Huizenga’s family debates, 1989 Prague experience shape views

Rep. Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) grew up in a family that didn’t always agree politically but loved to debate.

With an Irish-Catholic mother, Dutch-Protestant father and two older siblings, Huizenga said dinner table conversations were lively.

“I was very young and I remember this heated, passionate argument and trying to figure out some place called Vietnam, something called a Watergate and some guy named Gerald Ford who my dad knew who had just become president, and how all these things fit together,” Huizenga said.

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Those conversations and having a family active in the community made Huizenga aware early on that he wanted a career in politics.

“I always knew somewhere that I wanted to be involved [in politics],” Huizenga said. “My dad was a city councilman and a county commissioner, so I grew up involved and engaged in the political process.”

Months before the Berlin Wall fell, Huizenga added to his political experiences by spending a month in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union as part of a college course called “Behind the Iron Curtain, Cracks in the Wall.” Huizenga said the experience changed his life.

In Prague, he was chased by riot police and dogs while participating in a pro-democracy rally in Wenceslas Square, where 20 years earlier student Jan Palach set himself on fire to protest the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.

“They had brought in buses, water cannons and dogs right at the top of the square and just started sweeping down,” Huizenga said. “Riot police are running at us and I’m 19, the police are our age. I will never forget this guy running at me with this billy club — I’ll try not to get emotional about it — and he’s got a helmet on and he’s got his billy club and raises it to hit me and he stops and looks at me and lowers his club. I’ve got people on both sides of me just getting thumped, I mean whacked. It wasn’t pretty, obviously we weren’t from around there and this guy just looks at me — I will never forget the sound of people being beaten.”

Huizenga and his classmates ended up getting out safely, even with mayhem — and historic changes — all around.

“Later on that year, the Berlin Wall falls, Tiananmen Square happens,” Huizenga said. “I’m seeing this, the guy in front of the tank, I’m watching this live on television and I’m bawling and my mom is like, ‘What is your deal?’ and I’m reliving Prague. I know these are people who are fighting for freedom and then the fall of the Berlin Wall and the next day, man, I’m wearing my Checkpoint Charlie T-shirt to class. That trip had just a huge impact on my  views of what it meant to make sure we had freedom and liberty.”

Unlike most other freshmen, Huizenga had previous experience with Congress due to his time working as former Rep. Pete Hoekstra’s (R-Mich.) director of public policy in the district Huizenga now represents.

That prior work with Hoekstra helped him hit the ground running, but he said it also made the decision to run harder for him and his wife.

“I think we had a very realistic understanding of what the lifestyle was going to be like, what the demands on our family were going to be like and that, frankly, probably made our decision harder because we knew it wasn’t going to be all sunshine and puppy dogs,” Huizenga said. “We knew the real side of it and I think that has prepared me to weather some of the tough stuff.”

As a member, Huizenga serves on the Financial Services Committee, where he would love to get a vote to repeal Dodd-Frank — which he said, “adds 15 telephone books of new regulations” — but he doesn’t see that happening.

“What’s somewhat bothersome to me is that the attitude on the committee of those that were here, who may or may not have their name attached to the bill, it’s like holy writ that’s come down from high or the heavens and you cannot change a jot or tittle on it,” Huizenga said. “I might be a freshman here but I’ve been through the legislative process for a while and I have yet to see a bill that’s perfect the first time around.”

Huizenga was one of 10 freshmen who voted against the leadership’s last continuing resolution that funded the government through Nov. 18. The next CR vote is expected this week.

“The CR isn’t going to go far enough, fast enough for me,” Huizenga said, adding that while he will look at the resolution he is likely to vote against it again.

Of all of the freshmen, Huizenga has not been prolific in introducing legislation. He said he had the same reputation in the Michigan state House.

“I’m not the guy who’s going to throw spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks,” Huizenga said. “I’m looking for very purposeful things. … Quantity and quality are two different things. I’d rather focus on quality and things that are going to actually effect positive change.”