LANSING, Mich. — Detroit-area business turnaround expert Sandy Pensler joined the U.S. Senate race Monday, saying he will spend millions of his own money to try to defeat third-term Democratic incumbent Debbie Stabenow, who he said backs well-meaning policies that actually hurt her state.
Pensler — whose company owns four manufacturing plants — is the third viable Republican to announce his candidacy, along with former state Supreme Court Justice Bob Young and Iraq War veteran and businessman John James.
“I’m frustrated with the direction that Debbie Stabenow and others have been taking the country,” Pensler, a 61-year-old from Grosse Pointe, told The Associated Press in an interview at a Lansing-based political consulting firm. “They’ve been driving it toward government-focused, government-directed decisions and a huge regulatory state.”
He said his candidacy is about an alternative vision of “individual liberties, individual maximum freedoms and market-driven solutions.”
Pensler, who has not held elective office, ran unsuccessfully for a Lansing-area U.S. House seat 25 years ago. Back then, he was identified as a supporter of abortion rights — which his rivals surely will make an issue in the GOP primary.
He said Monday his position has “evolved” and he considers himself “pro-life.”
“My position’s changed since I’ve had a family,” Pensler said. “My wife and I think that abortion is a bad thing and that government should do what it can to limit it. I think Roe v. Wade was a terrible decision by a court, really an almost tyrannical decision by nine people on the rest of the country.”
He said he will spend “millions” of his own dollars to counter the well-funded Stabenow, whose campaign had $6.9 million as of Sept. 30. James had $216,000 and Young $102,000. Bob Carr, a lesser-known Republican candidate, also is running.
“John James is one hundred percent pro-life. Others will have to answer for their past positions,” said James’ campaign manager, Tori Sachs.
Pensler founded and runs Pensler Capital, an investment group that he said has bought companies that were slated to be closed.
“I’ve been able to turn around most of those — not all of them — and increase the number of jobs at those sites, innovate and create new products at those sites,” he said. “You empower them to make the changes. It is the opposite approach of Debbie Stabenow and the Democrats who want to make the decisions come from Washington and have an elite group tell us how we can run businesses, what we need to do.”
Pensler Capital owns and operates Korex Companies, which manufactures dishwasher detergent, powdered consumer products and other items. One plant is in Wixom northwest of Detroit, another is in Chicago and two are in Toronto.
Pensler previously helped to restructure and financially advise large companies such as Chrysler, GE and Sprint. He has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Yale University and a law degree from Harvard University. He taught economics at both schools.
He said President Donald Trump — who won Michigan last year — has been “terrific” on policies, while he differs from Trump “on style.”
“He is what he is and I will support his agenda as long as I agree with it. But so far, I agree with what he’s been doing and what he’s done.”
Pensler said he would put “Michigan first” in the Senate and criticized Stabenow for supporting a minimum wage increase, which he said would eliminate entry-level jobs and is an example of her “well-intended” thoughts leading to policies with unintended consequences. Stabenow spokesman Matt Williams declined to directly address Pensler’s criticism.
“Whether it’s protecting our Great Lakes, helping small businesses grow, and lowering the cost of prescription drugs, Senator Stabenow is focused on doing her job and what’s best for Michigan,” he said.