Republican John James is vying for one of Michigan's U.S. Senate seats for the second time. WKAR's Abigail Censky talked to the candidate about the race and his priorities for Michigan as part of a two-day series talking to the U.S. Senate candidates ahead of the August primary.
With fewer than 100 days until the November election, the race for Michigan’s U.S. Senate seat is staying competitive. John James, a Farmington Hills Republican, has outraised Democrat Incumbent Gary Peters four times in a row. But Peters is sticking ahead of James in the polls.
Below is a full transcript of the conversation with has been edited for conciseness and clarity.
Abigail Censky: Our lives have changed so much over the course of the pandemic, at one point a quarter of the state workforce was applying for unemployment benefits, and more than 6,000 Michiganders have died. What are the biggest issues you're hearing from voters? And, have they changed?
John James: The biggest issue that I'm hearing from voters, quite frankly, is that the status quo is not working. Whether your parent, whether you're a teacher, whether you're student, whether you're out of a job, whether you're still working, people are looking at the folks who are supposed to be making sure first and foremost that we get out of this crisis, and looking at the folks who were supposed to be protecting us from this crisis in the first place, and asking themselves, you know, ‘What have you been doing?’ The status quo doesn't work for too many of us and I'm focused on what it takes to use my firsthand experience in the real world. My leadership experience to tear down barriers and increase access. Most importantly for folks who have been disappointed have been let down by field leadership most directly in the United States Senate.
AC: Our unemployment claims are falling in the state, which is good news, and we haven't had to roll back any part of our reopening plan. That said our seven-day average of COVID cases is increasing. What are your plans for COVID recovery?
JJ: I would say that a plan specifically about safely and sensibly reopening, getting safely back to school getting safely back to work, making sure that there are adequate resources for childcare folks who need it, simplifying student loan repayment requirements, early access to diagnostic testing, to staining our stockpiles. Making sure that we improve the paycheck protection program, I believe it's called, and making sure that we make improvements so that the businesses that are most negatively affected, get the assistance that they need. I think that it is very, very clear that the partisanship and dysfunction that we're seeing at Washington isn't serving Michigan and it isn't serving the United States of America. I think that by focusing on non-partisan solutions, is how we emerge from this crisis and make sure that things like this never happen again.
AC: And if you get the chance to serve the people of Michigan and the U.S. Senate, what are your top priorities for the state?
JJ: I have a passion for education. I believe that our failing education system is our number one, national security, our number one economic and our number one civil rights threat. But we need to make sure that we are giving the teachers the resources they need to be successful, that we're giving children the education they need to be successful, and we're giving parents the choice and the power to keep their children safest and most successful.
I would also say healthcare. I believe that we need to have a market-based, patient centered approach that must cover preexisting conditions. I think that we need to keep the parts of Obamacare that work. And we need to fix the parts that don't.
And I would say after education and health care, making sure that we have an inclusive economic growth strategy that includes workforce development, repatriating of American jobs, and supporting workers and job creators, so that we can continue to grow our economy in a manner that benefits folks who've been left out of our economic growth over the past not just 10 years for the past 50 years.
AC: And you've outraised Senator Peters, you know, five times now but still routinely fall behind him in polling—in this last 100 days before the election. How do you plan to connect with voters when in person campaigning is so limited?
JJ: I believe that this is going to be a challenger’s race. I believe that people are so sick of politics, as usual that you're seeing that this is going to be a challenger’s year. I've outraised my Democrat incumbent opponent four quarters in a row. That never happens. This race is just moved to toss up. I also think it's important to note that 95% of my contributions are $100 or less—this money is coming from Americans who are giving what they can because they're sick of the status quo.
I also believe that when you have the opportunity to come to people and say that we demand leadership in Washington that begins to look and think more like the people they represent. I'm Black, I'm a millennial. I'm a conservative. I'm politically exhausted. And I believe in getting things done in a state like Michigan a purple state, having a Stabenow, James, Democrat, Republican, female, male, boomer, millennial being able to get things done regardless of who's in the majority or who's in the White House works for Michigan.
I also believe that experience matters. I believe leadership matters. Quite frankly, my opponent has not had the occasion to develop the skill set to understand what it takes to get Michigan out of our slump. We were the first into the recession and the last one out. The status quo does not work for us that will change November third.