DETROIT (AP) — Sen. Debbie Stabenow will become the new chair of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry starting next year, it was announced Friday, meaning the Michigan Democrat will oversee drafting of the next five-year farm bill.
The two-term senator from Lansing has served on the Agriculture Committee since 2001 and also was a member of similar committees in the U.S. House and the state legislature.
She told The Associated Press her appointment is "really important for Michigan," where agriculture employs a quarter of the work force. But although Michigan is among the nation's leaders in the production of milk, corn, beet sugar, black beans, red tart cherries, apples and blueberries, it has been less involved in growing commodities, which historically have been the focus of federal farm bills.
But Jim Byrum, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association, predicted the upcoming farm bill — which is expected by 2012 — is going to "have a lot less farm and whole lot of other things," such as nutrition, specialty crops and conservation, and Byrum said Stabenow is a leader in such areas.
"She has a great understanding of these kinds of things, so it's going to be a real winner," he said.
The ag chair job is the second leadership post the 60-year-old lawmaker has picked up in recent days. Stabenow also is the new vice chairwoman of the Democratic message and rapid response operation, serving under Sen. Charles Schumer of New York.
The higher-profile jobs come at a good time for Stabenow, who is up for re-election in 2012 and will be running in a state that gave big victories to Republicans earlier this month.
"I am planning on running for re-election," she said. "I think that, right now, given the incredibly challenging times we have on the economy, that I'm in a critical spot to focus the federal government on jobs."
Stabenow said she's not concerned about running two years removed from an election cycle dominated by the GOP.
"No. We in Michigan are a very independent lot, and I'm very independent as well," she said. "I think it's critically important that we get things done, and I always work across the aisle to do that. I'll work with anybody who wants to create jobs and make things better for Michigan families and Michigan businesses."
Stabenow will replace current Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Blanche Lincoln. The Arkansas Democrat was defeated in the Nov. 2 general election.
Stabenow is the fifth-ranking Democrat on the committee, but the senators who outrank her are all chairmen of other committees. North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad had said he was considering the Agriculture post but announced Friday he will keep his position of chairman of the Senate Budget Committee.
Stabenow is the first Michigan senator to even sit on the agriculture committee since Philip Hart in the 1960s and is the first chair since Thomas Palmer in the late 1880s, her office said.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.