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‘Civil conversation’ prevails at congressman's Town Hall Meeting

Lydia Coutré • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:04 AM

The Budget Control Act, passed at the beginning of this month, cuts government spending by $2.4 trillion over the next 10 years, caps future spending and advances the balanced budget amendment — “which is something that I feel passionately about,” Huizenga said.

The congressman said 49 states, including Michigan, have a Balanced Budget Amendment in their state constitutions, which essentially prohibits those states from spending more than their income.

“It certainly changes the dynamic of the conversation,” Huizenga said. “And guess what? It means that we can’t just keep putting it on the credit card here — and I think that is very, very important.”

After speaking for less than a half-hour at what he said was one of the largest town meetings he’s had, Huizenga opened up the floor for questions and comments from the audience. A steady line of citizens remained at the microphone for nearly two hours. They shared their praise, criticism and concerns over Huizenga’s policies and voting record on topics ranging from the debt to health care.

“I think we had a pretty good Democratic (Party) turnout,” said Jan Hodge of Grand Haven. “But I also know there was a lot of the tea party folks here, too, so it was pretty balanced.”

When discussing how the country would pay for a national crisis, one citizen told Huizenga: “Let’s not bring this all to the Democrats. You guys were as much part of it as anyone.”

Huizenga agreed.

“There is plenty of blood on everybody’s hands,” Huizenga said. “What I’m trying to do is make sure that we stop the bloodshed.”

One of the first to take the microphone was Norm Kittleson of Whitehall, who asked Huizenga a direct question: “Are there any circumstances under which you would be willing to raise taxes on the top 1 percent of people in America, or let the Bush tax cuts expire?”

Huizenga said with its current economy, the country absolutely does not need to raise taxes on anyone.

“How (do) you increase the revenues? Grow the economy,” he said.

The audience applauded.

“I fall on the other side of the political spectrum from representative Huizenga,” Kittleson said after the meeting. “So I didn’t agree with a lot of what he said, but I do appreciate the opportunity to be heard, and I always think it’s important to listen to what other people have to say.”

Huizenga also addressed Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — telling the audience that, while they aren’t going to be cut, they do need to be significantly reformed.

One citizen expressed concerns about cuts to Planned Parenthood funding and other women’s health care. Huizenga said he will continue to vote against Planned Parenthood, but assured the audience that he is an “across-the-board offender,” voting to cut spending in every department he can.

Kathy Humphrey of Grand Haven, CEO of Planned Parenthood West and North Michigan, later approached the microphone to continue the conversation. She said she honors and respects the differences on the issue of abortion, and believes that everyone would like to see less abortions, but Planned Parenthood offers countless other services.

“I also would like to say that one in five women has been to Planned Parenthood at some point in their life,” Humphrey said. “With our organization, and with the organizations across the country, virtually all the people that see us depend on us as their sole source of health care and their only link to the health care community.”

Humphrey asked the congressman for suggestions for replacing Planned Parenthood, in terms of access to basic health care, “when there aren’t enough family care providers now.”

Huizenga said he isn’t saying whether or not there should be a Planned Parenthood. “I just don’t think government funding ought to go into it,” he explained.

The crowd applauded.

“Certainly we can reach out to the community, we can reach out to donors,” Humphrey said. “And we will, and we are, and we do. I don’t believe that that’s going to cover the cost and meet the needs of the people in this community or across the country.”

The crowd applauded again with equal vigor.

Brian Taylor, a West Ottawa High School government teacher, said he came to the Town Hall Meeting to meet the congressman and to be able to bring insight to his students about local government in action.

“I learned that not everyone in Congressional District 2 is a Republican,” Taylor said. “I was a little surprised at the level of disagreement that was actually kind of helpful.”

Kittleson also said it is important to hear both sides of the argument.

“It’s very easy for people to get caught in (an) echo chamber,” he said. “All they’re hearing is things that reinforce their own opinions, and I don’t think that that’s healthy. I think people need to have a diverse set of media inputs and they need to be at least willing to hear what other people have to say. ... I think it’s become a big problem in our country.”

Hodge said she came to the meeting just to see what Huizenga had to say.

“If you don’t hear it from the horse’s mouth, you may get bad information,” she said. “It’s your chance to see that person express themselves, express their ideas and their reasoning for it up close and personal.”

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