From the lakeshore to cornfields, cities to villages, the race for Michigan’s Second Congressional District is increasingly one to watch

A rural landscape in the Second Congressional District.

Michigan’s Second Congressional District is, in some ways, a study in contrasts: a world of dense urban neighborhoods and wide swaths of rural landscape, of cars donning “Make America Great Again” and “Resist” bumper stickers, of Republican and Democratic (and, sometimes, Libertarian and Green) political signs.

But, like so many places across the United States, these contrasts exist in a world defined not by red nor blue, but, often, of purple. Home to some 700,000 people and spanning five full counties and portions of three other counties, the Second Congressional District winds its way through a host of cities, towns and villages, including Muskegon, Muskegon Heights, North Muskegon, and Norton Shores. It makes its way from Holland and Grandville through Grand Haven, Manistee National Forest, and Ludington. It is a space in which President Donald Trump’s most adamant supporters and vocal critics live and work together—a place where Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Green Party members, and everyone in between are often partnering to tackle job creation, homelessness, hunger, drug addiction, and a host of other issues that impact our daily lives.

Sure, we’re not all linking arms and frolicking harmoniously together, but we are navigating our lives outside of a world solely defined in terms of being conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat, red or blue. We exist complexly, in a messy spectrum filled with very real people living very complicated lives that don’t always fit neatly within, or can be described entirely by, a single political party.

So, what does that mean when it comes to Tuesday’s election? For the voters we’ve spoken to, many of them have told us they’re tired—of being told they’re part of a group that hates another group, of how they should be voting, of political sound bites. And, yeah, there were those who told us they dislike the “other” political party, but, for the most part, the business owners, teachers, artists, engineers, and so many others who make up this land that’s part of the Second Congressional District, told us they want thoughtful discourse addressing a myriad complex problems and issues that affect us all, ranging from achieving affordable healthcare to protecting Lake Michigan, campaign financing, and more.

A sign at Hackley Park in downtown Muskegon encourages people to vote.

That’s what this piece aims to do: we know it’s long, but it’s broken down into sections you should be able to navigate depending on your interests. And, hey, if you want to read all of it, we’d love that, too. But, mostly, this article is meant to be thoughtful and informative. It describes two very different candidates who, for the most part, disagree on a wide range of issues—and it’s meant to be a reminder of what’s at stake in this election, no matter what political party you’re supporting. Which means: go vote this Tuesday, Nov. 6. [You can find your polling place and see a sample ballot by clicking here.]

“Our [voter] turnouts are so poor; if we get a 65 percent turnout, we’ll be very happy—that’s not good enough,” said Kurt Troutman, a professor of history and political science at Muskegon Community College. “So little is asked of us in this country. Voting every two years is not the most extraordinary thing.”

And, ultimately, you’ll hear a theme running throughout this piece: no matter who we interviewed—from the candidates to political operatives and academics, everyone agreed: no matter who wins on Tuesday, we’re all in this together. Our lives are, whether we like it or not, intertwined. Whether it comes to protecting Lake Michigan, ensuring our neighbors aren’t going hungry, increasing literacy rates, and so much more, we in Muskegon—and throughout the district—depend upon one another, regardless of the political party to which we ascribe.

Close to 1,000 people line up for the final debate between U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga and Rob Davidson.

The political life of the Second Congressional District

Political districts are strange, fascinating and diverse places—and the Second Congressional District certainly is no exception. It is an amalgamation of hundreds of thousands of lives, of a landscape filled with cornfields that fill the horizon, of giant wooden crosses perched in yards, of churches and synagogues and a Sikh temple. There are taverns and side-of-the-road fruit stands and restaurants aptly named, “Restaurant.” Farms and factories fill this land; it is urban, rural and suburban; there are dirt roads and highways, all running through the places in which we are living out our lives.

At the Muskegon Times, we’ve spoken to a wide range of folks from the district: college professors who rarely, if ever, vote straight party line; community activists who, while having been intimately involved in neighborhood life, have not cast a federal election ballot in years; people who have told us that, just in the past month, they have made a complete 180 on the candidates for whom they’re voting. There are pro-life Democrats and Republicans who have issued harsh words for Trump over his immigration and environmental policies. Others tell us they would never, ever describe themselves as Republican or Democrat.

“I’m human—the media’s always trying to put a label on people,” one man grumbled to me while I was covering a mid-October political debate in Newaygo.

