U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga was at home Friday, in isolation after it was confirmed he has contracted COVID-19 with a second positive test.
He wrote a message on Twitter Thursday stating he took a PCR test and it came back positive, and he was in isolation.
“I’m feeling OK, definitely tired,” Huizenga, R-Zeeland, told the Daily News in an interview via Zoom Friday afternoon. “I feel like I have little bit of a head cold. I’ll tell you, the week changed pretty radically. I had no idea that I went to go see the vice president that I would end up in isolation.
“We all knew someone in our family or a friend or someone else that we know that has been battling this. And I know some folks who have passed away. Most of them had underlying circumstances or underlying issues. I know people who also have not even felt anything.”
Huizenga is running for re-election to the 2nd District which includes all of Lake and Oceana counties and roughly the southern half of Mason County, from about Jagger Road and south. Bryan Berghoef, a pastor from Holland, is running as a Democrat. There are also candidates from the Libertarian, Green and U.S. Taxpayers parties on the ballot.
Huizenga first learned he had the disease after he took a test on Wednesday when he was headed to Grand Rapids for a campaign stop by Vice President Mike Pence. He also planned to be with President Donald Trump today in Muskegon, but the positive tests halted those plans.
He said he has “no idea” where he got it, and his family did not test positive for the disease nor have other people who are often around him have contracted it. Huizenga said he was campaigning door-to-door before the positive tests, and he was taking many precautions when he did so.
“We had been doing door-to-door in a socially distanced way,” Huizenga said. “In fact, I had just been out on Saturday, and I did a social post on it… out in Kentwood where I was knocking on doors and step all the way down off the stairs. And you leave information for people. You don’t just hand it to them, and those kinds of things. It’s certainly different.”
The campaign was doing more work with digital campaigns as well as radio and TV spots paired with traditional mail. The reach of those digital campaigns, though, change when considering access to the internet. Huizenga said he understood that rural areas similar to Mason, Oceana and Lake counties either have slower internet connections or none at all.
“Not enough focus has been put on rural broadband,” he said. “That has to be a part of this. There has been much more focus on urban broadband needs because of the pandemic. (It’s) much easier to cover those areas (and)… much more difficult to cover rural areas. That is something we need to look at and increase and advocate for. Sometimes, getting that through people’s heads, the out-sized effect it has on rural communities is something we have to deal with.”
Huizenga said he recognized that the economics of having internet access in rural areas is an issue itself because of the wide spaces between homes and businesses in the setting.
“How do we incentivize the private sector and the public sector to come together to try to solve those things. That certainly ought to be a focus of ours, and we need to think differently about it,” he said. “I’m a free-market guy. I want that to be our first, initial step. I also understand that there’s economics to this. Whether you’re running fiber optic, or you’re running microwave or some other non-linear line that will get laid in the ground or on a pole, you’re going to have to look at the economics a bit differently in a rural area.”
Huizenga said some solutions have come into place such as wifi access at Baldwin schools or where other districts have used a buses to send wifi signals so people can use the internet in a socially-distanced way. But, he said, the government should look having incentives to keep those things going as well as potentially add new.
Another recent issue that’s affected people nearby is the erosion caused by the record-high water levels in the Great Lakes. Huizenga said he’s worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help streamline the processes used for permits so landowners can ensure structures near the lakeshore are protected.
“When I had one of the local Army Corps guys lowered the wait time down for a permit down to 90 days, and that was blazing fast from their perspective, and I said, ‘No offense, but when you’re house is falling in or there is a water treatment plant that needs to get protected, you don’t have 90 days,’” Huizenga said.
Huizenga said the Army Corps allowed for contractors with good track records to move ahead while permits were being processed. Meanwhile, the permitting process was streamlined, also.
The Associated Press has often reported on the escalating national debt and the budget deficits that are causing it. On Friday, the AP reported that federal budget deficit was an all-time high of $3.1 trillion. The U.S. national debt, according to the website www.usdebtclock.org, was more than $27 trillion.
Huizenga said the more than $3 trillion of spending needed to happen because of relief from the shutdowns related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This pandemic-induced deficit for the year and what we’re going through is way different than what we’ve seen,” he said. “It’s way different than 9-11, which was a one-time event,” he said. “It is the right question to be asking because we have to look at what damage is being done to our kids’ and our grandkids’ future.”
Huizenga said he is a part of a bipartisan group called 30 by 30 — 30 members of each party — that work on issues including tackling the debt. And, he’s continuing to push for the Balance Budget Amendment. He knows the amendment won’t happen right away, but he’d like to see it happen. As for the group, they’re working with leadership in both chambers to work on the debt.
“We have to first acknowledge the problem,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of people that I call are debt-deniers… The Congressional Budget Office is projected that interest rates returning to historic norms… will mean that we will be spending more to service our debt on either defense spending or domestic spending. We’re paying on Uncle Sam’s credit card here, or just the interest on it. That means less money for everything.”
Huizenga has worked with local specialty crop farmers in terms of issues of dumping, from both the tart cherries and Turkey and asparagus and Peru. He said some progress has been made to impress upon the administration to assist with specialty crops. And, he said, some partnerships are coming from it, too.
“I’ve got a great partner to come together, and it’s about time we’ve done this. Austin Scott, a Congressman from Georgia (Georgia’s 8th District, R-Augusta), has been all over this on vegetables. We’re finally getting the stone fruits and asparagus and specialty crops (like) blueberries linked up with some of those specialty vegetable growers. We’re getting a much more unified voice. We’re looking out for each other. That’s been some real progress,” Huizenga said.
The Affordable Care Act continues to be something that evolves either through the courts or Congress or both. Huizenga said there were parts of the ACA he supports.
“Under no circumstances should anybody with a pre-existing condition be excluded from coverage,” he said. “I’ve sponsored a bill, and we put it in the title so (House Speaker) Nancy Pelosi understands what it meant, it’s the Protect Pre-existing Conditions Act. We’ve all had someone in our families or our loved ones who are dealing with cancer or diabetes or something, and just because they change jobs, they should be excluded from that?
“There were a couple of things of the ACA that I agreed with… That was one of them. I would like to see more portability than what the ACA afforded. What I would say is that Obamacare was the wrong answer to the right questions.”
Huizenga said the agreement is better healthcare for more people at a lower cost, but he said the ACA got more people covered without addressing the other two issues.