ESCANABA - U.S. Representative and U.S. Senate hopeful Gary Peters was at Bobaloon's in Escanaba Thursday on the first day of a six-day tour to discuss issues important to Upper Peninsula residents.
The Democrat and U.S. Representative from the greater Detroit area hopes to fill the seat opened by the upcoming retirement of U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, who has held the office since 1978.
"I feel very humbled to be running for this seat given that fact that Carl has done such an outstanding job for us here in Michigan for a lot of years," said Peters.
Based on his conversations with U.P. residents, Peters believes job creation is the most important issue for voters.
"As I've been in the Upper Peninsula, jobs is always the number one issue. People are concerned about the economy; good-paying, middle class jobs, and so we've got to be focused on how we do that, and I think it's part of leveraging the resources we have in the Upper Peninsula," said Peters.
Residents expressed concern over invasive species in the Great Lakes, the effects of Asian carp and Michigan's economy. Peters noted these and other environmental issues would be a common theme in his campaign.
"The Great Lakes are by far the greatest resource that we have in the state of Michigan, and we need to have a champion in the U.S. Senate that cares very deeply about it," he said.
When it came to Upper Peninsula forests, Peters said that he is a proponent of local control - allowing local communities to have a direct say in the management of the resources - but also noted that federal policies had to be supportive.
"The local folks should have a say in how the forest resources are utilized in the area, but it's about mining, it's about the Great Lakes, it's about fishing, it's all of the incredible resources we have here in the Upper Peninsula. We need to make sure that federal policies are working to help regular middle class folks here in the Upper Peninsula," he said.
Peters expressed that while the Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula have different economic structures, small businesses are the economic engine of any economy.
"Autos are important, but autos - we can't do it just with autos. We need to be much more diversified than the auto industry. We have to have strong small businesses in every community," he said.
Once concern raised by a resident was the Trans-Pacific Partnership, commonly known as the TPP, which is a proposed free trade agreement between Pacific countries including the U.S. that is being negotiated. However, the agreement has received significant criticism due to controversial clauses and large portions of the agreement not being made public.
"I'm not in a position to support TPP until we make some significant changes and ... we can't even get it open right now to take a look at it which makes no sense to me," said Peters.
Specifically Peters noted he would like to see stricter enforcement measures for preventing participating countries from manipulating currencies, which allows businesses in those countries to have an advantage over American businesses, and for participating countries, such as Japan, to further open their countries for American goods.
"To me this election is about the American middle class," said Peters. "The American middle class has been shrinking, good paying jobs going over seas, we continue to see outsourcing. We've got to stop that and make sure that we support companies in our own country who are hiring American workers."
Peters noted he has introduced legislation in the House that would require companies reporting the number of employees they have to stock exchanges to say which countries those employees are located in.
"In my mind if these companies then come to us and they say they want tax breaks or whatever they want, well if you want a tax break you've got to actually hire American workers," he said.