All of this isn’t to say there aren’t real, and clear, political divisions here—especially when it comes to election time. Of the five full counties covered by the district (Muskegon, Ottawa, Oceana, Lake and Newaygo), four, historically, have been solidly Republican: Muskegon County stands alone when it comes to voting Democratic. And, really, it’s the cities of Muskegon and Muskegon Heights that carry the county’s Democratic vote—former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton barely carried the district, garnering 47.5 percent of the vote compared to now President Donald Trump’s 46.6 percent.

The district too covers about half of the Republican-heavy Mason County, the northern portion of conservative Allegan County and the northwest section of the more politically mixed Kent County. The district’s boundaries have changed over the years, but the last time a Democrat represented the area now called the Second Congressional District was in 1935; only four Democrats have represented the area since 1873. (If you look up the Second Congressional District, you’ll see there was a Democrat representing it in 1967, but the district’s borders were different at that point and didn’t, for example, include Muskegon.)

In 2016, the Second Congressional District’s voters ushered in Trump with 56 percent of the vote; in 2012, former Republican Presidential candidate Mitt Romney too landed 56 percent. The 2018 Cook Partisan Voter Index—which measures how strongly a U.S. congressional district or state leans towards the Democratic or Republican Party, compared to the country as a whole—reported the Second Congressional District is Republican plus nine, meaning the district’s results were nine percentage points more Republican than the national average.

[Left to right] U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, Mark Brooky of the Grand Haven Tribune, and Rob Davidson at the final debate.
It is within this context that U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Holland) and Rob Davidson, a Democrat from Spring Lake, are running to represent the Second Congressional District, and the race has, somewhat unexpectedly, become an increasingly contentious battle for a seat that, until fairly recently, was not seen as being up for grabs whatsoever.

“While [Huizenga] has committed no overt big problems, he’s made no overt huge successes either; he’s hardly a national figure in any way, shape, or form,” Troutman said. “Huizenga is entering his fifth term, and there can be voter fatigue. I do think there’s an attractiveness to Rob Davidson that previous Democrats have not offered, and there’s a vulnerability to Huizenga.”

That’s not to say Huizenga doesn’t have support. He does—and he has for a long time. In 2016, Huizenga won by more than 100,000 votes—212,508 people cast their ballots for the Republican incumbent, compared to 110,391 votes for the Democratic challenger, Dennis Murphy. Huizenga’s past elections have gone essentially the same way—in 2014, for example, he landed 135,568 votes, compared to the Democratic candidate Dean Vanderstelt’s 70,851.

But, this year’s race has become increasingly different—a result of a combination of factors: a well-funded and well-manned campaign from Davidson, dipping support for Trump throughout Michigan, and ire over national issues. Of the voters we’ve spoken to who said they normally cast Republican ballots but will be voting for at least one Democrat this time around, a number have cited national issues as being the catalyst for their decision, including Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court after being accused of sexual assault.

In the face of a more aggressive campaign from a Democratic challenger than the incumbent has experienced before, Huizenga’s support seemingly has slipped (Sabato’s Crystal Ball, a national elections forecaster from University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, for example, recently downgraded the Second Congressional District from being a “safe Republican” district to “likely Republican”)—but the odds remain in his favor. FiveThirtyEight, a website that focuses on poll analysis and politics, predicts there is a 14 in 15 chance that Huizenga will claim victory.

“Rob Davidson is giving it his best, and he might be able to hold down Huizenga’s number to 55, 56 percent; that could happen—but, even if Republicans do very badly overall, I think Huizenga’s going to survive,” said Donald Zinman, an associate professor of political science at Grand Valley State University. “I think Davidson is running a very serious campaign. This is just still tough country for a Democrat. I think the district is becoming less rural, less white, but that’s only happening very slowly.”

But for Troutman, the political science and history professor at Muskegon Community College, support for Poppy Sias-Hernandez, a Democrat who’s running against Republican Jon Bumstead for the 34th state Senate District, which includes Muskegon, could end up tipping the election in Davidson’s favor.

“We’ve got an incredible populist candidate who’s getting a tremendous groundswell of support,” Troutman said. “I think that’s going to benefit Rob Davidson. I think you’ll see him benefiting from her popularity.”

This increasingly competitive campaign translates to an energized public, both for supporters of Huizenga and Davidson, and is galvanizing voters: close to 1,000 people from both (or, rather, perhaps all) sides of the political aisle showed up for a debate between Huizenga and Davidson Monday night in Grand Haven (you can see a video of that below)—and more likely would’ve come if there hadn’t been a cap on the number of attendees. Hundreds of people flocked to an earlier debate in Newaygo between the two candidates. Newspapers have been flooded with letters to the editor regarding the campaign; comment boards have, inevitably, been filled with charged debate.

All of which is to say: people are paying attention—and, according to both voters and political analysts, they’re paying attention to issues, not just party politics. Both local Democratic and Republican party leaders have told us they’ve seen individuals from the other side of the political aisle jump party lines during this race, and voters themselves have spoken to us about leaving the party for which they’ve voted most of their lives. As the country gears up for a midterm election that’s expected to bring more people to the polls than usual, we here in Muskegon and the Second Congressional District should, by the end of Tuesday, know the final act to this campaign.

Who are the candidates—and what do they believe in?

Huizenga, 49, a four-term Republican incumbent who lives with his wife and five children in Holland, worked in real estate prior to entering politics. In 1996, he accepted a job as director of public policy for then-U.S. Rep. Peter Hoekstra. Huizenga represented the 90th District in the Michigan House of Representatives from 2002 through 2006 and has represented the Second Congressional District since 2011. He is also the co-owner of his family’s construction business, Huizenga Gravel Company.

U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga

“In 2002, I had people encouraging me to run for the state House, and I finally agreed to do that,” Huizenga said, explaining why he decided to get involved in politics during an interview with the Muskegon Times last week. “That turned into six years. By then, I’d had a number of folks asking me to run when Pete Hoekstra was done.”

“It’s not just about having people coming to you, but why they’re coming to you,” the congressman continued. “Over my career, I’ve had folks say, ‘Look, we think you tackle issues and tackle realities of life around us.’ I want to make sure this state and country is a place that will offer my kids and grandkids, and everyone else, the same opportunities I’ve had.”

Davidson, 47, the Democratic challenger, is an emergency room physician in Fremont. He sits on the Spring Lake Board of Education and lives in Spring Lake with his wife, who works as a physician in Muskegon, and their three children. In an interview with the Muskegon Times in October, Davidson said he decided to launch his bid for the Second Congressional District following a town hall that Huizenga held in Baldwin, Michigan in March of 2017.

Rob Davidson

“He called on me, and we ended up having literally a 15-minute debate about the issue of health care,” Davidson said of Huizenga at the Baldwin town hall. “We went back and forth, and I told him about my support for a plan called Medicare for All, about my patients who couldn’t afford their deductibles, copays, and drug costs. He said people should have skin in the game when it comes to their health care, and he really didn’t express any interest in what I was talking about.”

“But, the people at the town hall were very interested and supportive,” Davidson continued. “Some guy yelled that I should run. Afterward, people came up and talked to me about running for office. A couple state reps were there and came up to me and said, ‘What do you think about running against him?’ It was one of those moments where you start thinking, ‘Huh, maybe I can do this.’”

Health care

Huizenga

Huizenga is a longtime critic of the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA), which was signed into law by former President Barack Obama in 2010 and was a sweeping overhaul of healthcare coverage in the United States. Advocates hailed it for essentially halving the number of uninsured individuals in the U.S.—close to 20 million people gained insurance under what’s often referred to as “Obamacare;” critics slammed its mandate that most individuals must purchase healthcare or face tax penalties, as well as for rising healthcare costs, including higher premiums and deductibles.

Huizenga voted to repeal and replace the ACA in 2017. Ultimately, a Republican-majority Congress did not repeal Obamacare and the six-week ACA open enrollment period recently kicked offmeaning the general public can, once again, access ACA health care plans.

The House bill supported by Huizenga but ultimately rejected by the Senate would have eliminated tax penalties for those who choose not to purchase health insurance (which went on to happen through the GOP’s tax reformation legislation), roll back state-by-state expansions of Medicaid that currently cover millions of people, and offer annual tax credits of $2,000 to $4,000 in lieu of government-subsidized insurance policies offered through the ACA’s marketplaces. The House bill would have substantially cut the federal budget deficit but would have resulted in 24 million more Americans without health insurance after a decade, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The ACA resulted in offering or expanding health insurance coverage to about 1.2 million people in Michigan, and the state’s uninsured rate dropped to 5.2 percent in 2017, compared to 11 percent in 2013, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. Huizenga said while he is in favor of insuring a greater number of people, he criticized rising healthcare costs under the ACA, including higher premiums. This article from the Detroit Free Press points out both the positives and negatives stemming from the ACA, including the fact that average deductibles for individuals with employer coverage in Michigan increased from $571 in 2006 to $1,431 in 2015.

