By Merrill Lynn Hansen
On November 1, 2014, President Barack Obama reached out to shake my hand. I hadn't reached out to him--he reached out to me. He didn't reach out to shake everyone's hand; just a few of us. Within a heartbeat, I contacted the immediate world, via Facebook and text messages, and told them that the President of the United States came right up to where I was sitting, and reached out to shake my hand. Eventually, I had to admit that the only reason the President reached out to me was because I was sitting next to Congressman Gary Peters' family (whom I had just met), and the President wanted to say hello to them, and must have thought I was part of the Peters clan. Peters' wife, and a friend who was sitting to my right, literally pushed me and yelled "He wants to say hello--SHAKE HIS HAND!"
On that day, President Obama, together with Senator Carl Levin, Representative John Dingell, and every other notable Michigan Democrat, came to Wayne State University in Detroit to campaign for Peters, who was the Democratic candidate to fill Carl Levin's U.S. Senate seat after Levin retired. (Prior to that, Peters had represented Michigan in the U.S. House of Representatives since 2009.) When Obama shouted to the 6,000- plus audience, "Give it up for a Wayne State alum, your next senator, Gary Peters!,” it seemed prophetic. Two days later, Peters was elected.
Peters is now running for reelection in November, and Michigan is one of the key states that will decide whether the Democrats can regain the Senate majority. In order to do that, the Democrats need to retain their existing senatorial seats (including Peters’), and win three more. It is not surprising that Republican strategists hope Peters is vulnerable. By their standards, he is low-key and understated. President Trump recently campaigned in Michigan and referred to Peters as "invisible.” "Nobody knows who he is,” boomed Trump. In reality, Gary Peters may be understated, but he is loyal to his constituents, and is a workhorse. To his credit, unlike most politicians, he has the ability to walk past a microphone without being compelled to grab it and start promoting himself. Every summer, Peters rides around the state of Michigan on his Harley motorcycle, with a crew of Harley drivers, meeting with people from all walks of life, talking to them, and listening to their stories. No one is invisible when they ride around on a Harley, and Peters certainly isn't.
Peters is now the ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. Among his achievements, he has sponsored eleven legislative bills that have been enacted, almost an impossibility in Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's Senate, where proposed legislation suffocates under the dust on McConnell’s desk.
But, with the 2020 election less than three months away, what's at stake for Michigan and the country is more compelling than what we were facing in 2014, or at any other time in recent history, because of the pandemic. There are nothing but unknowns regarding the future of our family's health, our jobs, our children's education, and our economy. Michigan voters are worried. There is an additional crisis Michigan citizens are facing, one that is also having an effect on people all over the country. Because of the changes to the U.S. Postal Service implemented by the newly appointed Postmaster General, Louis DeJoy, veterans and seniors are not receiving their prescriptions on time; employees are not receiving their paychecks; small businesses are failing because of mail delays; and a myriad of other severe issues are resulting from “improvements” instituted by DeJoy, a major Trump and GOP donor.
It hardly seems like a coincidence that at a time when Trump is ranting that mail-in voting will perpetuate the biggest election fraud in history, his Postmaster General takes actions that will have a direct effect on whether or not voters' mail-in ballots will arrive in time to be counted. Within two weeks of DeJoy's taking office in June as Postmaster General, Peters was inundated with calls from constituents, complaining about mail delays. He immediately began an investigation into the Postal Service and the cause of the problems.
As the ranking member, Peters was able to convene an emergency hearing before the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, which has oversight of the U.S. Postal Service. DeJoy appeared on August 21, and testified under oath. In his opening statement, DeJoy repeatedly referred to the USPS as an "organization,”and spoke of a "business model" for the post office. At one point, he said he believed "we can chart a path for our business.” He never mentioned the people whom the post office serves, and how their lives were impacted by the changes he had implemented.
