Greenville teen becomes 'Senator for a Day'

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
Sen. Gary Peters and Thomas Stephenson, Senator for a Day, in Peters' office on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, July 10, 2018.

Washington — Sen. Gary Peters on Tuesday helped grant a Greenville teen’s wish to be “Senator for a Day” in partnership with the Make-A-Wish organization.

Thomas Stephenson, an 18-year-old with a congenital cardiac condition, said he spent Tuesday shadowing Peters in meetings with constituents, other lawmakers, industry representatives and journalists.

"I’ve told Tom hopefully he doesn’t run against me any time in the near future," the Bloomfield Township Democrat joked. "But it's great to have him with us here for the day." 

Stephenson also accompanied Peters on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon for a speech.

"It’s already been a full day of meetings, and it's just been quite fun," Stephenson told reporters on a call.

Sen. Gary Peters and Thomas Stephenson, 18, of Greenville, enter a 'Senators Only' elevator on Capitol Hill. Stephenson is a 'Senator for a Day,' shadowing Peters in partnership with the Make-A-Wish organization.

"I just like to be involved with people who are making a difference for all ordinary Americans, and I thought it was really cool to meet those people."

The Make-A-Wish foundation works on behalf of kids with critical illnesses.

Their calendar included meetings with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-West Virginia; college representatives to discuss affordability issues; and agri-business leaders to talk tariffs imposed by the Trump administration and counter-tariffs imposed by the Europeans. 

"They let me offer my opinion throughout those meetings and ask a lot of questions," Stephenson said. "It’s really special to be able to give my input and hear from people who truly care about those issues."

Stephenson first visited Washington at age 8 to lobby for the Affordable Care Act, meeting with then-Sen. Carl Levin, D-Detroit — a trip that left him with the politics bug, he said.

Thomas Stephenson is greeted in the Senate Hart Office Building by a Capitol Police officer on Tuesday, July 10, 2018.

"From there, I was kind of hooked on the political process. So I've been throughout my life working on campaigns since 2008," Stephenson said. 

He said he enjoyed engaging with lawmakers on topics such as college affordability and health care.

"I just want to make sure lifetime caps were never set forward because I would definitely meet those, and preexisting conditions can't be denied, because I will always have a preexisting condition," Stephenson said.

Peters said Stephenson's visit is "exciting" at a time when more young people should get involved in the political process.

"I’m always encouraged when I find young people who are passionate about government and can believe that through public service you can make a difference in the world," Peters said.

"Tom is definitely that person, and he’s been doing it since he’s 8 years old."

In the fashion of a true politico, Stephenson declined to share his thoughts on President Donald Trump's new U.S. Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh, dodging the question from a reporter.

Sen. Gary Peters greets Thomas Stephenson, "Senator for a Day," as he arrives on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, July 10, 2018.

"I think that this nominee will be definitely shape the judiciary process of the United States for a long time to come," Stephenson said, adding that he was outside the White House during Monday night's announcement.

"I don’t want to offer my opinion one way or the other on my personal feelings about him."

Stephenson said he plans to study nursing at Michigan State University in the fall. 

He didn't rule out a potential run for office some day — perhaps county commissioner or state representative, he said. 

"Maybe not for this office," Stephenson added, laughing.