Democrat Hillary Scholten announcing her campaign for the 3rd Congressional District, June 8, 2019 | Nick Manes
After losing her 2020 bid for the 3rd Congressional District in West Michigan by 6 points, Democrat Hillary Scholten is back — and says she is “not afraid of a tough race” against U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer (R-Grand Rapids) in a newly drawn district.
Scholten announced the launch of her second campaign Tuesday morning. In a phone interview with the Advance Monday afternoon, the immigration attorney said she is seeking once again to bring her “no-nonsense approach” and unique perspective to Congress.
“Here in West Michigan, we have never sent a Democratic woman, a mother, to Congress,” Scholten said. “I would be the first woman from Grand Rapids ever to go and represent us in Congress.
“That’s really significant when we think about that being a perspective that has never had a voice in Washington.”
Scholten is a former social worker, attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice and immigration clerk for the U.S. Court of Appeals. She is currently senior counsel at the Grand Rapids-based Miller Johnson, where she specializes in immigration law.
The mother of two faced off with Meijer in November 2020 to represent the 3rd District and finished the race with 47% to Meijer’s 53%. The seat previously was held by U.S. Rep. Justin Amash, who left the GOP for the Libertarian Party in 2019 after receiving right-wing backlash for voting to impeach former President Donald Trump the first time.
Meijer voted to impeach Trump the second time for inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. Scholten told the Advance Monday that she had reached out to Meijer personally to thank him for that vote. But over the last year, she said she has noticed a “strong pivot” from Meijer that has disappointed her and others in the district, including votes against infrastructure funding and voting rights.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is backing Scholten on her 2022 bid. The committee had targeted Meijer and U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-St. Joseph) in 2020 as potentially winnable seats for Dems, but in April, neither seat made the DCCC’s initial cut for 2022 targets.
The political winds have shifted since then. The Cook Political Report now rates the district as a toss-up, following a new congressional map approved by the state’s independent redistricting commission in December. The new district now includes Muskegon and other more liberal lakeshore communities in addition to Grand Rapids.
Scholten acknowledged the new district map as an “exciting factor in the race,” but said she would have run anyway and was unafraid to take on the more challenging race last time.
“At the end of the day, I raised my hand to run because I look around this district and see a lot of people like me who are frustrated with the way things are in Washington, and who need a representative that understands their issues,” she said.
It's been a rough few years here in West Michigan, and we're really feeling it, especially working families like mine.
– Hillary Scholten
Scholten also spoke with the Advance about her thoughts on President Joe Biden’s administration in terms of immigration, and what she sees as a “failure to act” in that regard.
The following are excerpts from the interview:
Michigan Advance: What made you want to run again?
Scholten: I am a deeply invested member in this community. … I was born and raised here in West Michigan. I’m raising my family here, too. This is my home. Growing up, my family and my faith really instilled in me a strong sense of service, giving back to our community, especially when times are hard. And that has been a driving force in my career ever since.
It’s been a rough few years here in West Michigan, and we’re really feeling it, especially working families like mine. This pandemic has really intensified a lot of existing problems in our community, like a strain [on the] healthcare system, challenges in our educational systems, an economy that just does not work for working people.
These are problems that have been with us, right, and are just exacerbated by the [pandemic] . And I think we’re also facing new and unprecedented challenges, like an attack on our electoral system like we have never seen before. Just last week, we saw Republican candidates for office here saying they are going to take up arms in the 2022 election, unplug voting machines.
I am a former social worker, a mom of two young kids and an attorney who served the United States Department of Justice. I know that I have the experience, the perspective and the vision to lead West Michigan forward right now, especially at this difficult time.
Michigan Advance: The 3rd District had previously leaned GOP, but with the completed maps from redistricting, it now appears to be a toss-up. To what degree was that a factor in your decision to run again?
Scholten: I am certainly not afraid of a tough race. I raised my hand to get in the last time, when we were looking at a district that Trump had won by considerable margins. We shocked everyone with the incredible race that we ran. I know that people were attracted to my very no-nonsense, down-to-earth, practical, common-sense approach. You know, go to Washington, get things done. And it was exciting to see moderates, conservatives, progressives attracted to that message.
The new district certainly has more Democrats and a broader makeup of people who support candidates like me, and that is certainly going to change the game and is an exciting factor in the race. But at the end of the day, I raised my hand to run because I look around this district and I see a lot of people like me who are frustrated with the way things are in Washington, and who need a representative that understands their issues.
