Immigration attorney Scholten joins Dem field challenging Amash 

By: - July 8, 2019 5:00 am

Hillary Scholten with her son in Grand Rapids | Nick Mannes

Hillary Scholten, a Grand Rapids-based immigrant rights attorney, is joining the Democratic field of candidates in seeking to represent Michigan’s 3rd Congressional District. 

Scholten, a Grand Rapids resident, staff attorney at the Michigan Immigrants Rights Center and who previously worked as an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), believes she can join the rising tide of progressive women in changing Congress. 

Attorneys Miriam Aukerman (L) and Hillary Scholten (R) in Grand Rapids | Nick Manes

During an interview with the Advance on Sunday morning at a Grand Rapids coffee shop, Scholten said she plans to use her work on immigration rights locally and at the DOJ to help her in Congress, noting that immigration policy, access to health care and women’s reproductive rights stand as her top issues. 

She has served as an attorney with the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, which, along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, filed complaints with the Michigan Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) over the Grand Rapids Police Department’s “racially discriminatory” actions, especially toward Latinos.

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Scholten, like many Democrats, said that the 2016 election of now-President Donald Trump compelled her to action. 

“2016 changed things for a lot of people, including myself,” Scholten said. “A lot of women in particular, they started looking … at the issues facing this country as deeply political problems and our problems to solve.”

Scholten’s entrance into the race on Monday — which will include a formal kick-off event in Grand Rapids on Monday afternoon — comes just days after incumbent U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (I-Cascade Twp.) announced he’d be leaving the Republican Party. Amash confirmed on Sunday morning during an interview on CNN that he would be running for his seat as an independent.

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Scholten told the Advance that Amash’s sudden exit from the Republican Party — stemming, in part, from his status as the only GOP member of Congress to call for impeachment proceedings against Trump — doesn’t change much in her mind. 

“[Amash] is someone who doesn’t change his principles — according to him — so I don’t imagine that we’ll see much of a shift in … any of his policies,” Scholten said. 

The candidate demurred when asked whether Amash’s switch as an independent will help a Democrat win the seat. The 3rd District in West Michigan includes Grand Rapids and Battle Creek and includes suburban and rural areas of Kent, Montcalm, Ionia, Barry and Calhoun counties. 

Following Amash’s exit from the GOP, the Crystal Ball from the University of Virginia Center for Politics labeled the historically Republican-leaning district a “toss-up.” Ahead of Amash’s announcement last week, numerous Republicans lined up to run, including grocery store heir Peter Meijer and state Reps. Jim Lower (R-Greenville) and Lynn Afendoulis (R-Grand Rapids Twp.). 

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Candidates on the Democratic side include Doug Booth, a health policy analyst and Nick Colvin, a local attorney and former aide to President Barack Obama.

Ahead of her congressional launch, Scholten obtained a number of endorsements from prominent Democrats around the state and region, including state Rep. Rachel Hood (D-Grand Rapids), state Sen. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids), multiple Kent County commissioners and Cathy Albro, who unsuccessfully challenged Amash in 2018. 

Brandon Dillon at the MDP Convention, Feb. 2, 2019 | Ken Coleman

She also has the support of Brandon Dillon, a former Michigan Democratic Party chair and former state representative from the Grand Rapids area. 

“Hillary is an exceptional candidate and will be a great Congresswoman,” Dillon said in a statement. “Her drive and determination are unparalleled and her focus on delivering results are exactly what we need in West Michigan.”

Following her formal announcement, Scholten said her campaign plans to launch a “listening tour” around the district to begin meeting residents. Asked about a fundraising strategy, Scholten said she would actively be raising money and said her campaign would be free from “special interest” money.

Asked to clarify what she considered special interests, Scholten said she was open to campaign dollars from groups like EMILY’s List, a political action committee that seeks to elect pro-choice Democratic women. 

“My allegiance is to the voters in West Michigan,” Scholten said. “So if I’m supported by a group that wants to help women like me, then I feel like all the better.”

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Nick Manes
Nick Manes

Nick Manes is a former Michigan Advance reporter, covering West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels.