinct Power: What is a Precinct?

  • A precinct is the basic unit of voters. Your precinct determines your polling place. Everyone who votes at your polling place lives in your precinct. 
  • You can find your precinct number and polling place on your voter registration card or online at https://mvic.sos.state.mi.us/Voter/Index 
  • There are 251 precincts in Kent County and we want at least one Democrat Precinct Delegate on the ballot in every one of them. 
  • Every election begins at the precinct. If you want to win the election, you’ve got to win the precincts.

Delegate or captain—your precinct needs you.

https://www.mobilize.us/kentdems/event/591370/

Want to be a delegate to the Democratic National Convention? Here’s How.

Ever wonder how we, as a Democratic Party, decide which candidates will run under our banner in the fall?

For many offices, such as Congress, state legislature, and county and township offices, our nominees are chosen in the summer primary election (August 6 this year). Candidates for statewide education boards and Michigan Supreme Court are nominated at a state Democratic convention (this year’s convention will be August 24 in Lansing – mark your calendar!).

But how do we decide our nominee for President?

The Democratic presidential nominating process includes the following steps:

STEP ONE: Presidential primary election. More than 770,000 Michigan voters voted a Democratic ballot in the presidential primary election. President Joe Biden got 81.1% of the vote statewide, including 82% in the 2nd Congressional District and 80.6% in the 3rd Congressional District.

STEP TWO: Delegates are awarded to presidential candidates. Delegate spots are awarded proportionally to candidates who receive more than 15% of the vote in the presidential primary statewide as well as within each congressional district. Because only Joe Biden got over 15% of the vote, he won all statewide delegate spots as well as all delegates for the 2nd and 3rd districts.

STEP THREE: The actual delegates (and alternates) are selected. Michigan will have 140 National Convention delegates this year. These include four from the Second Congressional District; six from the Third Congressional District; 25 at-large delegates; and 15 delegate spots reserved for Party leaders and elected officials. District-level delegates will be elected at Congressional District Conventions on May 11; all other delegates and alternates will be elected by the Michigan Democratic State Central Committee on June 8. To run for DNC Delegate and/or Alternate, you must fill out the Delegate Declaration of Candidacy form and be an MDP member by April 11 (for district-level Delegate candidates) or May 6 (for PLEO and At-Large candidates). Protip: Fill out and send in your Delegate Declaration of Candidacy ASAP – don’t let deadlines sneak up on you!

STEP FOUR: Democratic National Convention. The Convention will take place on August 19-22 in Chicago. Delegates to the Convention will vote to nominate our candidates for President and Vice President and adopt the Democratic Party’s national platform.

Want to be a delegate to the Democratic National Convention? If so, you must do two things by April 12:

District-level delegates will be selected at district conventions on Saturday, May 11.

2024 Gala Honored Guest Speaker: Senator Debbie Stabenow

We are thrilled to announce that Senator Debbie Stabenow will be joining us at the 2024 Spring Gala.

Senator Stabenow has represented Michigan for 45 years as both a House Representative and U.S. Senator. Last year, she announced she would be retiring, and the Kent Dems are truly honored to have her joining us at the gala this year to celebrate her accomplishments and service to our great state and nation.

Throughout her years in public service, Senator Stabenow has blazed trails and opened doors for women and girls. Among her many “firsts” – she was the first woman elected to the United States Senate from Michigan. 

She has persistently focused on making things in America and bringing jobs home. Because of her leadership, Michigan is well-positioned as a global leader in the clean energy economy. As the author of two landmark programs transforming the health of our Great Lakes, there is no greater champion for our Great Lakes, natural resources, and Michigan way of life than Senator Stabenow.

Her leadership has been characterized by an unrivaled work ethic, the ability to build bipartisan coalitions to get things done, and a commitment to public service that has set the standard for constituent service.