Here in West Michigan, we have never sent a democratic woman, a mother, to Congress. I would be the first woman from Grand Rapids ever to go and represent us in Congress. That’s really significant when we think about that being a perspective that has never had a voice in Washington. And of course, I want folks to vote for me because of my experience. I’m a former Department of Justice lawyer, I’ve been a social worker, I’ve got the experience to go to Washington and get things done.
But it is also important for women and girls in our community to be able to see someone like them, someone from within their midst, rise up and be able to reach that level of leadership in our community. And I think that’s really exciting.
Michigan Advance: Among other things, Rep. Peter Meijer last year voted against stripping Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of her committees after her antisemetic comments, and said the Jan. 6 insurrectionists had “riot envy” after the [Black Lives Matter] protests. Has Meijer gone too far to the right for the district?
Scholten: It has been interesting to see a strong pivot from him. I hear from people every day who say, ‘Oh, that was disappointing.’ A lot of people were proud to see him vote against Trump on impeachment. I know I was. I actually reached out and thanked him. But we certainly have started to see a pivot, a shift, and there have been other things too that I think voters in this district in particular have been really frustrated by, myself included.
You mentioned the vote on committee assignments — more impactful here for West Michigan, he voted against the infrastructure bill. That doesn’t have to do with some other representative’s committee assignments. We’re talking about real dollars back here to West Michigan that he voted against. Dollars to improve our roads, our bridges, keep our water infrastructure safe, help expand broadband Internet — issues that matter every day to people in our district.
And further, [Meijer] voted against the voting rights bill. This new district connects really important communities here in Grand Rapids and along the lakeshore, especially communities of color that have historically been disenfranchised from voting, even here up until recent times, and then gerrymandered out of districts where their voice can really matter. So that was another really impactful vote. To see him vote against the Voting Rights Act bill I think was really disappointing to a lot of people.
Michigan Advance: As an immigration attorney, what are your thoughts on immigration policy so far under the Biden administration?
Scholten: With President Biden, there are certainly a number of things which I don’t agree with this current administration, and I think the actions on immigration have certainly been one of them.
Immigration has become far, far too much of a wedge issue in our community. And I think people forget how there used to be such broad support on immigration and we used to recognize what an incredible benefit immigration and immigrants were to our community — from the social-cultural benefits that they bring to the economic benefit as well. There’s widespread data about the benefits that immigrants, who often tend to be entrepreneurs, bring to our community.
And I think it’s really been disappointing for a lot of people, a broad spectrum of people, to see this failure to act on immigration. The work that I’m doing now, I work with a lot of small businesses, and immigrants are an important part of their workforce. There has been just a real inefficiency in the [Biden] administration to pass comprehensive immigration reform that’s just, that’s humane and respects the needs of our growing economy.
Michigan Advance: What would you bring to the table for residents of the 3rd District that Meijer cannot?
Scholten: I think I bring a unique perspective and experience that we have not had here in West Michigan. As a mother of two school-aged kids, I know how hard this pandemic has been on families with kids in school. I have a fourth grader. His last normal year of school was first grade. And we’ve managed fairly well. The kids are more or less back in school full-time, we deal with the quarantines like everybody else.
But we have broadband internet and access to multiple electronic devices to keep them up on their schoolwork. There’s so many in this community that don’t have that. I know kids who are grade levels behind. For someone to really have an ear to those types of things in the community, you can expect a different level of service and responsiveness when those are the issues that you have experienced and lived yourself. I think it’s really exciting to be able to elect the first woman from the Grand Rapids area, the first Democratic woman ever from West Michigan, to Congress.
There has been just a real inefficiency in the (Biden) administration to pass comprehensive immigration reform that's just, that's humane and respects the needs of our growing economy.
– Hillary Scholten
Michigan Advance: How confident are you that Democrats can maintain their thin majority in the House?
Scholten: I’m not a political pundit; I will leave that to the armchair pundits to speculate about, but I do know this. I am so encouraged by the excitement and momentum that I see here in West Michigan. I always believed that we could run a strong campaign in 2020. I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support that we saw.
I’m starting to reach out to supporters leading up to our launch here, and I went deaf in one ear from the shrieks of excitement that I’ve heard over the phone or talking to people. So I don’t know what may happen nationally, but I feel really confident we’re gonna win this seat and send the first Democratic woman to Congress from West Michigan, and it’s going to be exciting.
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