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Republican operatives aren’t letting up on a long-running riff on U.S. Sen. Gary Peters’ low name recognition as they fight for the Democratic incumbent’s seat.

During the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference, the National Republican Senatorial Committee distributed baseball cards featuring the senator’s image with the titles of “Jerry Peters, The Invisible Man,” “Larry Peters, Motorcycle Guy,” “Barry Peters, Socialist’s BFF,” “Terry Peters, K-Street’s Favorite Hypocrite” and “Harry Peters, He’s Just There.”

The cards included “player stats” that included Peters’ years as a politician, the percentage of voters who failed to recognize his name and a tally of his “meaningful accomplishments,” which they pegged at zero.

"Regardless of what name you give this career politician, Jerry Peters has failed to stand up for the principles and priorities of the men and women of Michigan," said NRSC spokesperson Nathan Brand.

The latest jape capitalizes on polls that indicate Peters is starting his re-election campaign with relatively low voter identification numbers. It mimics a running joke in the NBC comedy “Parks and Rec,” in which coworkers call one of the characters, Jerry Gergich, Garry, Larry and Terry.

The Michigan Democratic Party in turn ran paid digital ads over the weekend targeting Peters' Republican challenger John James for a previous support of Trump and other stances, said MDP spokesman Alex Japko.

"Gary Peters is a battle-tested incumbent who was the state’s top vote getter and is on track to win in 2020 because he’s focused on being an effective and bipartisan leader who puts Michigan first and delivers results," Japko said. 

Panel passes Whelan measure

The House Foreign Affairs Committee on Wednesday unanimously approved a measure calling on the Russian government to release Michigan resident Paul Whelan, who has been imprisoned in Moscow for nearly nine months. 

The bipartisan resolution urges Russia to either produce "credible" evidence against Whelan or "immediately" release him from custody.

Whelan, 49, of Novi was arrested Dec. 28 in a Moscow hotel room and charged with espionage, which carries up to 20 years in prison in Russia. The former U.S. Marine has denied the charges.

"The Russian government has presented zero evidence that Paul committed a crime, and yet he remains in prison, denied due process and now he's in very poor health," Democratic U.S. Rep. Andy Levin told the committee Wednesday. 

"We must bring Paul Whelan home. I hope this resolution sends a clear message to the Russian government, and I hope it assures his brave family that we are absolutely committed to getting Paul back to Michigan safely and soon." 

Lawmakers have also introduced the measure in the U.S. Senate, where its sponsors include Democratic Sens. Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters. 

#FixtheFix rally protests reform

Large crowds gathered on the Capitol lawn Wednesday to protest the bipartisan no-fault auto insurance reform law that they said fails to guarantee lifetime benefits for accident victims or curb discriminatory insurance practices.  

The MI Auto Insurance Promise Rally, which organizers said had more than 2,000 people in attendance, was organized by groups that had opposed the legislation when it was approved in May, including the Coalition Protecting Auto No-Fault.

“There was bipartisan agreement that changes were needed to the no-fault system to protect auto accident victims while reducing discriminatory rate-setting practices used by auto insurance companies,” CPAN President John Cornack said in a statement. “Unfortunately, Michigan’s new law doesn’t protect a victim’s right to recover, and it doesn’t force auto insurance companies to reduce rates.”

The passage of the reform for Michigan’s highest-in-the-nation auto insurance after roughly 30 years of debate accrued largely bipartisan support, including that of Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey.  

But some Detroit area legislators felt it didn’t go far enough to address alleged discriminatory rate setting practices, and medical providers and personal injury attorneys have criticized other aspects of the law.

While the prior system provided excellent coverage, it was “untenable” and more than any Michigan resident could afford, said Rep. Joe Bellino, a Monroe Republican and supporter of the reform. There will likely be some fixes needed in the law, Bellino said, but those likely won't be clear until the changes are fully implemented in July 2020. 

“Its not a perfect bill, but it’s a great compromise to start the ball rolling for change,” he said.

The rally came the same day House Democrats requested the Michigan Department of Insurance and Financial Services investigate a rise in consumer complaints since the May passage of the reform. The specific complaints needing review included unexplained increases in insurance rates and new insurance companies “springing up” to evade forthcoming rollback policies, according to the caucus statement.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

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