Senator Stabenow Speaks to Women Elected Officials (video)
(Crystal A. Proxmire, Nov. 25, 2013)
In her over 34 years in public office, Senator Debbie Stabenow has seen the faces of leadership change in Michigan and in the nation. In particular she’s witnessed the impact of increasing the number of women holding elected office. On Nov. 25 she spoke to the Women Officials’ Network about this change, and the importance of encouraging other women to get involved as well.
“When I first started one of the things that was surprising and very disappointing to me at the time was that because there was an assumption at the time I came into the State House that there could only be one woman in various places. The Speaker would talk about ‘well, we’ve got a committee, you can have one woman.’ It was always a pitting of women against each other. and as as a young woman coming in when I was excited and I wanted to be doing things, the older women that were there saw me as a threat ’cause you could only have one. There are six of us and all six of us should be placed. And that’s the way we have to look at things. If you are in a position and you don’t turn around and hold out your hand to bring somebody else with you, and you’re the only one there, then you’re a token. And that’s not what we want,” Stabenow said.
“When I came in the 1978 election, so 1979, there were six women in the whole State House. Now the good news is we have more. The bad news is that in 2009, 25% of the State Legislature were women in Michigan… Today it’s 19, and we are going in the wrong direction folks. We need to turn that around.”
The Women Officials’ Network encourages women to become involved in public policy through elected and appointed office. The group focuses on networking, training and mentorship to help women empower each other to lead. Stabenow was invited to share her story and experiences so it might inspire other women.
“Like a lot of women… a common thread is that we all came into public service around an issue,” she said. “It wasn’t ‘I want this title.’ It was some issue with the community, something with the schools, something in the neighborhoods, something with the hospital, something in the business community, whatever it was that brought us in.”
For Stabenow that issue was the proposed closing of the only low income nursing facility in Ingham County back in the 19070s. Though she grew up in Clare, Stabenow had been living in Lansing and attending Michigan State University. She fought the County Commission to keep the hospital open, and then took up the opportunity to run against the man who had proposed to close it. She won, and she’s been involved in politics since. Stabenow worked her way from County Commission to the State Legislature and in 2001 she became a US Senator, where she is now the Chair of the Agricultural Committee.
“What is important about that time is that in 2000 it was the first election in which enough women were elected to have one woman on every Committee. Fast forward to now, there are nine Committees being chaired by women,” she said. Among the women-led Committees are influential ones such as the Intelligence Committee, Appropriations Committee, Small Business Committee and the Budget Committee.
Stabenow said she is also looking forward to helping elect the nation’s first woman President, saying “it’s time for that last glass ceiling to break.” She complimented potential candidate Hillary Clinton, calling her “super smart,” and touting her experience as Secretary of State in preparing her for the country’s top position.
She also encouraged the women in the room to continue their involvement and recruitment. “Be willing to take a risk,” she said. “We don’t always win. And the issue is not so much do you win, the issue is do you get up. If you’re knocked down, do you get up? That is the test.”
To learn more about Senator Stabenow, visit her website at http://www.stabenow.senate.gov/.
For more on the Women Officials’ Network, visit www.womenofficialsnetwork.org.