Republican candidate and political newcomer John James squared off against Michigan’s longtime Democratic incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow in the first of two scheduled debates on Sunday. Beneath the scripted statements from James and barely masked condescension from Stabenow, one passing aside in the closing minutes of the debate revealed the significance of the Senate race unique to the future of Michigan.
Senate (and House) races have become so nationalized that the impact of elections on Congress' party breakdown have obscured the significance elections hold to the representative’s home state. Pundits and the populace view Senate contests, such as the Michigan one pitting the underdog James against the supposedly secure Stabenow, through a national lens. Will Republicans retain control of the Senate? Will Obamacare be repealed? Will there be comprehensive immigration reform? Which judges will be confirmed?
Whether Stabenow or James receives the nod in November, the national impact will be minimal. On the other hand, the election’s impact on Michigan’s future, one inseparable from the fortunes of the Detroit automobile manufacturers, cannot be overstated.
As political journalist and debate moderator Rick Albin’s final question of the debate highlighted, mobility, connected cars, and autonomous cars are the future of the automotive industry. And whichever company “gets there first will probably own it.” Should Toyota, Tesla, Google, or a smaller start-up beat the Michigan-based legacy manufacturers of Ford, GM, and Fiat Chrysler to the market with the car of the future, the Michigan economy will never recover.
Michigan’s fortunes for the foreseeable future will rise or fall with Detroit automakers' success in the mobility industry. For voters putting Michigan first, then, the choice should be clear: vote for John James. While Stabenow has been in Washington, D.C., James has been home in Michigan, working in industry and serving automotive clients. Additionally, in March 2017, Gov. Rick Snyder (a Republican) appointed James to serve on the Michigan Council of Future Mobility, a Department of Transportation council comprised of business and government leaders dedicated to ensuring that Michigan remains a leader in automated, driverless, and connected vehicles.
While Stabenow may have more political experience than James, James far surpasses the long-term senator in business know-how, and has both the private and political connections necessary to catapult Michigan’s automotive industry to the forefront of the mobility race. Assuming Republicans retain control of the Senate, as expected, James would be taking a seat in the Senate on the majority side of the aisle, giving him more voice in controlling the agenda and priorities of lawmakers than minority member Stabenow has. And, as importantly, James has the ear and respect of President Trump, while Stabenow spent much of her time in Sunday’s debate criticizing Trump.
To date, Republicans and conservatives have praised the young, conservative married father of three (the youngest yet to be born), because of his experience and values. James is an Iraqi war veteran and businessman with an MBA who professes strong pro-life and Second Amendment positions. As an African-American, James provides the opportunity for authentic outreach into minority communities that seem beholden to Democrats, even as leftist policies continue to fail them year after year.
Liberals condemn James for the same reasons.
But moderate Michiganders should consider the impact of this year’s election on the state’s long-term future—a future dependent on the Detroit automakers overtaking mobility competitors in Silicon Valley, Japan, and elsewhere. The next six years will determine the winner in the mobility race and James is the leader best situated to ensure the victor calls Michigan home.
Margot Cleveland (@ProfMJCleveland) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. She served nearly 25 years as a permanent law clerk to a federal appellate judge, and is a former full-time faculty member and current adjunct professor for the college of business at the University of Notre Dame.