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Peters talks MSU leadership, immigration bill chances, autonomous vehicle technology in Detroit

Detroit Economic Club
via Twitter

Michigan U.S. Senator Gary Peters says former Republican Governor John Engler might not be the right person to lead Michigan State University right now.

Peters made the comments after addressing the Detroit Economic Club Monday, where his speech focused on Michigan’s future as a center of development for autonomous vehicles, and the artificial intelligence capabilities they promise.

Peters, a Democrat, said he had hoped MSU would choose a more “neutral person” to serve as interim president, someone who “would be free to take whatever changes needed to be taken without thinking about the internal politics of the university, or the politics of the state.

“I would have preferred someone outside of the university, outside of Michigan, not tied to donors, not tied to any of the current Michigan State leadership. You need someone who brings some fresh eyes,” Peters said.

Peters called MSU sports doctor Larry Nassar’s decades of sexually abusing young female athletes “a horrible tragedy” that should “never happen again.”

Peters wants the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee, which he sits on and oversees collegiate sports, to hold investigative hearings on Nassar, and incidents of sexual abuse at other universities such as Penn State.

Peters also discussed the possibility of Congress passing an immigration bill in the near future, calling himself “cautiously optimistic” on that score.

Assuming the federal government doesn’t shut down over yet another budget impasse, Peters says Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will likely move an immigration “shell bill” to the Senate floor, where members can then add provisions and debate the measure.

Any such bill will likely have to include additional provisions for border security (though Peters dismissed the idea of a “brick-and-mortar wall, like the Great Wall of China” along the U.S.-Mexico border as something that “experts don’t think makes any sense”), as well as protections for the so-called “Dreamers,” young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children who face potential deportation when President Donald Trump ends the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program next month.

Peters says the bipartisan Senate “Common Sense Coalition,” a group of 26 self-described centrist senators that includes 10 Republicans, hopes to craft a bill that can get 70 votes in the Senate, giving it a better chance of getting through the House.

Peters admits we only have McConnell’s word that he’ll open up the floor for an immigration vote, but “If you’ve made a commitment to ten members of your own caucus, as well as to the American people, which he [McConnell] did on the floor of the Senate, that usually bodes well for him actually coming through,” Peters said.

As for the topic of his Economic Club speech, Peters said he thinks Michigan is well-positioned to retain its edge in the advancement of autonomous vehicles, though it will require investment in education, job training and infrastructure.

Peters says the true deployment of autonomous vehicles is likely to herald a game-changing moment in the development artificial intelligence that could change the world as we know it.

"We’re building that momentum, but you’ve got to keep building it, because other areas of the country are looking at this as well,” he said. “Because they see self-driving cars as just a major step toward what will be a much broader AI revolution.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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