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Finley and Jacques: John James would help change Congress

Editor's note: The Detroit News is making recommendations in a number of state and local races on the Nov. 6 election ballot. To maximize our resources and give our readers a more balanced and comprehensive view of the candidates and issues, The News is using a different approach this year. Some of the selections will bear the traditional endorsement of the newspaper’s editorial board. In other races, we'll offer the personal recommendations of our editorial columnists, Nolan Finley and Ingrid Jacques, along with columns from alternative viewpoints. As always, our mission is to provide our readers with the resources to help them make informed choices on Election Day.

As conservatives, we’ve frequently complained about the caliber of candidates Michigan Republicans offer in races for major offices like the U.S. Senate.

We’ve often found them lacking the gravitas to represent Michigan on the national stage.

But this time, the GOP has produced a potential superstar who could become the face of a younger, broader and more pragmatic Republican Party. 

John James, the party’s challenger to incumbent Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow, is the Republican we’ve been waiting for. 

Alternate viewpointWhy I stand With Debbie Stabenow

His opponent is formidable. Stabenow, 68, has been in the Senate 18 years and is seeking a fourth term. Though her party is in the minority, Stabenow has clout as the ranking Democratic member of the Agriculture Committee.

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James is an African-American in a party that has a dearth of diversity. He’s a West Point graduate and Army pilot with extensive combat experience. He’s a businessman who has created jobs and understands the impact government has on the private economy.

And, most important, he presents as a moderate committed to practical solutions, and one who sees a clear role for government in helping those who have been shut out from opportunity.

James, 37, would bring a fresh voice and a new attitude to the Republican caucus, and to the Senate, one that reflects the values of a generation that is under-represented in Congress.

James’ military service makes him particularly sensitive to the needs of veterans. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, James flew Apache helicopters, earning a Combat Action Badge and other honors.

America, he says, has an obligation to help veterans transition back to civilian life.

“I’m a bit biased, I’m a veteran myself,” James says. “We do a great job creating veterans and not such a good job taking care of them.” 

He doesn’t want to fold into the GOP status quo, but rather would work to make the party more inclusive and relevant and focused on the problems facing urban communities, where a majority of voters now live.

“This isn’t just an opportunity to flip a seat, but an opportunity to broaden the back of the elephant to include millennials and minorities,” James says.

James returned to Michigan after his service and is now president of his family’s business, James Group International, a transportation and warehousing company based in Detroit.

Since 2012, James says he has grown the company to $137 million in revenue from $35 million, and added 100 jobs in Michigan and elsewhere.

Growing the economy and jobs are things members of Congress like to talk about, but James has actually done. He’s also involved with the city of Detroit’s Workforce Development Board, which helps train city residents for skilled jobs.  

But this race is less about resumes and more about the promise of a candidate to help repair a broken Congress.

Republican challenger John James answers a question during a debate with U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow at Grand Valley State University on Sunday, October 14, 2018 (still frame from video)

We don’t get the impression that James is a hard partisan. Nor is he an ideologue. On health care, for example, he acknowledges the folly of scrapping the Affordable Care Act without a replacement.

And he speaks of the out-sized impact the war on drugs has had on African-American males and their communities.

James comes across as a consensus builder, a skill he honed in the Army and in business. It’s a skill Washington could use.

He supports President Trump, and has his endorsement, but his backing is not knee-jerk. He differs with the president on trade and immigration policies, and says so. 

While Stabenow touts her bipartisanship, she votes with her party nearly 100 percent of the time, and is a loyal partisan. Stabenow has been part of the gridlock and division in Congress, and is not likely to be a force for change.

We believe John James will be, and that’s why we’re voting for him for the U.S. Senate.