But Peters did. “For more than two centuries, Americans have been able to count on the Postal Service. But in less than two months as Postmaster General – you have undermined one of our nation’s most trusted institutions and wreaked havoc on families, veterans, seniors, rural communities and people across our country,” said Peters in his opening statement. "The country is anxious about whether the damage you have inflicted so far can be quickly reversed, and what other plans you have in store that could further disrupt or damage reliable, timely delivery from the Postal Service.”
Peters cited reports of constituents whose health had been impacted by the delays and lost revenue small businesses have suffered. And, of course, the concern that everyone has regarding the challenges of voting by mail, if the mail delays will prevent their votes from being counted. Peters was neither understated, nor was he invisible. DeJoy dutifully said that he would suspend any service changes that he had made, and that the postal service will deliver ballots on time and securely for the November election.
The Michigan Republican Party, and the mega GOP donor DeVos family (as in Education Secretary Betsy Devos), think Republican candidate John James is their best chance to topple Gary Peters. James is a Black Iraq war veteran who is the CEO of an international logistics company (as was our new Postmaster General), and they constantly refer to him as their "rising star.” James ran against Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow in 2018, and lost 52%-46%, which the Republicans deem a narrow margin. I find that confusing. because in Trump's Tweet World, someone who lost an election is a LOSER. But, the GOP, and the DeVos family, are sticking with James, believing he can appeal to voters a second time around. He's a wealthy businessman, just like Republicans were sure Trump was, when they voted for him in 2016. (Has anyone seen Trump’s tax returns yet?)
During his last campaign, James referred to Obamacare as "monstrous" and said he would vote to have it repealed, But recently, he indicated that any healthcare plan should cover pre-existing conditions. James hasn't mentioned that the Trump administration is arguing in a case now before the U.S. Supreme Court that the entire Affordable Care Act should be repealed.
During this year’s campaign, James has tried to distance himself from the DeVos family, by telling voters that he has not accepted any donations from Betsy DeVos. But James, whose wife works for the DeVos family-owned Amway empire, hasn’t distanced himself from the DeVos family, and he certainly hasn't distanced himself from their money. The DeVos PAC has contributed a million dollars to his campaign, and the DeVos family members have contributed the maximum amount individuals can contribute. James also hired Betsy DeVos' niece as his campaign's assistant communications director. Her hiring came after her parents donated $20,000 to James' campaign. James does not appear to be interested in cleaning the swamp, but instead, he's knee deep in it.
This time around, James has been a little queasy about broadcasting his support for Trump. When he campaigned against Stabenow, he told voters that he backed Trump "2,000%". But for most of his campaign in 2020, when not courting Trump donors, James has been so subtle about his support for Trump that it seemed as if he barely recalls having met him.
When speaking with a group of black leaders in April, James was asked by a pastor why he never confronts Trump about the racist comments he's made. James defended himself by saying he felt like it was better "to be silent in public to gain access to Trump. Do you think that Esther could have saved her people by spitting in the king's face? No. She was able to do that, because she was in the king's chambers.” I couldn't help but note James' reference to the "king's" chambers.
I don't know what biblical story inspired James' pre-recorded speech on August 24, the first day of the Republican National Convention, but when he said that "In 2020, we have a choice to use our voices and our votes to defend our republic, or to concede quietly to a leftist willing to tear it down piece by piece,” he let everyone know that he is now 3,000% behind Donald Trump.
John James and Trump might think that Gary Peters is invisible, but I'm hoping that of the three of them, it will be Gary Peters who will be the winner on November 3 (or whenever all the ballots are counted). I'm planning on asking Peters if I can sit with his family when President-elect Joe Biden stops by to say hello, so that he can reach out and shake my hand.
Merrill Hansen is a legal assistant, living in West Bloomfield, Michigan. She describes herself as a frustrated writer, who wishes she could be Nora Ephron (when she was alive), if only for a day. She is a news-, political- and FB-junkie, a combination that requires a constant reminder that she needs to take deep cleansing breaths when responding to people who don't agree with her.