Michelle Stennett is a Green Bay Packers fan, having spent formative years growing up in Wisconsin. She's having a grand time watching the Pack tackle its way through the NFL playoffs. But before you consider her a cheese-head, you should also know that she has lived in Peru and France, worked on famine relief in Ethiopia, built cycle shelters in Bangladesh, worked at a hunting/fishing lodge in Alaska and guided air traffic in the Wood River Valley.
Many Idahoans first got to know her as the wife of Sen. Clint Stennett, one of the state's most prominent Democrats. Michelle Stennett served in her husband's place as state senator for Idaho's District 25 while he battled brain cancer. Clint passed away on Oct. 14, 2010. Michelle has since run for, and was elected to, the same seat.
BW sat down with Michelle to talk about her late husband, a passion for social justice and a little football.
We understand that you spent your middle school and high school years in Wisconsin. Are you a Packers fan?
Absolutely. But it's amazing how many Packers fans are everywhere, even here in Idaho.
But you're also a Duck, because you graduated from the University of Oregon.
It was a very easy transition. You see the Packers and the Ducks have the same team colors. Actually the real reason was because at the time the U of O had one of the few schools with international studies. I was only the sixth student to graduate from the U of O's School of International Relations.
Does that mean you had a passion to see the world?
I had already traveled to Peru when I was a junior in high school. I spent my junior year of college in France. I also worked in Ethiopia and Bangladesh.
How did that inform you as an American?
It really tests what your Western ideals are. You really have to understand and respect the culture you're with and put your ideologies aside. If there was one thing I wish, and I know this is a little controversial, it would be to require every student to dedicate some time studying abroad, or even somewhere else in the U.S., to understand that the perspective that you've been raised with is only one microcosm of what's out there. You'll be a much better citizen.
Why do you think that's controversial?
Some people are very protective about what they want their children exposed to. They want them to embrace only their ideals. And I get that, but I think it only does them a disservice.
At any stage in your young life, did you consider yourself political?
No. Never. In fact, I was a registered Republican in Wisconsin. I still get all the GOP literature in the mail. I don't ever vote a straight party line. I vote the person. I always have.
How did you meet Clint Stennett?
He didn't remember this, but I do. I was standing in line for a Basque dinner in Hailey in 1990. Clint was running for the House and introducing himself. I remember he was handsome and charismatic.
So when did you first date?
It was 1994. On our second date, we went rollerblading and he blew his knee out. He had to undergo a six-hour surgery.
So what did that tell you about him?
Well, he always enjoyed a challenge. He usually burned the candle from both ends for as long as I knew him. I think he couldn't have lived any differently than he did.
When did you first have a sense that he had a health problem?
It was January of 2008 and the legislature had just started. He left on a Monday and came back on a Friday. He was a different person. His eye-hand coordination wasn't right. His handwriting wasn't normal. We had to convince his physicians that this wasn't age-related. It was so fast. A few days later, he had an MRI. They found three tumors. The one they had removed was plum-sized.
In the midst of that medical crisis, what was it that convinced you to sit in for your husband and ultimately run for office?
I felt like there was unfinished business. My main concern was that I was Clint's primary caregiver. I told my supporters that I couldn't put my heart and soul into a campaign because I had to split my time. I had real difficulty being away from him, and I knew he wasn't going to be around much longer.
Have you grown to love being a legislator?
I want to do a good job, and I'm excited. I'm honored that people want me to be here to do this.