Just as the race for the presidency of the United States between the Republican Donald J. Trump and former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden offers the country the starkest of choices to be made about the future and the direction of our country, so does the race between Michigan incumbent Sen. Gary Peters, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger John James.
In many ways, the campaign for the U.S Senate is reflective of the Presidential campaign in as much as it pits a moderate, centrist, Democrat in Sen. Peters, who was propelled into office with the overwhelming support of Black voters in Detroit and around the state against a far-right Republican, in James, whose campaign – like Trump’s – is mostly centered on repudiating the legacy of America’s first Black President, Barak Obama, while counting on voters to be enamored by his business background.
Besides the ideological differences between the two men who are both military veterans, the significant differences are Peter’s years of experience as an elected official with a track record of fighting and delivering for Michigan’s citizens. Versus James, who has never held elective office.He did, however, unsuccessfully challenge Michigan’s senior Sen. Stabenow for her seat in 2018.
Another noticeable difference is that Peters is white and from Pontiac, and James is an African American from Detroit. And the Michigan Republican Party believes that makes him a more attractive candidate for some Black Michigan voters and some white voters concerned about their Party’s reputation for hostility toward African Americans.
However, in this moment of the Black Lives Movement, racial reckoning and demands for social justice, James bizarre ambivalence about Black civil rights – even refusing to support the strengthening and renewal of the John Lewis Voting Rights Restoration Act and denying voter suppression is profoundly problematic. It puts him squarely at odds both morally and politically, with most African Americans on an issue that is foundational to the Black community.
Nether James, his press secretary, Abby Walls, or officials from the Michigan Republican Party responded to phone calls, emails, or texts from the Chronicle requesting an interview or answer questions emailed to them by the Chronicle.
However, in interviews he provided elsewhere, James has reiterated his strong support for Trump and continued to call for Obamacare’s destruction – which he has called a “monstrosity” – while offering no meaningful plan for replacing it.
Besides committing himself to a policy that would end health care for more than 100,000 Detroiters, he has also called for the de-funding of Planned Parenthood and taking away critical funding for public schools and other essential services to provide tax breaks for the rich.
During a 2018 interview with the Chronicle, when he was challenging Sen. Stabenow, James claimed he was a “textualist” and said he supported the appointment of rabidly anti-civil rights justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court. Both justices have voted not only to gut the Voting Rights Act every time it has been before the court for review during their tenure. Still, they are also part of a far-right anti-civil rights cabal on the court that would not even accommodate voters and allow more time for mail-in voting during this year’s primary elections amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sen. Peters has been a steady, if somewhat low key presence in Washington, who has established a reputation for bipartisanship, excellent constituent service, bringing home the bacon for Michigan, and a reliable friend and advocate for African American community.
During the current session, Sen. Peters, with the NAACP’s support, introduced the bipartisan National Criminal Justice Commission Act to establish the first top-to-bottom review of our justice system in over 50 years and help set the agenda on critical reforms for our criminal justice system. He cosponsored national reforms like an outright ban on the use of chokeholds, accountability in the event of the use of deadly force by law enforcement, and the requirement for fair and impartial independent investigations. Moreover, he supports measures to require federal law enforcement to identify themselves and promote evidence-based practices to inform crime reduction programs.
He received a 97 percent positive legislative rating from the national NAACP during the 2017-2019 legislative session.
Unlike James, who has joined Trump in calling for the destruction of Obamacare, which helps more than 500,000 Michigan residents – a the disproportionate number being people of color and the working poor – Sen. Peters is a strong advocate for the law and has passed legislation to help get lower-cost generic insulin and other generic medications to the market. He has also cosponsored and passed the Maternal Health Accountability Act to create a grant program to help states track and reduce maternal deaths, disproportionately impacting Black women.
Sen. Peters’s work on behalf of Detroit citizens includes helping to secure funding for the purchase of 59 new city transit buses and funding to revitalize Belle Isle and additional money for resources to keep communities and places of worship safe. He played a pivotal role in helping Flint to secure $30 million for the Choice Neighborhoods Grant to replace the crumbling Atherton East public housing complex, plus an additional nearly half a million dollars for Flint Community Schools to hire staff and improve the learning environment for students affected by leaded water.
James, who comes from a highly respected family, deserves credit for serving our country. And he has been an able steward of the business he and his brother took over from their father, Group international, where his father, John A. James, was the CEO.
He talks a great deal about his business acumen; however, during his 2018 interview with the Chronicle, he was non-committal about support for specific programs to help Black businesses and entrepreneurs and opposed affirmative action programs to help African Americans.
His website makes no mention of specific policy initiatives aimed at the African American community.
Sen. Peters has not only been a vocal advocate for the Minority Business Development Agency, but he also helped pass the Small Business Jobs Act to boost small businesses in and around Detroit through tax credits and access to low-interest loans. He also fought for and secured additional relief to minority-owned firms and community lenders impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and is an original cosponsor of the For the People Act, which would expand voting rights and reduce the influence of big money in politics.
With so much on the line this coming November, it is critical for all Michiganders to know we have a friend in the U.S. Senate to count on to fight and advocate on our behalf. Especially Black Michigan residents who, along with people of color from all across this country, have borne the brunt of almost four consecutive years of mistreatment and nonstop racist assaults and insults from President Trump and his Republican Party enablers.
We have that in Sen. Peters. He may not be flashy but has been a very able and highly effective, hardworking senator for all of Michigan. His attention to his constituents’ needs and commitment to fairness, decency, and racial equality stands in stark contrast to everything James appears to represent with his dangerous indifference toward Black civil rights, hostility toward Obamacare anti-labor, and anti-choice policy positions.
His near unwavering support of President Trump – who is opposed for reelection by more than 90 percent of African American voters – makes his candidacy appear more quixotic than serious – at least among Black voters.
It’s not even close:
The Michigan Chronicle endorses incumbent Democratic Sen. Gary Peters for reelection to the U.S. Senate in November.