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Huizenga’s town hall runs more than 4 hours long as constituents ask tough questions

Congressman Bill Huizenga held a town hall meeting today north of Grand Rapids that last more than four hours, a bit longer than he anticipated.

“And that’s okay,” he said. “What I knew was going to happen was, after two hours or even three hours if I had said ‘OK, you know maybe we’ve had enough,’ there would be all these calls of, you know, ‘He shut it down early!'”

Some Michigan members of Congress have been criticized lately for avoiding constituents. But Huizenga stayed after the cordless microphone’s battery died in the high school gymnasium in Baldwin. He stayed after the meeting was over, debating details of EPA policy and Trump’s recent comments about the news media being the “enemy of the American people.”

A winter weather advisory didn't stop many constituents from driving an hour or more to attend.

The big topic of conversation was Republicans’ plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

“They’re advocating high deductible plans. Those are going to be what everyone is going to end up getting and I know when my wife had back surgery, the first $4,000 was on us,” Rob Davidson of Spring Lake said. “We can handle that. Most people I don’t think can,” he said.

Davidson works in the emergency room at a local hospital. He worries Republicans pushing healthcare savings accounts, like Huizenga, don’t realize how drastically a repeal could change health outcomes for poor and middle-income people.

Credit Lindsey Smith / Michigan Radio
Michigan Radio
Congressman Bill Huizenga greets constituents waiting in line to get into his town hall in Baldwin on Saturday.

The crowd wanted to know why Huizenga supported President Trump’s temporary travel ban from certain countries. They also raised concerns about perceived threats to public education, the free press, the EPA and minority groups.

Huizenga says he does support Trump’s temporary travel ban. He says it’s “very difficult” to vet refugees and immigrants from the seven countries named in the ban “because there’s often times poor records, no records, or sometimes there are fraudulent records.”

He says he supports a push to have the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, and the director of National Intelligence all check off on a migrant’s paperwork before entering the U.S. The bigger issue, he said is resolving the crisis in certain countries that’s caused an increase in refugees desperate to relocate.

Huizenga told the crowd he does not believe an independent review on Russian involvement in the 2016 general election is needed “at this time.”

He defended Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, saying he’s known her family since high school.

“There is a failure of our schools that is happening,” he told the crowd, many of whom booed the mention of DeVos. “We are behind the rest of the world on our testing,” he said.

Huizenga said he was not familiar with HR 610, a bill that would allow the Department of Education to “distribute Federal funds for elementary and secondary education in the form of vouchers.” Huizenga said he would review the bill and personally get in touch with DeVos to talk to her about it.

After the event, Huizenga told reporters it was “invigorating." In his six years in office, he's had some town halls where no one showed up, he said.

“I’ve certainly put the effort in, but this isn’t a one and done. We’ll keep doing this,” he said. He has another town hall in the works for next month.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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