“The ACA and Medicare for All is the wrong answer to a very real problem,” Huizenga said in the interview with the Muskegon Times last week. “We’ve got to look at this holistically. There is no simple, easy answer. A doctor I was sitting down with a while ago gave me that analogy: he said every complicated problem has a simple, quick and wrong answer.”

The Medicare for All plan that both Huizenga and Davidson referenced is the colloquial name for U.S. House Resolution 676, the Expanded and Improved Medicare for All Act, which would provide health care for all Americans by folding the general public into the Medicare program—a single-payer national health insurance program administered by the federal government. Currently, Medicare provides health care for seniors and some younger individuals with disabilities.

Supporters of the Medicare for All Act argue that incorporating healthier, less expensive patients into the Medicare program would drive down Medicare costs and make the program more financially secure while ensuring health coverage for everyone; patients too would no longer have to pay deductibles or co-payments. Critics, like Huizenga, say a single-payer plan would result in higher tax rates and an unsustainable burden on the federal government’s budget. A recent report from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, a free market think tank, said the Medicare for All plan would lead to a $32.6 trillion increase in federal spending over a 10-year period. Americans spent about $3.5 trillion on health care in 2017, and that number is expected to rise to an annual health care pricetag of $5.7 trillion by 2026, according to the U.S. Centers for Medicaid and Medicare. Even if health care spending remained at $3.5 trillion each year, that would still amount to $35 trillion over the next decade, more than the $32.6 trillion increase cited by the Mercatus Center.

“I understand the goal and objective—lower [priced] healthcare, greater accessibility and greater care is important; we’ve got to lower healthcare costs,” Huizenga said. “That’s got to be a common goal, but the question is: how do we get there? If there’s no easy answer, you have to look at everything from tort reform, which lowers malpractice insurance rates, to high drug prices; they’re a real problem.”

“How do you make sure people have access to affordable, reasonably priced healthcare?” he continued. “I don’t believe turning this over to the government wholesale is the answer. Look at the [U.S. Veterans Affairs’ health system]: that’s not the level of care people deserve or want.”

Rob Davidson addresses the crowd at a mid-October debate in Newaygo.

Davidson

A proponent of the Medicare for All bill, Davidson agreed with Huizenga that the Affordable Care Act “wasn’t the answer we needed,” as he said during a debate in Grand Haven last week. But, the Democratic challenger stressed that the ACA did achieve something that was, and is, sorely needed in the state: coverage for the uninsured.

Because of the ACA and Medicaid expansion, the number of Michiganders without health insurance has fallen dramatically; the uninsured rate is now at about 5.2 percent, compared to 11 percent in 2013. Still, Grand Valley State University researchers note individuals throughout the West Michigan area have a difficult time affording medical care and/or prescription drugs.

Davidson said that, in part because of some ACA regulations that have been relaxed under the Trump administration, insurance deductibles can be prohibitively high.

“I saw a woman, for instance, going back three, four weeks; she came in with chest pain and needed what could be a life-saving test that was probably going to cost a couple thousand dollars,” Davidson said during an interview with the Muskegon Times in October. “She was pleading with me that she couldn’t afford it because she made $30,000 a year and had a $13,000 deductible.”

At the same time that the health industry is making significant money, health care is increasingly unaffordable for the general public, Davidson said.

“It’s a crazy system—the fact that insurance and pharmaceutical CEOs are among the highest paid CEOs in the country and their profits are among the highest in the country is criminal,” he said.

To address this, the candidate said the Medicare for All legislation would: provide healthcare for all Americans and create a financially solvent Medicare program by incorporating the general public into a system that currently pays for some of the most expensive health care patients.

“If we take that [Medicare] system that’s already very efficient and that everybody knows and everybody understands, if we bring all the young, healthy people into it, we make Medicare more solvent, we shore up  Medicare for seniors currently and seniors in the future, and we also bring down costs and have everyone else in a system that’s much more efficient,” Davidson said in an interview with the Muskegon Times.

Additionally, such a program would allow eliminate co-pays and deductibles and allow Medicare to negotiate drug prices directly with pharmaceutical companies—something it cannot currently do.

