GOP Senate nominee John James: America is ‘close to a civil war’ 

John James (left) and Gary Peters (right) | Andrew Roth
Updated, 12:51 p.m., 9/17/20

During a virtual town hall meeting Wednesday, Republican U.S. Senate nominee John James said that given the political climate, America is on the cusp of civil war.

“I recognize that this country, looking at some stats, if you look at one to 100, with 100 being close to a civil war … we’re almost three-quarters of the way there,” James said. “I think that having leadership who is used to having nonpartisan solutions both in the military and in business, being raised by two Democrats in the Jim Crow South, being an independent thinker, not owned by any party, or process, I think that that’s the best way to go.” 

Other Republicans, like state Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake), have made similar comments.

“We’ve got a Democratic Party that has been completely hijacked by the Marxists and the socialists hiding behind this Democratic banner, letting us think this guy that’s running for president [Joe Biden] actually can do something besides read a teleprompter, and he can’t even do that well,” Shirkey said at a Farmers for Trump event in Jackson County this month, as reported by MLive. “This is over the future of our country, no question about it. We’re grateful that Lincoln did it in 1860 and 1864, but it’s now our time.”

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James’ comment came during a Detroit Regional Chamber of Commerce-sponsored town hall meeting featuring he and U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Bloomfield Twp.).

The Rev. Charles Williams, president of the National Action Network Michigan chapter, ripped James and said it is the Republican Party that has created a poisonous political and social climate today. Williams criticized President Donald Trump’s “Operation Legend” initiative to send federal law enforcement into cities led by Democratic mayors to quell Black Lives Matter protesters. 

“If we are three-quarters of the way there [to civil war], there is no doubt in my mind that it has come from the Republican playbook,” said Williams who leads the Michigan unit of the organization founded by the Rev. Al Sharpton. 

During 20-minute individual sessions, Peters and James responded to different questions from Detroit News editorial page editor Nolan Finley and Detroit Public Television host Stephen Henderson.

James, a Farmington Hills businessman who previously ran for U.S. Senate in 2018, also attacked Peters, a first-term incumbent, on police reform. 

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“I’m running against a guy who has been calling for police reform for a couple of years and then when he had an opportunity, he chose his party,” James said. “He voted against further debate to improve that bill. I think that was wrong.”

U.S. Senate Democrats blocked a GOP bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) in June because they said it was too weak, as the Advance previously reported. 

On a question about the Black Lives Matter movement and its calls for police reform, James called for increased police funding, more officer training, implementing community policing and hiring more officers from communities where they serve as opposed to defunding police as some activists have advocated. 

When asked whether he would oppose the Trump administration’s call for eliminating employee training strategies that address efforts to eliminate racial basis, James lifted up Scott’s bill. 

Scott’s legislation aimed at increasing transparency within police agencies centering on use-of-force incidents and provided incentives to departments to use body cameras.*

Peters in June called the measure “flawed.” 

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“We must address inequities and racial disparities and part of our effort must include making needed reforms to policing and to our criminal justice system,” Peters said at the time.

“The bill does not go far enough and has significant shortcomings, failing to ban chokeholds or establish independent reviews into police-involved use of deadly force; therefore, I will not vote to move forward with consideration of this flawed, partisan process. This is a moment that demands working together to craft legislation that takes effective action, has broad bipartisan support and can overwhelmingly pass the Senate — and I remain committed to partnering on such an effort.”

The Scott-sponsored bill was opposed by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, NAACP, National Action Network, American Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, League of Women Voters and National Education Association. 

James and Peters answered questions on a range of other topics, including the COVID-19 pandemic, immigration reform, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), mail-in voting, job creation and the war of terror. 

Peters stated during the town hall that the Senate should act in bipartisan fashion as it did earlier this year when it backed the $2.2 trillion CARES that provided COVID-19-related aid. U.S. House and Senate members remain divided on another measure. The U.S. House in May passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act. The Senate-led GOP has argued for measure significantly less than that. Peters called for the Republican caucus to “go back to the table and “come together” and negotiate with congressional Democrats.  

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“We know that we are in the middle of a crisis,” Peters said. “We came together with the CARES Act. That was money that needed to be spent to keep the economy going,” Peters said.  

Peters also called for improvements to the ACA, rather than eliminate it, as Trump and Republicans have called for. Peters pushed back against United States Postal Service (USPS) efforts to reduce capacity and the ability of the agency to process mail in a timely fashion, especially during a period when an increased number of Americans will vote absentee amid the coronavirus pandemic. 

“I have a history of working together and getting legislation passed in a bipartisan way,” Peters said. “In fact, over the last two years, I have written and passed more legislation through the United States Senate than any other U.S. senator, either Democratic or Republican. That’s the kind of thing we need to do to bring folks together.”

Polling averages show Peters with a lead over James as the Nov. 3 election is 46 days away. 

Correction: The story has been updated on details of the Senate bill, which does not ban chokeholds.

Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Historical Society of Michigan trustee and a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.