Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R)
Michigan 2nd District
Lining the eastern shoreline of Lake Michigan, where the lake winds temper the frigid Michigan winters, are some of the nation’s longest and highest sand dunes. In the late 19th century, this shoreline was America’s lumber country. The river ports were choked with logs and full of lumbermen from Norway and Sweden, Ireland and Scotland, Quebec and New England. During the timber boom, the shoreline just to the south was the locus of the country’s largest migration from the Netherlands and today still has the nation’s largest concentration of Dutch-Americans. Wooden shoes are now seen only at the Tulip Festival in Holland, but conscientious Dutch work habits have produced many highly skilled workers, and this is a busy manufacturing area, with products ranging from baby food at Gerber in Fremont to self-dimming car mirrors at Gentex in Zeeland. It is also the center of the American office-furniture industry, with Herman Miller in Zeeland, Haworth in Holland and Steelcase in Grand Rapids. But the economic downtown of 2008 has had an impact, for sure. Pfizer recently shut down a factory in Holland. The territory away from the shore is fruit-growing country, with some of the nation’s largest cherry orchards to the north and blueberry patches to the south.
2008 Presidential Vote
|Cook Partisan Voting Index|
The 2nd Congressional District of Michigan occupies the Lake Michigan shoreline counties, plus a tier of inland counties, including a small part of Grand Rapids’s Kent County. It stretches from the lumber country around Manistee south to Holland and the wealthy resort town of Saugatuck. For years, Dutch-American voters have been as strongly Republican as Cuban-Americans have been as an ethnically identifiable group, and the 2nd and 3rd Districts centered on Grand Rapids are the two most Republican districts in Michigan. Ottawa County voted 72% for George W. Bush in 2004, and 61% for John McCain in 2008.
Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R)
Elected: 1992, 9th term.
Born: Oct. 30, 1953, Groningen, Netherlands .
Education: Hope Col., B.A. 1975, U. of MI, M.B.A. 1977.
Religion: Reformed Church of America.
Family: Married (Diane); 3 children.
Professional Career: Furniture exec., Herman Miller Co., 1977–92.
The congressman from the 2nd District is Republican Pete Hoekstra, first elected to the House in 1992. He emigrated from the Netherlands with his family at age 3. He graduated from Hope College in Holland and spent a semester studying in Washington, D.C., during the Watergate scandal. He received an M.B.A. from the University of Michigan. Hoekstra (HOOK-stra) went to work at Herman Miller, where he helped develop the popular “Equa Chair” aimed at making office seating comfortable and ergonomic. He eventually became vice president for marketing. In 1992, he decided to run what seemed an improbable campaign for Congress against Rep. Guy Vander Jagt, 26-year incumbent and chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP’s political arm. Spending vacation time he’d saved up, Hoekstra took a bicycle tour of the district. With an earnestness that touched a chord, Hoekstra called for citizen politicians, refused political-action-committee money and supported abolishing such committees. He advocated 12-year term limits (though he subsequently broke his own term-limit pledge), promised to uphold family values and to oppose abortion rights. Hoekstra spent only $55,600 to Vander Jagt’s $725,000. But on primary day, he carried the heavily Dutch Ottawa and Allegan counties 53%-31% and the district 46%-40%. He won the general election easily.
|Pete Hoekstra (R)||214,100||(62%)||($828,852)|
|Fred Johnson (D)||119,506||(35%)||($111,806)|
|Pete Hoekstra (R)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2006 (66%), 2004 (69%), 2002 (70%), 2000 (64%), 1998 (69%), 1996 (65%), 1994 (75%), 1992 (63%)
Hoekstra brought to Washington a mistrust of government and a desire to apply the participatory-management ideas he learned at Herman Miller. (He still works at a stand-up Herman Miller desk.) In the mid-1990s, he was a trusted ally of Speaker Newt Gingrich, who deployed newcomers like Hoekstra in pursuing his goals of reforming congressional ethical standards, making the House more efficient, and pushing an aggressive, conservative agenda through Congress after four decades of Democratic rule. Among Hoekstra’s contributions were a ban on former members lobbying on the House floor and denying pensions to former members convicted of a felony.