“I’m sure you have people in this state who go onto canadadrugstore.com, or some verson of that, and buy their drugs from Canada because it’s cheaper,” Davidson said. “It’s not legal, but people do it. It’s crazy that our Senate attempted to pass a bill last year that would allow people to legally buy drugs from Canada because more than half of those drugs are made here, exported to Canada, and then come back here.”

“It’s all about having the political will to tell drug companies that we’re going to negotiate prices and stand firm,” he continued. “When you’re someone like Huizenga, or many other members of Congress, who’ve taken money from drug companies, it makes it a little harder to do because they’re the ones helping you get elected and now you have to tell them you’re going to cut them off.”

At both recent debates in Newaygo and Grand Haven, Huizenga addressed this accusation and said corporate donations to his campaign does not translate to legislative support for them.

Healthcare reform too should make it impossible for drug companies to directly market to consumers, such as through television ads, Davidson said.

“There should not be, in my opinion and in most doctors’ opinions, direct consumer marketing for prescription drugs,” Davidson said. “So, Cialis, Desyrel, they shouldn’t have commercials; they shouldn’t have ads in the popular magazines. They should be able to talk to physicians about them, but there’s no reason that Cialis should be buying Super Bowl commercials. All that does is drive up [health care] costs. They spend three times as much on marketing as they do on [research and development].”

U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga speaks before the crowd at the Newaygo debate.

Campaign finances

Huizenga has raised $2,000,502 and Davidson has raised $1,083,332 during this campaign cycle, according to the most recent statement from the Federal Election Commission. As of the most recent FEC filings at the end of October, Huizenga had spent $1,866,481 and Davidson had spent $737,092.

The Republican incumbent has received the majority of his funding from political action committees (PACs). About $1.28 million of Huizenga’s campaign donations have come from PACs, representing 64.43 percent of his donations. The top three industries that donate to Huizenga include: securities and investment, insurance, and commercial banks, according to an analysis from the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research group based in Washington D.C. His top contributors during this campaign include: Amway/Alticor Inc., Rock Holdings,  Nasdaq Inc., FMR Corp., and MetLife.

Amway, based in Ada, Michigan, is one of the world’s largest direct-sales organizations; the Devos and Van Andel families own Amway and its parent company, Alticor. Rock Holdings, based in Livonia, Michigan, is the parent company of a number of financial technology companies, including Quicken Loans, Rocket Homes, and LowerMyBills. The New York City-based Nasdaq is an American multinational financial services corporation that owns and operates the NADAQ stock market and eigh European stock exchanges. The Boston-based FMR Corp. is a diversified financial services company with operations in banking, mutual funds, life insurance, and retirement services. FMR is the parent company of Fidelity Investments, the largest mutual fund group in the world. MetLife, headquartered in New York City, is among the largest global providers of insurance, annuities, and employee benefit programs.

Davidson has taken no money from corporate PACs and has vowed never to do so. Fueled in large part by small, grassroots donations, Davidson’s campaign has far outraised former Democratic candidates running in the Second Congressional District. Huizenga has raised close to double that of Davidson, though Davidson has outraised Huizenga since July, according to reports with the FEC.

“Huizenga has taken a million dollars this year from corporate PACs, $3.5 million in his career,” Davidson said in the October interview with the Muskegon Times. “His votes very much parallel those contributions—for the tax cuts he’s supported, for cutting healthcare, for rolling back bank regulations.”

The incumbent has lambasted Davidson’s assessment, saying that a financial donation is not synonymous with legislative support.

“Because I happen to agree with [a donor], or because they happen to agree with me, doesn’t mean there’s some quid pro quo on this,” Huizenga said during the October debate in Newaygo.

“I am proudly cashing that $5,000 check from the Teamsters [406]; I’m proudly cashing the check from the Michigan Realtors [PAC],” said Huizenga, who has emphasized that he has supported the need for candidates to publicly disclose where campaign contributions come from.

The crowd at the debate in Grand Haven last week..

Huizenga’s campaign finances have come under fire from the Michigan Democratic Party. The party and Ryan Bennett, a Second Congressional District resident, filed a campaign finance complaint with the Federal Election Commission in mid-October alleging that Huizenga has used his campaign account for personal expenses, a violation of the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 and related FEC regulations.

The complaint alleges Huizenga charged his campaign $37,000 on meals in Michigan, $12,366 on Washington D.C. living expenses, $47,000 on mileage reimbursements/vehicle expenses, and $51,000 on golf expenses since 2011. The complaint says Huizenga’s spending exceeds all other members of Michigan’s Congressional delegation.

