The University of Michigan’s Central Student Government hosted a congressional update from U.S. Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich, and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. The event Friday afternoon featured Stabenow and four staffers from Peters’ office, as well as one senior advisor from the U.S. House of Representatives.  

Peters was unable to attend due to a conflicting event at the White House. 

Josh Fendrick, a legislative assistant handling economic policy for Peters, said he manages all matters related to tax, trade, small businesses, housing, insurance, pensions, Social Security, manufacturing and infrastructure for Peters. Fendrick began working for Peters as an intern for Peters’s first senate campaign in 2014 and landed a full time job in 2015. 

“I called up my former boss from the campaign and I said, ‘Hey, I don’t know what I’m doing but I’m moving to Washington, D.C. I know this is the place for me, if you have any openings … please let me know,’” Fendrick said. “I applied, and two weeks later I started working for the Senator as a staff assistant.”

Chris Matus, regional director focused on suburban Wayne County, Washtenaw County and Monroe County, discussed his role working for Peters in Michigan. 

“My job is to go around… meet with folks, keep tabs of what’s going on, what’s going well,” Matus said. “And (I) really make those connections between local issues and the constituencies and the work going on in D.C.” 

The staffers were asked to give advice to students interested in careers in government and policy. University alum Natasha Dabrowski, graduate of the class of 2015 and former LSA student government president, is currently the communications director and senior advisor to the New Democrat Coalition in the U.S. House of Representatives, a Democratic House caucus committed to “pro-economic growth, pro-innovation, and fiscally responsible policies.” Dabrowski said it is important to make connections with those already in the field.

“Spend more time on coffees than cover letters,” Dabrowski said. “Use your alumni network, use your student government network, use your campaign network to help get not only job postings, but also advocates so that you can get recommendations to get that job.”

Stabenow spoke after Peters’s staffers. She started by discussing the American Rescue Plan, the economic relief bill passed by the Biden administration Thursday that provides aid for local economies and individuals. Stabenow predicted that $32 million from the ARP will be awarded as financial grants to students on the Ann Arbor campus to pay for tuition, food, housing, technology and childcare.

Stabenow said while she did not know a lot about the ins and outs of the political system when she first won a seat on the Ingham County Board of Commissioners, she cared deeply about the issues at stake. Stabenow was a graduate student at Michigan State University at the time and said she faced sexist remarks from her opponent during the race.

“He called me that young broad running against him, and I told folks, ‘Hey, the young broad beat him,’” Stabenow said. “That started me on a path that I did not expect … of public service, and I found that I really liked being involved in systemic change, and then went from the county board… and to the US Senate, being Michigan’s first woman to be elected in the 2000 election.”

Stabenow also discussed how she is using her position as Chair of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee to help Michiganders fight climate change. 

“I lead the efforts on electric vehicles in the Senate, in terms of the consumer tax credit, and getting more clean energy manufacturing here in the United States,” Stabenow said. “Because that’s all about jobs for us.”

Stabenow said it is important to fund services for mental health — she said she helped allocate $111 million in funding for mental health services last year and is aiming to make that annual funding permanent.

“I’ve authored a new structure that funds behavioral health, like physical health, to health insurance and Medicaid and other things,” Stabenow said. “And this is absolutely critical. But we’ve got a lot of work to do to stop the stigma so people reach out and ask for help when they need it.”

LSA senior Morgan Solomon, CSG government relations coordinator, organized the event and told The Daily she appreciated hearing from those who have experience in government. 

“It was so important to hear the voices of the representatives and staff members who are not only representing Senator Peters but also doing the work on the ground to support his agenda and also move bills forward,” Solomon said. 

Though Stabenow went to Michigan State University, she said she is excited to see what Michigan basketball has coming down the pike.

“I have two degrees in Michigan State (but) my son went to U of M,” Stabenow said. “So you can imagine how he’s ragging on me right now, but I’m going to be out there in maize and blue. It’s very exciting.”

Daily Staff Reporter Justin O’Beirne can be reached at 

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