To the dismay of the Republican leadership and the Bush administration, Hoekstra was not always a team player. He was given a highly visible role on what was then called the Education and the Workforce Committee, but he refused to toe the line on Bush’s major education initiative, the 2001 No Child Left Behind. Hoekstra tried unsuccessfully to gut the law’s call for mandatory testing. When it came up for renewal in 2007, he pushed an alternative that would let states come up with their own measures of schools’ performance. “Does [Education Secretary] Margaret Spellings know more about educating kids in Michigan” than state officials? he asked. In his early years on the committee, Hoekstra was instructed by Gingrich to investigate labor unions, but he was largely ineffective. In attempting to investigate the Teamsters Union, Hoekstra asked the union for information, the union refused to give him any, and he had to cancel plans to hold public hearings.
For several years, Hoekstra was frustrated in his attempts to move up in the leadership, perhaps because of his less than perfect record of supporting leadership positions. In 1998, he ran for vice chairman of the House Republican Conference, but was eliminated on the second ballot. After the 2000 election, he expressed interest in succeeding Ohio Republican John Kasich as chairman of the Budget Committee, but the position went to Jim Nussle of Iowa. He sought the chairmanship of the Education and the Workforce Committee, but lost out to John Boehner of Ohio, who eventually became House minority leader.
Hoekstra seemed to find his niche on the Intelligence Committee, where he developed into an important voice on intelligence policy in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks. In 2002, he sponsored the bill to improve intelligence sharing between law enforcement and intelligence agencies that passed the House overwhelmingly. When Florida Republican Porter Goss left the chairmanship of the panel to become the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, GOP Speaker Dennis Hastert chose Hoekstra to replace Goss, though he was third in seniority. He established a good working relationship with the ranking Democrat, Jane Harman of California, and he could often get her to join him on issues, creating a strong bipartisan front. When President Bush issued executive orders increasing the authority of the CIA director, Hoekstra and Harman issued a joint statement saying that the orders had to be supported by legislation in Congress. Hoekstra supported intelligence reorganization along the lines recommended by the 9/11 Commission. And although the House passed a somewhat different bill, he hailed its passage in 2004.
Hoekstra pressed for publication of material captured in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which he argued might shed light on the state of Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction programs. In 2005, Hoekstra and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas called for declassifying 35,000 boxes of documents and for posting them on the Internet. In a 2006 letter to Bush, Hoekstra complained about not being informed of certain unspecified secret programs. He opposed the nomination of General Michael Hayden to be CIA chief on the grounds that there were too many military men in top intelligence positions already. He called Hayden “the wrong person at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
After Democrats took the House majority in 2007 and Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi appointed Silvestre Reyes of Texas as the committee chairman, Hoekstra became ranking minority member and pledged to work with Reyes as Harman had with him. He said, “I think Silvestre and I are going to have the same kind of relationship.” He bucked the Bush Administration on several sensitive topics in recent years, including the promotion of democracy in Iraq, the CIA’s harsh interrogation practices, and plans by the intelligence agencies to study the impact of global warming on national security. And he harshly condemned the June 2008 decision to remove North Korea from the list of state sponsors of terror, saying that “the Bush administration has placed wishful thinking ahead of reality.”
On issues affecting his district, Hoekstra has been a defender of the domestic furniture-making industry. In 2004, he successfully pushed through a bill to remove a federal requirement that the government buy its office furniture from Federal Prison Industries, which employs prisoners at bargain wages to produce office furniture and auto components. And Hoekstra joined with Illinois Democrat Rahm Emanuel to cosponsor the Great Lakes Financing Act, which aims to clean up the lakes and combat invasive species. He has opposed Indian gambling casinos and criticized the Justice Department for approving an Indian land trust in Allegan County.
Hoekstra speaks Dutch and is proud of his ethnic heritage. He cherishes his own naturalization papers and cites his own experience as a basis for supporting crackdowns on illegal immigration. “I describe it as one of the most valuable pieces of paper in the world. I really end up having a problem with giving one of the most valuable pieces of paper in the world to people who came here illegally,” Hoekstra says.
In 1992, as term limits on state legislators passed in Michigan, Hoekstra pledged to serve only 12 years. By 2002, he said he had changed his mind and wrote an open letter to constituents saying he would run again. He has been re-elected without serious competition. He announced in March 2009 a bid for governor in 2010, when term limits prohibit Democrat Jennifer Granholm from running again.