“The next highest amount spent on meals in Michigan by another member of the Michigan Congressional Delegation was $21,154—just over half the amount spent by the Congressman during the same time period,” the complaint says. “Ten of the twelve other Michigan members spent less than 50 percent of the amount spent by the Congressman with his Campaign funds.”

Huizenga slammed the Michigan Dems’ complaint.

“You’re starting to see smears out there about character,” Huizenga said at the Newaygo debate. “It’s deplorable, this accusation of misusing funds, which is absolutely ridiculous.”

Abortion

During last week’s debate in Grand Haven, the two candidates were asked if abortion should be legal. Currently, abortion is legal in all states and has been since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Huizenga

“This is a serious issue. I will say why I am pro-life and why I believe Roe v. Wade should not be the law of the land,” the incumbent said, prompting some of his loudest cheers during the debate. “First of all, it [abortion legalization] was done by the courts. Second, I believe in protecting those babies; those are lives.”

The congressman went on to say that states should have the right to regulate abortion and said, “I believe that taxpayer funding should not go toward abortion.”

“Your party has scared virtually every pro-life Democrat out of the water,” Huizenga told Davidson during the debate.

Davidson

The Democratic challenger said he, like Huizenga, wants there to be no abortions but does not believe the government should restrict women from accessing them.

“For anyone who thinks abortion should be outlawed, I can’t argue with your deeply held belief,” Davidson said. “What I know is that countries that have tried to do that, it doesn’t end abortions. Universal health care and contraception could decrease abortion by 75 percent.”

“I’ve been in the room with women who have been raped and want the morning after pill,” Davidson said. “I can’t imagine saying, ‘Sorry, that’s not your decision to make.’”

Supporters of both Davidson and Huizenga attend the debate in Grand Haven last week.

Firearms and gun control

Huizenga

Both Huizenga and Davidson said they are against bump stocks, an attachment that enables a semiautomatic rifle to fire faster, though, overall, the congressman has been vocally opposed to most gun regulation and has called gun rights a priority of his.

During the candidates’ first debate in Newaygo last month, he said a focus on mental health is needed when it comes to the debate over gun control.

“It’s also about mental health; that’s probably the most important part, and we’re working to increase access and funding,” Huizenga said during the debate.

The incumbent too noted he supported the Stop School Violence Act of 2018, which would provide grants to states, local governments, and Native American tribes to increase security at schools, including purchasing metal detectors.

Davidson

Highly critical of the firearm industry, Davidson said he supports more robust background checks for all gun sales, banning military-style assault weapons—such as the AR-15 used in the Parkland school shooting, banning high-capacity magazines, providing additional funding for mental health programs and behavioral medicine resources in schools, and ending a 22-year-old provision that blocks the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention from researching gun violence and its impact on public health.

“I’ve been very clear for my support for legislation that would make our schools and streets safer,” Davidson said at the Newaygo debate.

Davidson added some harsh words for lawmakers in regards to firearms.

“When we have officials more afraid of getting unelected than decreasing violence, that’s a big problem; important things sometimes are unpopular,” Davidson said, prompting cheers from the audience.

U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, left, and Rob Davidson at last week’s debate in Grand Haven.

Bipartisanship

Huizenga

Issuing harsh words for the press and saying there “is way more bipartisanship than what gets portrayed in the general media,” the congressman said he routinely works with his colleagues across the aisle in order accomplish legislative goals.

“Some of my best friends are people on the other side of the aisle—[U.S. Reps.] Greg Meeks and Carolyn Maloney,” he said in an interview with the Muskegon Times, referring to two Democratic representatives from New York.  “These are people I often have very little in common with politically, but we’ve gotten to know each other and each others’ families. Those relationships build trust, and you need trust to find real solutions.”

And when it comes to constituent services, Huizenga said there’s never a question: everyone receives help if they reach out to his office.

“I have someone who does nothing but immigration work full-time,” he said in the same interview. “When you walk through the doors of our office or email into the office, it doesn’t matter if you’ve got a letter attached to your name. We don’t know that or care. It’s about helping constituents.”

“Our question isn’t did you vote for me, or do you support the administration,” he continued. “It’s about making sure government is working for people, not against people. I’ve got a phenomenal staff that does amazing work. They really are unsung heroes.”

