With only a few weeks in Congress under her belt, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D–Mich.) has several initiatives planned.
Dingell hopes to help create new jobs in Michigan, boost the middle class and improve higher education during her term, she said in an exclusive interview with The Michigan Daily Thursday.
Dingell took over her husband John Dingell’s seat in Michigan’s 12th Congressional District, which includes Ann Arbor, two weeks ago when the 114th session of Congress commenced. Dingell is the first woman to succeed her husband in Congress while he is still living.
She emphasized that in every position she has held during her career, she has always been a woman leader in a male-dominated atmosphere, forcing her to work hard to overcome the stereotypes associated with that dynamic. This session there are 84 women in the U.S. House out of 435 seats.
“I’ve been someone that’s always out there that’s trying to ensure that women are treated equally,” Dingell said. “I’ve worked just as hard — sometimes I feel like I’ve had to work three times as hard — than the person next to me.”
To aspiring female leaders, Dingell said it was important for women to work together with one another, adding that the younger generation does a better job than women in her generation.
As a representative, she identified several legislative priorities for the upcoming term, including creating new jobs and continuing to build the economy in Michigan. A former president of the General Motors Foundation and executive director of Global Community Relations and Government Relations at GM, she specifically noted a desire to help diversify Michigan’s economy.
“While the auto industry has been the backbone of Michigan’s economy, we need to try to attract new industries,” Dingell said. “I think people look at Michigan and they go: ‘labor state,’ and sometimes don’t realize what a competitive state it is to do business in.”
She said she was elated when General Electric decided to open a Michigan manufacturing technology facility in 2009, and was hopeful more companies would come, while preserving those currently in the state.
Dingell also expressed an enthusiasm for providing higher education funding. Prior to her election to the House, she served on the Board of Governors at Wayne State University for over eight years.
“I’m passionate about ensuring that our young people have access to quality, affordable education,” Dingell said.
She noted that her experience working on the Board of Governors at Wayne State allowed her to speak with students and gain their perspectives on issues such as the cost of tuition.
To improve higher education, Dingell said she thought the federal government should put more money into education and remove some of the burdens of funding universities from the states.
Additionally, Dingell expressed interest in decreasing the interest rates on federal student loans and praised President Barack Obama’s plan for two years of free community college, highlighted during his State of the Union Address. She pointed out that many high-earning jobs, such as pipe fitters, only need two years of higher education.
Along with Obama’s community college proposal, Dingell also highlighted two other White House initiatives featured in the State of the Union — improved pay equity between men and women and the president’s plan to increase the minimum wage — as important for Michigan.
“The numbers say the economy’s better, but in Michigan too many people I know, their wages have stayed stagnant as consumer prices have gone up,” Dingell said. “So I think everybody does better when people who are working hard are paid a good minimum wage, because that money comes back into the economy.”
Correction appended: A previous version of this article misstated Dingell’s former position with the GM foundation; she was the president, not the vice-chairman.