Debbie Stabenow: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

debbie stabenow

Getty Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) talks with reporters following the Senate Democratic policy luncheon at the U.S. Capitol August 1, 2017 in Washington, DC.

Debbie Stabenow is the current senior Senator from Michigan. A member of the Democratic party, she has been serving in Congress since 1996, first in the House of Representatives. In 2000, she was elected to the Senate, becoming the first woman to ever represent Michigan in the Senate.

Stabenow has been re-elected three times. She faced a challenge in 2018 from Republican John James, a military veteran and businessman who was endorsed by President Trump.

Here’s what you need to know.


1. Debbie Stabenow Has Spent Her Entire Professional Career in Politics

Debbie Stabenow was born April 29, 1950, in Gladwin, Michigan. According to her Senate biography, she spent the majority of her childhood in the small city of Clare, which is in the middle of the state and about 90 miles north of the capital city of Lansing. Her family appears to have done well. They owned an Oldsmobile dealership in Clare. Stabenow’s mother was also the Director of Nursing at a local hospital.

Stabenow attended Michigan State University. She earned both her bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree there. She first got involved with politics while still in school, when she was elected to the Ingham County Board of Commissioners.

In 1979, Stabenow was elected to the Michigan House of Representatives. She served in that seat until 1990. Her next move was to the upper chamber; she was a state senator in Michigan from 1991 until 1994. In 1994, she took a stab at the governor’s office. Stabenow lost in the Democratic primary to Howard Wolpe, but became his running mate in the general election. They ultimately lost to the Republican incumbent, John Engler.

Stabenow was not out of politics for long. She was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives two years later.


2. Senator Stabenow Lists Health Care as One of her Top Priorities in Congress & Recent Legislation Concerning Prescription Drug Costs Was Signed Into Law by President Trump

Senator Debbie Stabenow currently sits on the following committees: Budget, Energy and Natural Resources, and Finance. She is a ranking member on the Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry committee.

Senator Stabenow lists health care as one of her top priorities, especially lowering prescription drug costs. In March of 2018, she introduced the Know the Lowest Price Act. It allows pharmacists to share additional price information with patients. If the cost of a drug is cheaper out-of-pocket, than it is when run through insurance coverage, the pharmacist is permitted to share this with the patient. The bill had bipartisan support and President Trump signed it into law on October 10, 2018.

The senator is also a co-sponsor of the Empowering Medicare Seniors to Negotiate Drug Prices Act. The language of the bill reads: “A bill to amend title XVIII of the Social Security Act to allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate fair prescription drug prices under part D of the Medicare program.”

Senator Stabenow has voted in line with President Trump’s position 31 percent of the time, according to FiveThirtyEight. Her most recent votes included voting “no” to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, voting “yes” to expand private care options for veterans, and voting in support of a motion calling for congressional approval of national security tariffs.

You can see her full congressional voting record, dating back to 1997, here.


3. When It Comes to Personal Wealth in the Senate, Debbie Stabenow is on the Lower End of the Scale

senator debbie stabenow

Center for Responsive Politics Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) estimated net worth compared to the Senate median.


There are 535 members of Congress; 100 Senators and 435 representatives. Roll Call‘s annual Wealth of Congress index has 530 of them ranked based on their estimated personal net worth. Senator Stabenow is on the lower end of that list at #520.

Senator Stabenow’s current net worth is listed as a negative. The index states that she has $600,000 in liabilities. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the liabilities include a 30-year mortgage. She also took out a 5-year Home Equity Line of Credit in 2012 that had a 5 percent interest rate. It’s worth noting that members of Congress do not have to disclose the current value of their properties, so it is likely that her total liabilities are actually much lower.

The senator’s personal wealth took a dive at the onset of the recession. The chart above shows that her estimated net worth was as high as $216,000 in 2005. In 2007, it fell to $-32,500. Senator Stabenow rebounded out of the red, but has not appeared to have ever recovered from that fall. As of 2015, her estimated net worth was a positive $32,500. You can check see the full interactive graph and how Senator Stabenow’s wealth compared to the Senate median here.


4. Debbie Stabenow’s First Husband Encouraged Her to Get Involved in Politics During Graduate School


Debbie Stabenow has been married twice. She appears to have met her first husband, Dennis Stabenow, sometime during college. An article put out by the Michigan State University alumni association in 2005 states that her political career began in 1974, when she was a 24-year-old graduate student.

The article states that Stabenow was “incensed” when a county commissioner announced he planned to close a nursing home in Lansing. Her husband, Dennis, encouraged her to challenge the commissioner for his seat. She won the race, and according to her Senate bio, managed to save the nursing home.

Within two years, Stabenow was the top commissioner. She was the youngest person ever elected as Chair of the Ingham County Board of Commissioners.

Senator Stabenow and her first husband got divorced in 1990. They had two children together, Todd and Michelle. They are both grown and married. The Senator has four grandchildren.


5. Senator Stabenow Divorced Her Second Husband, Tom Athans, After He Was Caught With a Prostitute

tom athans

Tom Athans was married to Senator Debbie Stabenow from 2003 until 2010.


Debbie Stabenow got married for a second time in 2003 to Tom Athans, who was 11 years her junior. He and Stabenow may have met on Capitol Hill. Athans worked as a congressional aide from 1997 through 2002, according to his LinkedIn page. Athans went on to co-found a radio production company called Democracy Radio and still works in media production today.

Stabenow and Athans’ marriage fell apart after he was caught with a prostitute. Athans was stopped by police in February 2008 leaving a hotel in a Detroit suburb, as reported by MLive.com. He admitted to paying a woman, Alycia Martin, $150 for sex. Police had been outside the hotel because they were surveilling Martin. Athans was not arrested or charged with a crime. He later testified against Martin, who was convicted of trespassing and put on probation.

Senator Stabenow’s office put out a statement at the time, as reported by the Washington Post. She said simply, “This is very disturbing and serious. Obviously it’s a deeply difficult and personal matter.”

The couple’s divorce was finalized in December of 2010.

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