The crowd at the Huizenga-Davidson debate in Newaygo last month.

Davidson

When asked about bipartisanship during our interview with Davidson in October, the candidate said that, “Republicans have to support me in order for me to win this election.”

So, how does a Democratic candidate persuade an overwhelmingly red district to vote in his favor? For Davidson, it’s been about connecting to people on the issues and not with regards to party. Plus, Davidson said he has voted Republican in the past—though he noted he never cast a ballot for Huizenga.

“I am pretty middle of the road,” the challenger said in his interview with the Muskegon Times. “I think a lot of people are middle of the road. The problem is, Newt Gingrich and then the Tea Party, they moved the middle so far right that those of us hanging out in the middle are accused of being something else that we’re not.”

“There’s all of us, in the middle, who just want life to be a little bit easier, have health care not cost so much, have our kids go to good schools that are safe,” he continued. “All of these things are very reasonable expectations.”

Protecting Lake Michigan is a priority for both candidates.

The environment

Huizenga

The co-chair of the Great Lakes Task Force, Huizenga said he has consistently reached across the political aisle in order to protect the environment, and specifically the Great Lakes. He has particularly touted his work to build bipartisan support for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and, at the Newaygo debate, he noted he has fought both the Trump and Obama administrations for funding for the initiative.

“There’s nobody who can hold a candle to the work I’ve done for the Great Lakes and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative,” Huizenga said at the Newaygo debate. “I’ve battled the Obama administration and the Trump administration to makes sure the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is fully funded.”

In a mid-October press release, Huizenga praised the successful cleanup of the former Zephyr Oil Refinery in Muskegon Township and stressed the role the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative is playing in improving the environment in the district.

“The Great Lakes Restoration Initiative continues to play a vital role in cleaning up pollution from the past, protecting the Great Lakes, and preserving them for future generations,” Huizenga said in the press release. “By removing 50,000 cubic yards of contaminated sediment, [the Zephyr Oil Refinery cleanup] brings Muskegon Lake even closer to being delisted as an area of environmental concern. Building on the success of the delisting of White Lake in 2016, the restoration of Muskegon Lake will generate new economic opportunities, increase tourism, and continue to make Muskegon County an even better place to raise a family.”

Thousands of Michigan jobs are tied to the state’s “blue economy,” the congressman said, and he said he’s “led the charge to make sure money” is “set aside for harbor maintenance” throughout the district.

“Ports and harbors in Holland, Grand Haven, Muskegon, White Lake, Pentwater, Ludington, and throughout the Great Lakes are vital to Michigan’s economy,” Huizenga’s campaign website states. “I will always fight to keep them properly dredged and fully navigable.”

Lake Michigan is a vital resource to the district, both candidates say.

Davidson

Pointing out that Huizenga landed a zero on the 2017 League of Conservation Voters’ scorecardthe lowest of any of Michigan’s Republican (and Democratic) Congressional delegation, Davidson criticized Huizenga for voting for the House version of the Farm Bill that included no funding for water conservation and supporting budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency.

“When you are a member of Congress whose district covers at least two-thirds of Lake Michigan shoreline, and yet two-thirds of the protections in place to protect this lake are things you specifically vote against, to me that’s a problem,” Davidson said during his interview with the Muskegon Times.

Voters can “count on me to put the sanctity of Lake Michigan as the utmost importance,” Davidson said during the Newaygo debate. “…Our economy of this district depends on that water.”

The country must move past its reliance on fossil fuels and towards renewable energy, Davidson said during an October debate at Hackley Park in Muskegon, which Huizenga did not attend.

“I do believe in global climate change; it is real,” he said at the Hackley Park event. “It is science. I believe the science, and I believe man has contributed to global climate change and global warming. We have to put the skids on rising temperatures, and the way we do that is moving away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy.”

We did not get the chance to address the congressman’s current take on climate change, but on a previous campaign website, Huizenga wrote, “today’s global warming doomsayers simply lack the scientific evidence to support their claims.”

“A host of leaders in the scientific community have recognized that the argument for drastic anthropogenic global warming is no longer based on science, but is being driven by irrational fanaticism,” the congressman continued. “Clearheadedness and a moderate temperament are the best antidotes to this kind of rhetoric.”

The Vote Common Good rally in Holland last month. Photo via Holland UCC.

