Calvin connections win major elections


Juliana Knot

Democrat Hillary Scholten and Republican Mark Huizenga both have Calvin connections.

On Nov. 8, Michigan voters elected candidates across all levels of government –– from local to federal. Several of the winners have close ties to the Calvin community, including the new U.S. Rep. Hillary Scholten and Michigan Senator Mark Huizenga.

Hillary Scholten

At the federal level, Democrat Scholten was elected to the House of Representatives. She will represent Michigan’s third congressional district, which includes the city of Grand Rapids. The seat is currently held by Republican Peter Meijer, to whom Scholten lost in the 2020 election.

Scholten had several Calvin alumni working on her campaign. She is also married to Jesse Holcomb, a professor of journalism and communication at Calvin.

“There was a lot of Calvin in this race,” Holcomb told Chimes. “On a personal level, I was filled with pride to see Calvin excellence leave its mark.”

Holcomb was never a campaign advisor. “I saw my role as providing support to the candidate and being a sounding board, in a way that any spouse or partner would be,” he said. 

Even so, as Scholten’s spouse, Holcomb now has unique insight into the process of campaigning.

“Campaign life is absolutely wild,” Holcomb said, describing the “sustained high energy” it demanded for months on end. “So, it’s not for everyone. But at least in our case, it’s a heck of a lot of fun.” 

Holcomb told Chimes the lessened impact of COVID-19 on campaigning and the redistricting process that Michigan underwent last year helped to give Scholten an edge. In 2020, running for the old district three, Scholten ultimately lost, with 47% of the vote. But in 2022, with the district’s new boundaries, she swept the election with almost 55% of votes.

Mark Huizenga

Republican Huizenga was elected to the Michigan Senate to represent the new District 30, which includes parts of Kent County and Ottawa County. 

Calvin has touched many parts of Huizenga’s life. When Huizenga was in high school, he volunteered with former Calvin professor Paul Henry’s campaign –– his first foray into politics. Then, he graduated from Calvin with a bachelor’s degree in business administration.

In his Calvin days, Huizenga said, he “sure did not” anticipate that he would eventually become a state senator. “I got involved because there was a need,” he said. It was, in part, a matter of faith. “We’re not of the world, but we’re in the world, and we’re supposed to make a difference,” Huizenga said.

Huizenga has also worked with several Calvin students and alumni, including alumnus Emerson Silvernail. Silvernail graduated from Calvin, where he served as student body president, in 2020.

“Calvin really taught me to pursue public service in the context of mission,” Silvernail said. “It’s about doing the most good within the context in which I am. I learned that day in and day out at Calvin.”

While at Calvin, Silvernail was “a bit of a nerd”: he asked his professors for connections in politics, then made an Excel sheet to track them. “People at Calvin will go out of their way to try to support you,” Silvernail said. Ultimately, he accumulated a spreadsheet of about 50 contacts –– one of whom was Huizenga. 

When Silvernail met Huizenga for the first time, he was immediately impressed. “[Huizenga’s] heart was in it for the right reasons,” Silvernail said. So, when a job opening arose, Silvernail jumped at the opportunity. Today, he works as Huizenga’s legislative director.

This year’s campaign was, in Silvernail’s words, “organized chaos.” 

“It proved to be a very tough election, just as we thought,” Huizenga said. His new district, he told Chimes, was “about 60% new,” and covered urban, suburban and rural areas. 

Accordingly, Huizenga and his team threw themselves into campaigning. “I don’t think we left any stone unturned,” Huizenga said, citing radio, TV, mail and text campaigns. “I had somebody say to me, ‘Mark, you’re swimming upstream.’”

The whole process, Huizenga said, involved “a lot of angst.” “I went to bed on election night not knowing the results, at about 2:30 in the morning,” he told Chimes.

Ultimately, Huizenga won with 49.2% of the vote –– a narrow victory of 0.3%. After devoting so much work to the campaign, his initial reaction was “relief.”

Now, Huizenga will enter his new term prioritizing three main values: “transparency, accountability and availability.” Huizenga told Chimes that he will also treat others with dignity and look for ways to compromise on policy.

“One of my slogans is, ‘I don’t always agree with Republicans. I don’t always agree with Democrats. And I don’t always agree with my wife!’” Huizenga said. “The media makes it seem like we [Republicans and Democrats] don’t get along, but most things are passed on a bipartisan basis.”

The Calvin connection

“We have a long history here in West Michigan of our congressional representation touching the Calvin world,” Holcomb said, naming former Calvin professor and U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers as one example. “I’m excited about the prospect of having a new representative [Scholten] who understands this world and can show Calvin students what it looks like to be a person of faith, a person committed to service who is now their voice in Washington.” 

Holcomb told Chimes that Scholten is committed to listening to the voices of those whom she represents –– including many Calvin students.

“Any member of Congress would be a fool to ignore the voices of young Americans,” said Holcomb, citing a “strong youth turnout” at the Nov. election. “And Scholten is no fool.” 

Meanwhile, Huizenga’s election, Silvernail told Chimes, may offer prized internship opportunities for Calvin students. “But primarily, I think that in seeing [Huizenga], Calvin students can know how we –– as agents of renewal –– can concretely impact the world,” Silvernail said. “When I look at the story of Mark and how he got involved in politics, I see the hand of our creator, and how God can use us to pursue positive change with integrity.”


Although Holcomb is Chimes’ advisor, Chimes reporters independently conceptualized, researched, wrote, edited and published this story. Holcomb also affirms his deep commitment to “a thriving and independent student voice,” regardless of political stance.