Democrat Hillary Scholten highlights crossover support with the Republicans for Scholten group

GRAND RAPIDS, MI — Two years ago, former Republican state representative and Kent County sanitation commissioner Bill Byl cast his vote for Peter Meijer in the race for West Michigan’s 3rd congressional district.

Byl, who considers himself a “small C conservative,” chose to endorse Meijer over Democrat Hillary Scholten in 2020 because he knew Meijer’s family and saw him as a “thoughtful” candidate who shares the same values ​​as the former Republican Congressman Paul Henry would bring to Washington and Vern Ehlers.

Now Byl is changing course.

He says he’s throwing his support behind Scholten on Nov. 8 after Meijer lost to Trump-backed candidate John Gibbs in August’s Republican primary.

“After Peter Meijer was defeated, I had to start looking for a new home,” said Byl, who lives in Kentwood and has been disillusioned with the Republican Party since the rise of Donald Trump.

Byl stars with former judge and Republican Congressman Rick Bandstra in a new pro-Scholten ad, running in conjunction with the formation of a group called Republicans and Independents for Scholten.

In the ads and interviews, its members — some of whom have supported Democrats in the past — spoke about Scholten’s West Michigan roots, saying she’s the “only person who understands our community and shares our values.” They questioned whether Gibbs, who moved into the Byron Center in fall 2021, is truly committed to West Michigan.

They also expressed concern about Gibbs’ loyalty to Trump and his claim that the 2020 election results were incorrect.

“I don’t vote for anyone who believes in lies,” said Karen Henry Stokes, widow of former Republican Congressman Paul Henry of Grand Rapids. “This Republican Party is unrecognizable, and this candidate is unrecognizable.”

The new ad comes in the middle of the closing stages of what appears to be a close race between Gibbs and Scholten, a Grand Rapids immigration attorney. The two compete in the newly drawn 3rd congressional district, which includes the cities of Grand Rapids, Muskegon and Grand Haven.

While political observers say the new district is leaning to the left, Democrats, who control the White House and Congress, face a tough race amid a period of rising gas prices and high inflation.

“John Gibbs is proud to have the support of not only Republicans, but independents and Democrats who are fed up with record inflation, high gas prices, rampant crime and open borders caused by Joe Biden’s policies who supports Hillary Scholten,” said Gibbs spokesman AnneMarie Schieber, speaking out for the Scholten faction in response to Republicans and Independents.

“One is puzzled as to how any Republican could possibly join Nancy Pelosi, NARAL, the police groups and DC who have special interests in backing a candidate who has lobbied for a radical open borders immigrant group, supports the Green New Deal and kudos to the Grand Rapids rioters last summer.”

Scholten did not praise rioters who caused significant damage to Grand Rapids on May 31, 2020 following the death of George Floyd.

Gibbs, 43, grew up in the Lansing area and has a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Stanford University and a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University. He has worked as an engineer in Silicon Valley, as a Christian missionary in Japan, as a political commentator, and at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development during the Trump administration.

Republican and Independent members for Scholten include former Rep. John Jellema, R-Grand Haven, former Mayor of Norton Shores, and Republican Rep. Nancy Crandall and Jim Haveman. A native of Grand Rapids, Haveman headed the Michigan Department of Community Health under former Republican Governors John Engler and Rick Snyder.

The group also includes Marla Ehlers, who identifies as an independent and is the daughter of former Republican US Rep. Vern Ehlers.

“I’m someone who has always voted for the best person, and in November’s 3rd congressional district election Hillary Scholten is definitely the best person,” she said. “She’s going to be a great representative for us in Congress, and what’s important is that she was fourth generation born and raised here in West Michigan.”

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s campaign introduced a similar group, Republicans for Whitmer, intended to appeal to crossover voters.

Stokes, who goes to the same church as Scholten, said she supports conservative values ​​like limited spending and small government. But despite her differences with the Democrats, whose candidates she has occasionally endorsed, she said Scholten is the best choice for the district because she is “an honest person of character.”

“I’m not crazy about democratic politics and stuff like that, but I don’t care at all when it comes to truth-telling, political honesty, and I know her as one whose faith consciously informs her,” she said.

The Republicans and Independents’ new publicity for Scholten also targets Gibbs for endorsing “a plan to end Social Security and Medicare.”

The ad reveals that Gibbs supported an anti-feminist website called Father’s Manifesto while he was a student at Stanford. The site criticized women’s suffrage and said Social Security and Medicare should be “ended.”

During an event hosted by the Muskegon GOP in July, Gibbs said he wants to reform Social Security because the program has “solvency problems.” He did not call for the program to be abolished.

“So I think we need to make sure people are taken care of, but not necessarily have the same system that we’ve always had,” he said during the July event.

Byl, the former Republican state representative from Grand Rapids who supports Scholten, said he knows many GOP voters disagree with Democratic policies. But he said he thinks Scholten’s connection to the community outweighs that.

Scholten’s family is from West Michigan, and she was born and raised in the community.

“He’s only been living in West Michigan for about a year, and for someone with a year of experience in a community to move in here and be able to tell voters he’s going to represent us — I just find that incredibly arrogant,” Byl said. “He knows absolutely nothing about West Michigan.”

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