From religion to Trump, the national stage plays out in the Second Congressional District

For Bryan Berghoef, the pastor at the Holland United Church of Christ, there is a shift happening in Holland—increasingly, he is seeing formerly conservative Christians becoming more progressive and, in turn, supporting more liberal candidates for whom they may never have voted in years past.

“Voting for establishment Republican candidates is contrary to their own beliefs, especially when we talk about the poor, children, the elderly, the sick, and people in need of healthcare,” Berghoef said, specifically referencing evangelical Christians.

Berghoef isn’t the only one who’s seeing Christians, and specifically evangelical Christians, who historically have been conservative, making a political change. Vote Common Good, a group of progressive Christians, organized a rally in Holland in early October as part of a tour of rallies they’re holding in areas they’ve deemed battleground House Districts across the country.

With these kinds of cultural changes happening in West Michigan, rally organizers said that could translate to support for Davidson at the polls.

“I think there is a real wondering about where I fit in in terms of the parties,” said Berghoef, who helped to lead the Vote Common Good event. “Obviously being pro-life is a huge value for most evangelicals, and they feel Republicans have a monopoly on that. I believe they don’t have a monopoly on that. When you care for the poor, help with education, when you make contraception available—all of that helps reduce unwanted pregnancies and abortions. Voting for Republicans to overturn Roe v. Wade doesn’t help reduce abortions.”

The Second Congressional District winds its way through cities, towns and villages, including Muskegon.

But for Joe Bush, a local attorney and the chairman of the Muskegon County Republican Party, he is seeing more people not only seeking out conservative platforms, but feeling increasingly comfortable to let the world know they are Republican, in large part because of Trump’s presidency. That, Bush said, spells out a victory on Tuesday for Huizenga.

“What I’m seeing is people who didn’t support [Trump] at the time of the election have come around because they recognize the success of the administration,” Bush said. “They may not personally appreciate the president, but from a professional standpoint, they see he’s being effective in the job.”

“I think people were surprised [Trump] won, but now people are loud and proud about being Republican and supporting the agenda,” Bush continued. “I think there was a fear they were going to be painted as racist or hate mongers or people who were nasty people, and that kept people quiet on the sidelines. I think we’re seeing that change a little bit, and we’re seeing Republicans come out of the darkness and be happy to express their opinions.”

Too, Bush said federal tax cuts for businesses will boost voter turnout for Republicans in Muskegon and West Michigan.

“It’ll be interesting to see what happens this year because of the successes he’s had overall with the tax cuts, the unemployment rate being low, the trade policy, and [Trump’s] foreign policy overall,” Bush said. “That’s invigorated some people. It’ll be interesting to see how much that translates in Muskegon.”

The Second Congressional District is a diverse one, boasting rural, suburban, and urban landscapes.

Paul Kanan, the communications director for the Michigan Democratic Party, however, said Trump’s divisive rhetoric is driving independent voters and even some Republicans into the arms of the Democratic party.

“Independent voters are coming over to us in droves,” Kanan said. “Republicans have made their voices heard and say they feel they no longer have a home in the Republican party. Rob Davidson has some folks on the other side of the aisle coming out in support of him.”

In other words: it’s a messy time, politically.

“We have Republicans who don’t necessarily agree with everything we stand for, and Democrats who don’t agree with everything their party stands for,” Bush said. “You have pro-life Democrats and pro-choice Republicans.”

“The reality is, we’re all people,” he continued. “When people are angry because I tell them I’m Republican and they want to argue with me, I want them to know that I put my pants on one leg at a time, like they do. I don’t want to argue and convince them they’re wrong because we disagree; I still respect their opinion. I’m hopeful we can shake hands when we come to the table.”

Berghoef too stresses the importance of individuals being able to come together and communicate with people whose points of views may not align with their own.

“I think we have to be brave and engage people who have different views,” said Berghoef, who runs a weekly forum, Pub Theology, for people to do just that.

Troutman, the political science and history professor at Muskegon Community College, stressed our democracy hinges upon the ability of people to communicate, and work with, individuals with whom they don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye politically.

“If we’re angry at the way Washington’s acting, maybe we should look in the mirror,” he said.

“It starts with the candidates: they need to get out and have a cup of coffee with each other,” Troutman continued. “Then it’s, ‘Let me show you a picture of my children.’ When they start talking that way, they become real people and not Republicans or Democrats.”

Story and photos by Anna Gustafson, the publisher and editor of Muskegon Times. Connect with Anna by emailing MuskegonTimes@gmail.com or on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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