Hoekstra: not just another Dutchman?

By Kyle Melinn

A West Michigan Christian conservative with a Dutch last name wants to be our governor. He earned a 100 percent ranking from Right to Life for opposing embryonic stem cell research. He’s against same-sex partnerships.

He’s never met a tax (outside of maybe the sales tax) he didn’t want to eliminate. And he draws a direct line from the state’s struggling economy to an allegedly overbearing state regulatory structure

His name is Pete Hoekstra (pronounced HOOK stra). He’s a congressman and he’s from Holland, if you can imagine that.

And that’s the problem.

The nine-term congressman and former Herman Miller executive has 18 months to prove he’s not a re-wrapped Dick DeVos, Dick Posthumus or John Smietanka, an energetic Westside politician who couldn’t cut the anti-Dutch bias statewide.

Sure, he’s pledging to pedal his bicycle 1,000 miles. But he’s a former high-ranking business executive. So was DeVos. He served a long career in the legislative branch. So did Posthumus.

His congressional voting record, outside of opposing a flag-burning ban and being open to alternative criminal sentences, is exactly what you would expect from your boilerplate Republican. Yes on war. Yes on school choice. Yes on guns. Yes on building a fence along the Mexican border. Yes on making English the official language. No on government-assisted alternative energy.

How could anyone west of Lowell disagree? How can anyone east of Ionia relate?

The task is formidable, but it’s not impossible. A product of religious West Michigan myself, there’s something enduring about the frugal, feisty, hard-nosed, hard-work mindset that’s embedded in the DNA over there.

As a testament to all four character istics, he pedaled up and down the Lake Michigan coast in the summer of 1992 to beat a 26-year sitting congressman, something nobody thought could be done.

If nothing else, the persistence and the consistency proves there’s not a lot of phony baloney in this guy.

He is more personable than Posthumus. He’s not upper crust like DeVos. He’s not a mindless conservative drone, which gives him a shot in southeast Michigan.

He’s got a bit of a rebel streak. He stood up to George W. Bush on “No Child Left Behind” back in the day. He chased bad leadership out of the Teamsters’ union several years back.

Hoekstra also stood up to his own district in 2004 when he backed away from his own promise to serve no more than six terms. He said the 2nd Congressional District would benefit too much from his being the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. The caucus’ self-imposed six-year term limit on leadership posts expires in 2010 and so will Hoekstra’s time in Washington.

With more than 16 years under his belt, he earned himself a track record.

The 55-year-old put his name on a measure in Congress to eliminate the Internal Revenue Service in favor of a 23 percent national service tax. He mentioned this same “Fair Tax” concept Monday, but he declined to rule it in or out for Michigan.

In 2006, Hoekstra declared Weapons of Mass Destruction had been found in Iraq … around 500 of them, in fact. Not long afterward, a partially declassified intelligence report found that what Hoekstra was referencing were “badly deteriorated” discards scattered across the desert.

During Michigan’s financial meltdown, Hoekstra shot Gov. Jennifer Granholm a nasty note about how the state Department of Transportation was wasting $318,000 building a two-mile fence along U.S. 31 so cars wouldn’t squash crossing turtles. Granholm said the federal strings attached to the money wouldn’t let it be spend any other way. Maybe he could do something about that, she countered.

And then last month Hoekstra “tweeted” details of his congressional trip to Iraq over Twitter. Hoekstra was able to limit the damage to a one-to two-day national story, insisting the trip wasn’t top secret. Even if he was, he didn’t reveal any identifying details in his “tweets.”

As of today, Hoekstra is still a D.C. creature, more passionate about slamming Nancy Pelosi and CAFE standards than Granholm and a proposed restaurant smoking ban. He’s got time to make the adjustment, and he will.

But can he get anyone not from West Michigan to care?

(Kyle Melinn is the editor at the MIRS newsletter. His column runs weekly. Write melinn@lansingcitypulse.com.)