GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — After announcing Thursday morning that she will not seek reelection, U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow said serving Michigan has been “the honor of my life.”

“…Certainly this was a decision I had to think long and hard about. For me, it’s family considerations,” she told News 8 in an interview via Zoom, pointing specifically to her desire to spend more time with her 96-year-old mother.

“But also, it’s a very important time for me to pass the torch. We have wonderful leaders, we have a new generation,” said Stabenow, a Democrat from Lansing and Michigan’s senior senator. “It’s always been important to me to support other leaders, to open doors and to know when it’s time to pass the torch to them, and so I feel this is the right time.”

As the top Democrat in the Senate Agriculture Committee, Stabenow has had a hand in the large and impactful Farm Bill.

“Chairing the agriculture committee, bringing the diversity of agriculture — before my time in leadership, we didn’t recognize fruits and vegetables and local farms,” she said, “and things that we have in Michigan were not a part of the Farm Bill and now they are.”

She said her career has been driven by the values instilled in her by her parents, who believed strongly in giving back.

“My mom never let me get away with complaining without saying, ‘Well, what can you do to make it better? How can you help solve it?’ And that has been embedded with me in every step of the way,” Stabenow said. “And I always ask the question, ‘How can I make things better?’ And hopefully I’ve contributed to do that.”

She said she is proud of the work she has done in promoting advanced manufacturing, specifically in the automotive industry: improving access to mental health and addiction services; and protecting the Great Lakes.

When Stabenow entered the political world at the age of 24, running for county commission, she was the first woman to chair the county board, she said. Later, she was among only eight women in the Michigan House of Representatives — the state Senate had none.

“It wasn’t about going to through open doors. It was, frankly, about busting down the doors,” Stabenow said. “So I hope those doors, and I think we’ve seen, they’re now open. I hope I’ve made a meaningful difference in that. I think our state is stronger and better served with the wonderful diversity of leadership that we have.”

She leaves a Washington very different from the one she started in, one marred by increasingly vicious rancor and increasing threats of violence that coalesced in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol.

“It’s not a reason for my decision (not to seek reelection), but certainly things have changed dramatically,” Stabenow said. “After Jan. 6, our democracy really has been threatened. There are people that with violence and hate and bigotry and racism really are committed to tearing our country apart. And so I’m very concerned about that. The great news for us in Michigan is that this last election rejected that. I’m so inspired by people coming out, older people, younger people, getting engaged. That’s how we save our democracy. That’s how we make it stronger. I think we have to be very vigilant going forward.”