State Education Board President Pamela Pugh announces for U.S. Senate
Pamela Pugh, president of the Michigan Board of Education, launches her campaign for U.S. Senate at Comma Bookstore in Flint on May 23, 2023. (Andrew Roth/Michigan Advance)
Michigan Board of Education President Pamela Pugh announced Tuesday morning at Comma Bookstore in Flint that she intends to run for U.S. Senate in 2024, widening the Democratic primary field to five registered candidates.
Pugh, a Saginaw native and University of Michigan alumna, joins candidates Leslie Love, a former state representative, U.S. Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Lansing), businessman Nasser Beydoun and attorney Zack Burns in the Democratic primary to replace Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Lansing), who announced her retirement earlier this year.
Only two Republican candidates have declared for the Senate race so far – businessman Michael Hoover and Pugh’s Board of Education colleague, Nikki Snyder.
Pugh discussed issues she hopes will take center stage in her campaign, including improvements to public schools, climate change solutions and economic equality. She said that her experience in both public health and education have made her well-equipped to serve Michiganders in Washington, D.C.
“I’ve worked with our legislators,” Pugh said. “I’ve even worked with the GOP party. I’ve been elected statewide two times.”
Pugh’s track record in state elections could prove crucial to success in the Democratic primary, in which many consider Slotkin to be an early frontrunner. Pugh said in an interview with the Michigan Advance after the event that she hopes Michigan Democrats will foster a competitive primary and vote for the candidate they believe in, regardless of polling or speculation.
“Those are principles of democracy and people should be able to elect their leaders,” Pugh said.
Choosing Comma Bookstore as an announcement venue was no accident– the store is Black-owned and centers literature by Black authors, and has been the site of visits from public figures like filmmaker Tyler Perry and Vice President Kamala Harris.
Pugh said that representation in politics was one reason that motivated her to run for office – she wanted to see more people who looked like her in positions of power and influence. If elected, she would be Michigan’s first Black U.S. senator, and only the third Black woman to hold a Senate seat in American history.
“It would be a historical moment, and a well deserved moment,” Pugh said. “Not just because of me, but for Americans to be able to have that representation.”
Pugh describes herself as a lifelong Democrat, having spent time in grassroots organizing work with the National Federation of Democratic Women and the Michigan Democratic Women’s Caucus. She served as a chief public health advisor to the city of Flint from 2016 to 2019, where she worked to address the city’s water crisis.
With her progressive policy platform, Pugh’s candidacy could appeal to Democrats who see the center-left Slotkin as too moderate. However, Pugh said she believes that her stances on issues aren’t anything out of the ordinary for Michiganders.
“Whether we’re talking about education issues or whether we’re talking about the environment, talking about jobs and people having jobs where they’re well paid, standing up for educators– I don’t know anyone who does not want good quality schools that are adequately funded or educators are adequately paid,” Pugh said. “Those are American principles. Those are values of the people of Michigan and those are the values that I’ve continued to fight for.”
Even though her background is in public health and engineering, Pugh made it clear that educational issues are at the center of her campaign. She said that she intends to continue pushing back against right-wing efforts to regulate public school curricula, and hopes to address the issue of gun violence at the national level after working alongside legislators to pass Michigan’s recent gun violence prevention laws in the wake of two school shootings in less than two years at Oxford High School and Michigan State University.
“Education, unfortunately, has been politicized by those extremists who have chosen to mobilize their base using our education system,” Pugh said.
Pugh said that her experience on the Michigan Board of Education would be an asset in federal lawmaking and would help her better represent Michiganders in Washington.
“At the end of the day, I know the people,” Pugh said. “I know our communities, and through that role I’ve been able to hear from a diverse sector of our communities in Michigan.”
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