Detroit Regional Chamber > Detroiter Magazine > ‘Michigan Makes Things and Grows Things’

‘Michigan Makes Things and Grows Things’

May 28, 2024

From Agriculture to Automotive, Sen. Stabenow Has Stood Tall for Key Industries

By Rick Pluta and James Martinez

Throughout her five-decade career in public service, Stabenow has advocated for Michigan’s manufacturing and agriculture sectors, including helping to create the 2009 “cash for clunkers” program to stimulate new car and truck sales and help move the country toward more fuel efficient vehicles.

“We don’t have an economy unless somebody makes something and somebody grows something,” she said. “I don’t believe you have an economy unless that happens, and we do that in Michigan.”

As the senator approaches the end of her final term, she chairs the U.S. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, where her focus has been environmental policy, childhood nutrition, and making Midwestern crops a bigger part of legislation.

“Michigan and America have benefitted from Sen. Stabenow’s leadership as the key advocate for the automotive industry, advanced manufacturing, and electric vehicles, and as the author of the Farm Bill,” said Sandy K. Baruah, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Detroit Regional Chamber.

Over the years, the Chamber has found a willing and accessible advocate on several significant legislative and infrastructure priorities, including the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative and modernizing the Soo Locks.

“She’s never forgotten the Michiganders that sent her to the U.S. Senate,” said Brad Williams, Vice President of Government Relations for the Detroit Regional Chamber and representative of the Great Lakes Metro Chambers Coalition.

“Whenever we go to Washington, we as Michiganders have remarkable access and meet with Senator Stabenow every time. She can represent us so effectively because she knows us, and that’s true for the entire state.”

A Legacy of Breaking Glass Ceilings

Senator Stabenow’s public service career has also tracked the growing influence of women in politics.

Detroiter Magazine graphic“I didn’t plan that, but when I was involved in the ‘70s, women were coming into local office – school boards, city councils, county commissions, like I did,” she said. “And then in the 80s, women were running for state legislatures, and so I was in the state House and then I was in the state Senate in the beginning of the ‘90s.”

Stabenow first ran for office in 1974, winning a seat on the Ingham County Board of Commissioners. In 1978, she unseated an incumbent in a Democratic primary to win a seat in the Michigan House of Representatives.

She won a vacant Michigan Senate seat in 1990. Four years later, she ran for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, lost the primary, but joined former congressman Howard Wolpe’s
ticket as his running mate. Republican Governor John Engler won re-election and those were
the only elections Stabenow ever lost.

She was quickly back in politics. In 1996, she unseated a Republican incumbent to win a U.S.
House seat and four years later she toppled incumbent Republican Sen. Spencer Abraham to
become Michigan’s junior U.S. Senator.

“That was the moment where we saw an influx of women coming into the Senate: (Sen.)
Hillary Clinton (D-New York), myself, (Sen.) Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) – a number of
women and for the first time in the history of the country, we had enough women to have a
woman on every committee in the United States Senate,” she said. “Altogether, when we came
in in 2000, that made 13 women out of 100.”

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987. Detroiter editor James Martinez contributed to this report.

Sandy Baruah

“I knew Debbie Stabenow before I moved to Michigan. As a member of President Bush’s team I got to know the Senator, particularly focused on small business. While I worked for a Republican president and she a Democratic senator – and we certainly didn’t always agree – we developed a wonderful relationship. This is thanks to Debbie’s commitment to working across the aisle and to solving problems. I see that commitment today as she prepares to wrap a storied career in public service ranging from local office to one of the nation’s premier power brokers.

Senator Stabenow’s practice of civility is getting far too rare. While I will miss many things about having Debbie in the U.S. Senate, her civility and humanity are at the top of the list.”

Sandy K. Baruah, President and Chief Executive Officer, Detroit Regional Chamber