Mackinac Island — John James is a millennial. He runs a successful Detroit company. He’s a former Army captain. He’s black.
Oh, and he’s a Republican.
He wants to become Michigan’s next U.S. senator in 2018. I sat down with him last weekend during the state’s Republican Leadership Conference here to find out why.
James is a fresh face in a party that has rightly earned a reputation for being too monochromatic.
Currently, this GOP Senate race to oust longtime Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow has attracted nothing but diversity. In addition to James, who made his campaign official last week, former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Young (who is also black) is in the race. And businesswoman and avid President Donald Trump supporter Lena Epstein had been in the running before she recently decided to make a bid instead for retiring Rep. Dave Trott’s seat.
For James, however, diversity is more than skin deep. It’s a refreshing perspective at a time when identity politics has swept the country.
“People talk a lot about diversity, but what gets neglected often is diversity of thought, and we don’t have a lot of diversity of thought in Washington or on college campuses,” says James. “The folks I’m talking to are extremely excited because they see me as a conservative outsider who will continue to fight for our First Amendment, the Second Amendment — doggone all the amendments.”
This is James’ first foray into politics. But he’s not deterred by the challenge of competing with more well-known Republicans in the primary. Nor is he concerned about going up against Stabenow, who’s held political office longer than he’s been alive (he’s 36).
“It’s more daunting to fly around in a big black helicopter in the middle of the desert with no cover and everyone wants to kill you,” says James, who flew Apache helicopters in Iraq. “This is my third campaign — my first two were in Baghdad. This isn’t combat. This isn’t hard. You just have to do the right thing. I’m up for the challenge. I always have been.”
So why the Senate? James says the nation’s Capitol has a dearth of politicians with relevant experience. Voters want someone who knows how to keep them safe at a time of growing international tensions. And they also want access to the American dream.
“We need more combat veterans on the Senate floor,” he says. “We need more proven leaders who know how to create jobs — not just from a theoretical standpoint but from a practical standpoint.
“Folks just want someone who has energetic leadership, passion for service, clarity of vision and who will bring fresh perspective, not just to win the nomination and seat but to hold the line in Washington for a long time to come.”
James certainly has no shortage of energy or passion. It radiates from him. That charisma will play well on the campaign trail.
He’s also got an excellent resume. A graduate of West Point, he served his country with distinction during Operation Iraqi Freedom. He earned several awards, including a Combat Action Badge.
After eight years in the service, James came back to Michigan and became president of the family transportation and warehousing business, James Group International, based in Detroit. Under his leadership, the company has created 100 more jobs and greatly expanded its revenue.
At this point, he’s running mostly on that resume — and his personality — rather than a set of policy positions.
But as Trump proved, complex stances on the issues are not necessary to win over voters.
James says he supports the president “2,000 percent,” and in the Senate, he would help Trump be successful.
In the meantime, James is focused on his own campaign. He’s active on social media, and is putting out a series of 100 videos. He wants voters to get to know him and his family.
“People are ready for an aspirational, inspirational message,” James says. “I don’t see anybody else in this race declared or undeclared who can bring the entire state together to unite our conservative values and fight for everyday Michiganders in Washington.
“I like my chances. I like my chances a lot.”