Pestka challenges Amash for 3rd district representative seat

Last week Steve Pestka took some time out of his busy schedule to stop by Calvin and talk with a number of students regarding his current run for Congress. Pestka will be running as the Democratic challenger to Republican Congressman Justin Amash, who currently represents Michigan’s 3rd district in the U.S. House of Representatives. Michigan’s 3rd district covers Barry, Ionia and most of Kent County and includes a number of major Michigan cities including Grand Rapids. The outcome of the race between Pestka and Amash holds the potential to impact the future of West Michigan and its many residents, including those living in Grand Rapids and attending Calvin College.

Pestka started off the meeting by describing his local upbringing, saying that he “was born and raised in Grand Rapids.” After growing up in Kent County and going to school at East Grand Rapids High, Pestka attended both Grand Rapids Community College and the University of Michigan and went on to attain a law degree from the Detroit College of Law. Following graduation, Pestka found work in both the public and private sectors. In the past Pestka has served on the Kent County Commission, as a representative in the Michigan State Congress and as a judge of the 17th circuit. Additionally, Pestka continues to work in the land development business and aid in the campaigns of fellow Democrats.

The two most recent campaigns which Pestka helped work on was for Pat Miles, who challenged Justin Amash to represent Michigan’s 3rd district back in 2010 and David LaGrand, who ran to represent Kent County’s 29th district in Kent County. Pestka stated his disappointment about the losses of both of these campaigns, especially LaGrand’s campaign.

LaGrand was described by Pestka as a “close personal friend” in whose campaign he felt the most “personally invested.”

Pestka hopes his campaign will result in a victory for the Democratic Party. But Pestka also noted that he did not always think it would be himself who would be seeking this victory. “I never thought it was going to be me who was going to run against Justin Amash,” said Pestka.

Initially, Pestka tried to convince a former fellow state congressman to run against Amash before being convinced that he was the right man to take up the race. Prior to entering the race, Pestka ran two polls to gauge whether he would, as a Democrat, stand a chance at beating out Amash to represent Michigan’s 3rd district, which historically has generally supported Republicans. The first poll of these polls turned out a nine point loss for Pestka against Amash while the second suggested that Pestka would win by a margin of 47 percent to 43 percent. Based on the results of this latter poll Pestka decided to takes his chances and compete against Amash.

“We think we can beat Amash,” said Pestka. Pestka gave a number of reasons to back this claim, one of which was based on the fact that “Amash is among the most conservative in Congress.”

“Amash exists in a dream world of Mises and Hayek, where free market philosophy fixes all problems,” said Pestka. “I believe in free markets. I’m a capitalist. But I also believe in community” and that “we are connected to each other.”

Pestka gave a number of examples where he felt that Amash let his ideology cloud his better judgment when it came to dealing with important Congressional issues. Specifically, Pestka stated that Amash had voted against reducing interest on loans for college students as well as against a mandate which would make it necessary for utility companies to give customers notice as to when their energy contracts were about to expire.

“[I will] not be [in Congress] to vote for a narrow ideological vision but to work across the aisle to get something done to serve my community and my country and not work based on what some 19th century economist tells you to vote on an issue,” said Pestka.
In addition to believing that voters would find his ideology more appealing than Amash’s, Pestka felt that he could act as a better representative to voters than Amash. “People reach out to him … but he won’t do it,” said Pestka, after discussing how Amash has not responded to calls to attend a number of events including a meeting with the local Rotary club, a meeting at the Chamber of Commerce and a debate with Pestka himself.

Pestka stated how during his career in politics he has “never seen a situation in which [a Congressman] doesn’t do interviews, debates, forums.”

“[Congressmen] must take questions from voters and come to events,” said Pestka.

That Amash, according to Pestka, has not been doing these things properly was, in Pestka’s mind, “not an insult to me … but an insult to you.” Pestka made the point that Amash’s supposed failure to take part in public events and to respond to the media puts a hole in “[Amash’s] claim of transparency,” saying that you cannot have transparency “only on media you can control … like Facebook.”

Time will tell whether or not Pestka’s criticisms of Amash will sway voters to support his campaign. Pollster Andrew Baumann seems to think there is a chance of this happening, saying recently that “Michigan’s 3rd District represents a challenging, but very real pickup opportunity for Democrat Steve Pestka.”

In any case, West Michigan residents, Grand Rapidians, and residents of Calvin College must wait until Nov. 6 when elections are set to be held to see just how “real” Baumann’s alleged “pickup opportunity” is for Pestka.