Meijer joins crowded field of GOP challengers to Amash

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News
Peter Meijer

U.S. Army veteran Peter Meijer, grandson of the late retailer Fred Meijer, declared his campaign for Congress on Wednesday, joining a growing field of Republican challengers to GOP U.S. Rep. Justin Amash. 

Meijer is the fourth Republican to jump into the race, in addition to Amash, who has filed to run for reelection for a sixth term in the U.S. House representing the Grand Rapids area in Michigan's 3rd District.

The other candidates are state Reps. Lynn Afendoulis, R-Grand Rapids Township, and Jim Lower, R-Greenville; and former Sand Lake Village Trustee Tom Norton. 

Three Democratic candidates have declared, including Ionia native Nick Colvin, a former Obama staffer.

In his announcement video, Meijer, 31, of Grand Rapids Township says he grew up stocking shelves at his family's store and learning the values of "hard work, integrity and responsibility" that led him into military service and deployment to Iraq. 

"I served my country and now I want to serve my community. I’m running for Congress because our politicians spend their time trashing each other online, coming up with excuses and pointing fingers. We should expect more from people who represent us," Meijer tells the camera. 

"I have a lot of ideas to take to Washington. We need to secure our borders, we need to bring our troops home from senseless wars, and we need health care to not bankrupt families. And education should be within reach."

Meijer's campaign video does not mention Amash, who has drawn scorn from some GOP leaders since becoming the sole Republican in Congress to publicly call for President Donald Trump's impeachment. 

"Expect more from the people you send to Washington," he says in conclusion. 

Meijer's website says he's the fourth generation of his family from West Michigan. His father is Hank Meijer, executive chairman of the family's privately owned superstore chain.  

"He’s got a number of things going for him: Name recognition, a military background and if he self-funds that’s almost a trifecta for an upstart congressional candidate," said David Dulio, who chairs the political science department at Oakland University. 

"Any one of these three things could provide a big advantage to a candidate, and he’s got three of them. But I do think that the crowded field could hurt him, and the more Republicans who get into this primary, the more it can really help Justin Amash by splitting the vote."

Republican strategist John Yob criticized Meijer on Twitter after his campaign announcement Wednesday, saying he donated $250 to an "anti-Trump" group during the 2016 cycle. 

The group, Common Defense/Beyond the Choir Action Fund, was formed by military veterans during the presidential campaign who said Trump was a "real threat," according to its website

"It was a $250 donation to a group that said they were defending veterans," Meijer said.

"They lied to me. I never gave them another penny after the agenda became clear." 

Peter Meijer was born and raised in Grand Rapids, attended East Grand Rapids public schools and went on to a year at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point before transferring to Columbia University.

Meijer deployed to Iraq as a non-commissioned U.S. Army officer between his junior and senior years during the 2010-11 draw down of forces, serving as a sergeant in various intelligence capacities and training with the Iraqi army.

Upon his return, Meijer got involved in veteran advocacy groups, including disaster response with the veterans service group Team Rubicon after Superstorm Sandy, Oklahoma tornadoes and Super Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines.

He also spent time working with refugees on the South Sudanese border and helping non-governmental organizations navigate conflict zones in Afghanistan. 

Meijer later earned a master's in business administration at New York University before returning to Michigan to work on real estate development opportunities on the east and west side of Detroit with the Ilitch family's Olympia Development.

More recently, he launched a startup called X-Living, aiming to test concepts in affordable housing, he said. 

Last election cycle, Meijer joined the advisory board of a "cross-partisan" political action committee called With Honor whose mission is to elect principled, next-generation veterans on both sides of the aisle to the U.S. House. 

His role on the board, he said, was to provide input from the perspective of the veterans community, while staff vetted and decided which candidates to support.

Several of the candidates the group supported were elected, including freshman GOP Reps. Dan Crenshaw of Texas and Jim Baird of Indiana, as well as Democrats who flipped GOP seats, such as Reps. Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, Max Rose of New York and Jason Crow of Colorado. 

"I certainly think that we need new ideas, perspectives. The majority of Americans would strongly agree that the status quo approach could be strongly improved upon," Meijer told The Detroit News last week.

Meijer indicated that he's since stepped away from With Honor to pursue his campaign.