Fueled by the grit and tenacity of the Michiganders he serves, Sen. Gary Peters has worked on dozens of bills signed into law, earning the track record of a “most effective” leader.
BLOOMFIELD HILLS, Mich.—What can a single Senator’s term amount to for everyday voters?
Eleven new laws written to keep up with the times. Several dozen bipartisan bills put into effect to help people on both sides of the aisle. The lives of veterans and lifelong postal service workers touched when they needed help the most.
That’s the track record of Michigan’s Sen. Gary Peters in his first term. GovTrack, which keep tabs on all the laws proposed and passed, tracks him as the most accomplished freshman senator in Washington. An independent institution run by Vanderbilt University and the University of Virginia calls him “most effective” in the law-making.
“The stakes of this election simply could not be higher,” Peters told The ‘Gander during a phone interview three weeks before Election Day. “But I think folks need to also appreciate that in a lot of ways, the US Senate is more important than the presidency.”
From Peters’ recent work to protect the Postal Service to voting to end the National Security Agency’s bulk collection of American’s data, he has been an active freshman Senator. And, he accomplished this in the minority party as a freshman Senator in an institution where seniority matters.
As his first term enters its final months and he seeks a second Nov. 3, Peters reflected on his time in the Senate so far and why it matters now.
The ‘Grit of Michiganders’ to Keep Him Moving
In his first six-year term, Peters sponsored 11 pieces of legislation that have been passed into law, nine of which were enacted in full. As GovTrack points out, that number may sound small, but precious few pieces of legislation actually get signed into law.
In the same time, the average number of bills adopted as laws per senator was only about nine—and some had far fewer—according to their data.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), both more established and in the majority party, only got one law signed. The same is true for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC). Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) got slightly more with four passed laws. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) only sponsored one bill signed into law in the last six years.
And for most of Peters’ term in the Senate, he’s faced the uphill struggle of a Republican president and Republican senate majority making shepherding legislation into law all the more challenging.
But he’s done a lot more than just introduce 11 bills and see them through to the president’s signature. Peters has either sponsored or cosponsored over 1,500 pieces of legislation, much of which has been bipartisan, while in the Senate. Of those, more than 50 have successfully become laws.
The highlights, he said, included recently passing legislation to expand apprenticeship opportunities for veterans, and helping veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. His efforts have helped returning soldiers reintegrate into civilian life with solid job opportunities and addressed discharges of soldiers suffering from PTSD to ensure they were handled justly.
Peters himself is a veteran of the Navy Reserve and has commendations including the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal and the Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal, so serving veterans has been a point of pride for the Lieutenant Commander-turned-senator.
But laws aren’t the only highlights of his time in the Senate.
Another metric illustrates how active Peters has been in the Senate: the percentage of floor votes missed.
In 2019, the most recent full year available, Peters missed exactly zero floor votes. Peters’ 100% voting rate was equal to that of the chamber’s two leaders: Sens. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.)
Peters spoke to The ‘Gander by phone from quarantine after a senator he serves on a committee with testing positive for coronavirus. Peters tweeted that he tested negative, but chose to self-isolate out of an abundance of caution. That’s just one chapter of the most dramatic story of his first term, and of most people’s lives in 2020: the pandemic.
“Hopefully there will never be a crisis of this magnitude,” he said.
But, Peters has drawn inspiration from how Michiganders have confronted the challenge.
“During this adversity, [I’m] seeing folks come together and understand that everyone has to do their part,” Peters said. “I’ve worked with a lot of small businesses, for example, who knew that we had shortages of surgical masks and critical medical equipment. Even though those companies didn’t make those products, they transformed their production to be able to rise up and meet the need for people across the state of Michigan. That kind of attitude really shows the grit of Michiganders.”
A Lot Left to be Done
There are also challenges left in the few remaining weeks of his first term; fights that Peters is passionate about seeing through. Most notably, he’s spent the past several months as an ardent advocate for the United States Postal Service, investigating the measures implemented by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy that have led to postal delays that endangered everything from small Michigan businesses to thousands of absentee ballots.
“The Postal Service is an absolutely vital service for Michiganders,” Peters explained. “Whether it’s prescription drugs, paychecks, getting their bills on time so they can pay them on time and avoid late fees, if you’re a small business owner you rely on the postal service to conduct business and mail packages to customers; The Postal Service provides a vital function to everyone every single day.”
Peters recounted the story of a Michigan mom who ordered medicine through the mail for her child’s epilepsy. When the medicine was a week late, her daughter had to reduce the dosage to make the medication last longer, which is cautioned against by the Food and Drug Administration.
Alongside fellow Michiganders in Congress like Rep. Brenda Lawrence (D-Detroit), Peters has been a tireless advocate for addressing the instability introduced by DeJoy and holding him accountable while working to help everyday postal workers like Keith Combs, president of the Detroit district of the American Postal Workers Union, who had to fight to keep his post office open.
But the Postal Service isn’t the only instability introduced by President Donald Trump that Peters is taking to task in the waning weeks of 2020. As The ‘Gander reported, the nomination of Amy Coney Barrett to replace the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court has placed the health insurance reforms Michiganders depend on in serious jeopardy.
“It’s important for members of the judiciary committee to highlight why she’s the wrong choice for the Supreme Court and how she’s out of step with the American people,” Peters explained. “In my mind she’s clearly out of step with where the country is and that needs to be demonstrated before the court of opinion with the American people.”
Both those causes are motivating Peters, who will fight tirelessly when the Senate reconvenes Oct. 19.
Why Reelection Matters to Peters
To Peters, continuing these fights is important, but so too is the integrity of the Senate.
As Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has used the procedural authority of his position to act as a self-styled “grim reaper” of Democratic legislation, preventing many policies—recently and notably the House-passed coronavirus relief legislation the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act—from being seriously considered.
COURIER explained that hundreds of bills have stalled in the US Senate while McConnel focused on his quest to radically transform the American judiciary. That includes Barrett’s Supreme Court nomination, which will proceed despite the Senate standing in recess due to the recent coronavirus outbreak in Washington, DC.
“A Senate can stand in the way of progress as we saw very clearly when President Obama was President of the United States,” Peters explained. “Mitch McConnell stood in the way of so much of what he tried to accomplish.”
And for that Senate Democrats need Peters. Of the ten most competitive races this November, Peters is one of only two Democratic incumbents in a tough battle. To remove McConnell, Democrats need to pick up a net three seats out of the eight vulnerable Republicans. If Peters loses, four of the endangered Republican incumbents have to lose for control of the Senate to shift.
“That’s why Michigan is central to this election,” Peters said. “We have that real path to win, to be able to take the majority, but it’s a very narrow path and if we lost here in Michigan, that path becomes a whole lot more difficult.”