Peter Meijer, a U.S. Army veteran and heir to a multistate retail chain of the same name, announced his GOP primary challenge to incumbent U.S. Rep. Justin Amash of Cascade Township on July 3.
Less than 24 hours later, Amash announced he was leaving the Republican Party. He’s now running as an independent.
During an interview in a Grand Rapids coffee shop with the Advance on Thursday morning, Meijer said he wasn’t surprised that Amash left the party and doesn’t believe that the exit will have much of an impact on his campaign. Meijer entered the race via a YouTube video in which he stressed his desire to wind down America’s long-running “senseless” wars and “secure our borders.”
Since his announcement, the field of challengers looking to unseat Amash, who’s represented the West Michigan 3rd Congressional District as a libertarian-leaning Republican since 2011, has grown with both more Democrats and Republicans joining the race.
National political analysts now view the race in the historically Republican-leaning district as a toss-up, something Meijer acknowledged, noting that would have seemed unimaginable just three years ago.
The following are excerpts from the Advance’s interview with Meijer:
Michigan Advance: What’s the response been in the last week since your official announcement?
Meijer: It’s been overwhelmingly positive. I’ve been really excited by a lot of the support and a lot of the folks in the community that I talk to and how they’re lining up behind me.
Michigan Advance: Where have you visited since announcing your campaign?
Meijer: I’ve been to some local GOP events. Obviously, one of the perils of announcing right before the Fourth of July is that it’s kind of a dead time. I’ve been to some local Republican Party events and just kind of going out and talking to people in the community.
I have a lunch [on Thursday] with a guy who reached out to me. One of my big messages has been that I have a lot of my own beliefs, I have a lot of my own opinions and I have a good idea for where I want things to go, and I’m happy to share that. But I always really want to understand what matters to people in West Michigan and hear it from them directly. One of the first things I did was put a submission on my website [so people] can tell me what matters to [them]. I’ve had hundreds of responses to that.
I’ve been going through them, answering questions, collecting responses from folks. But then also sitting down with a lot of those people and hearing from them directly. I think we’re all limited by our own experience. I was born and raised in West Michigan, but I’m not going to pretend to know what everyone thinks. I want to hear from them directly.
Michigan Advance: Are the people you hear from wanting a change in terms of how the 3rd District is represented?
Meijer: I think with the current member of Congress [Amash], there’s many people who have grudging respect, but also have been frustrated by the way in which he’s moved away from the party and become increasingly isolated. This aligns with my own belief.
… What you used to hear is, ‘I don’t agree with everything that he says, but I respect his principles.’ Now it’s like, ‘I guess I respect his principles, but man, we need something new.’ That’s where I think it’s important to understand that the partisanship [Amash] spoke about and the partisanship we see at the national level, folks in West Michigan don’t see it as black and white. They want someone who’s going to be looking out for them and put West Michigan first.
But they also want someone that isn’t going to be an absolutist in any regard; who’s going to look at things and take a common sense approach rather than having a knee-jerk reaction.
Michigan Advance: Are you seeing interest in the district from the national Republican Party so far?
Meijer: It’s definitely something they’re looking at very closely. Typically, the party doesn’t get involved in primaries and I don’t expect that they would.
Michigan Advance: Given the number of candidates and it’s more than one year before the primary, this seems likely to be an expensive race. Are you planning to mostly self-fund?
Meijer: I’m going to do what I need to do.