Debbie Stabenow accepts the gavel for the Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry just as preparations begin for what is sure to be a controversial new farm bill in 2012. Stabenow, the junior senator from Michigan, is currently in her tenth year in the Senate, following a four-year stint in the U.S. House and 16 years as a state legislator. A former social worker and part-time folk singer, Stabenow, now 60, was first elected to public office at age 24.
Stabenow narrowly defeated incumbent Republican Sen. Spencer Abraham in 2000 with just a 49 percent plurality. Six years later, she was re-elected with 57 percent of the vote, over Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard. She has also served as both conference secretary and chair of the Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee. One of the poorest senators personally, Stabenow reported no significant assets on her 2009 personal financial disclosure form.
In the 111th Congress, Stabenow chaired the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Rural Revitalization, Conservation, Forestry, and Credit. While in that position, Stabenow worked to secure more than $3.3 million in Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) funding for Michigan. That program was part of the 2008 farm bill, the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act, which passed over President Bush’s veto with the support of Stabenow.
Starting in January, Stabenow will succeed the defeated Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas as chair of the full committee. The Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry has jurisdiction over legislation relating to agriculture, animal industry and diseases, crop insurance, farm credit, food stamp programs, forestry, human nutrition, pests and pesticides, rural electrification, school nutrition programs, and other similar areas. She will be responsible for shepherding a farm bill through by the end of 2012 — a process that may prove difficult given the current budget deficit. The Bowles-Simpson National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform recommended $10 billion in reductions to agricultural program spending between 2012 and 2020.
Stabenow’s official website notes that agriculture is Michigan’s second largest industry — it is the top tart cherry producer in the nation. And it highlights her promotion of the state’s products to foreign markets via the Agriculture Committee and her seat on President Obama’s Export Council.
Though her personal ethics have generally been unquestioned, her then-husband drew criticism in 2009 for allegedly failing to properly register as a state lobbyist in support of reopening two hazardous waste wells. Sen. Stabenow had campaigned against the proposal. The pair divorced this past May.
As one might expect for a Michigan senator, much of her campaign money has come from automobile and steelworkers unions, along with several health care and financial services companies. By and large, agriculture sector interests have not traditionally been top donors to Stabenow, but with her new power, that is likely to change.
Stabenow’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Top PAC Contributors
- Mylan Inc., a pharmaceutical company — at least $30,000
- UAW, the International Union, United Automobile, Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers of America (better known as the United Auto Workers) — at least $27,500
- DaVita Inc., a kidney care and dialysis provider — at least $25,000
- New York Life Insurance Co., an insurance and investment firm — at least $22,500
- Real Estate Roundtable, a public policy group made up of real estate trade associations — at least $22,500
- United Steelworkers, a 1.2 million-member labor union for metals, manufacturing, paper and forestry products, chemical industry, health care, pharmaceuticals, public services, mining and energy, and utilities workers — at least $22,500
- PACs gave at least $1.4 million to Stabenow’s campaign account and her America’s Leadership leadership PAC
- Patrick Cavanagh, a former Stabenow director of constituent communications, is now vice president for federal affairs at the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity
- Raphael Goodstein, a former legislative correspondent for Stabenow, is legislative director for the American Automotive Policy Council, a coalition of the Chrysler Group, Ford Motors, and General Motors to promote American automobiles
- Noushin Jahanian, after seven years as policy director and chief counsel to Stabenow, now lobbies for The Washington Tax Group on behalf of Yum! Brands, Monsanto Company, Applied Materials Inc., and Oerlikon Solar USA
- Lisa Layman, who was senior policy adviser to Stabenow from 2005 to 2007, is director of government law and strategies at Brown Rudnick, lobbying for Apotex Corporation, Hospira Inc., and Norwalk Hospital of Norwalk, Conn.
- Alexander “Sander” Lurie, Stabenow’s chief of staff and legislative director from 2001 to 2007, is a principal at SNR Denton, lobbying clients including Allstate Insurance Co., Marsh & McLennan Cos., Sara Lee, and UCare, a nonprofit health insurance company
- Mat Young, a former economic policy director for Stabenow, is director of congressional and political affairs at the American Institute of CPAs
- Between 2008 and 2010, Stabenow obtained more than $744 million in earmarks, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense
- In 2010, she obtained in excess of $186 million in earmarks, including $2.4 million to A123Systems Inc. for an advanced lithium ion phosphate battery system for army vehicles, $1.6 million to AAR Mobility Systems for air mobility shelters and communications systems for the National Guard, and $800,000 to Calumet Electronics for highly integrated siloxane optical interconnect for military avionics. All three companies are headquartered or have major operations in Michigan
- In a release, Stabenow pledged a bipartisan push to write “a new farm bill that once again recognizes the importance of America’s agricultural economy and rural communities”