Long-time advocate for children, Sen. McDonald Rivet plans to focus on child care in 2024

Kristen McDonald Rivet, a former Bay City Commissioner, was elected to the State Senate in November 2022 and assumed office on Jan. 1. Prior to being elected to the Senate, she served as executive director of the Michigan Head Start Association, vice president of Michigan Future, Inc., and President/CEO of Greater Midland, Inc. She was also a Bay City Commissioner, a position that she was elected to in 2019, and most recently served as chief strategy officer for the Michigan Health Improvement Alliance.

QUESTION: Tell us a little about your first year in the Senate. You've worked on legislation to make it easier for farmers to use heritage farmland for solar panels; to keep prescription drugs affordable; and to require recess for kids. What were the other highlights?  

ANSWER: My job title changed, but my passion to make sure every kid and adult has a fair shot at a good life still grounds my work. Increasing the Working Families Tax Credit (our state’s match of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit) from 6% to 30% is the biggest highlight. Half our state’s kids — a million children — live in households eligible for an average refund of $3,150 through that combined credit. That’s a really big deal for lots of families in our community. 
McDonald Rivet talks to UAW members on strike. (Photo courtesy of Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet)I also had kids on my heart while working to change how our public school teachers and administrators are evaluated. Educators can finally prioritize what their students need to grow instead of “teaching to the test.”  
My first bill signed into law protects our kids from their number one cause of death— gun violence. Prosecutors can now hold irresponsible owners accountable when unsupervised kids access unsecured guns and cause harm. 
We delivered $1 billion in tax relief for working families and retirees. We restored workers’ rights to fight for better pay and benefits. We put into law all the ballot initiatives Michigan voters strongly supported in 2022— financial transparency for elected state officials, voting and reproductive rights. And we passed a bipartisan budget that invests in people and things that make people want to raise their kids and build their lives here.   
Q: This year, we've seen significant investments of state money in local projects. For example, the MEDC (Michigan Economic Development Corporation) recently announced it would invest more than $630,000 in the Jefferson Project. What other investments do you want to spotlight? 

A: The biggest is a $73 million state allocation of federal dollars to replace the Lafayette Bridge. America Rescue Plan Act funds have made substantial upgrades possible at our Bay City State Park visitors center and campground. In the Fiscal Year 24 State Budget, I was thrilled to bring home $10 million for reconstruction of the State Park Drive corridor.
Another major budget win is the nearly half million dollars for road improvements that will support 93 local jobs and a private investment of $40 million from Vantage Plastics in Bangor Township. Revitalization and infrastructure projects like these are critical to keep Bay County residents and businesses here and attract higher-paying employers to our region.  

Q: Prior to joining the Senate, you worked for the State School Superintendent Michael P. Flanagan and the Skillman Foundation, which focuses on education in Detroit. How have you continued that work?  

A: Even before my policy work with the State Department of Education in the 2000s, I ran Head Start, Michigan’s free preschool program. That’s where I learned the power of community voice and how important it is to have the people who are impacted at the table when decisions are made. That’s also where it really hit home how much we can change later outcomes by investing early in our kids. In many ways, my push for the Working Families Tax Credit increase is a continuation of that work. I’ve always stayed on this path of looking at how we can make things better for kids now and make sure the future they’re headed to is a good place. 
Q: What are your plans for 2024?

McDonald Rivet laughs during a visit to Bay City Academy. (Photo courtesy of Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet)A: First and foremost, child care. I’ll be introducing a big plan to make it affordable and sustainable. It’s going to take a serious public investment to fix this crisis but it will cost less than the $2.8 billion Michigan loses annually with the current broken system.  
My bills to increase middle income housing supply and accountability for Big Pharma passed the Senate but still need House approval, so I’ll be working to get those to the Governor. Lots of conversations with veterans and leadership at our State Veterans Affairs Agency have helped me understand where we can improve things at the state level. I expect to introduce that legislation next year.  
I’ll also work with my Republican co-sponsors to advance the two bipartisan bill packages I introduced— one would make sure all kids get school recess and another would give Michigan businesses a second chance to win state contracts. 
Q: What would you like to see happen in this region in 2024?  

A: I want to see the same things for our region that we want for our families — to be safe, healthy, happy, and close to home. So, yes, we need to strengthen the foundations of public safety, health, and education but, to keep our best here, we also need to make decisions and investments that will increase the number of our high-paying jobs.   
We need affordable, accessible education and training programs to offer a workforce that will attract higher paying industries. We need support for small businesses beyond start-up capital; child care, housing, and amenities for families; revitalized neighborhoods and downtowns attractive to young people. That’s what I want to see, and that’s what I’ll continue working to strengthen across our Great Lakes Bay Region.   
Q: Is there anything else you'd like to add? 
A: I was really happy with every coffee hour and porch talk, not because we all agreed on everything, but because the different perspectives truly shape where our team puts our energy. There are plenty of times when constituent feedback made the final versions of bills better. Negativity around politics can turn off good people from contributing to really important issues so I’ll always do my part to keep conversations constructive. I’ve always believed we can have a better kind of politics and society if enough folks dial down the rhetoric and focus more on delivering results.  
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Read more articles by Kathy Roberts.

Kathy Roberts, a graduate of Central Michigan University, moved to Bay City in 1987 to start a career in the newspaper industry. She was a reporter and editor at the Bay City Times for 15 years before leaving to work at the Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, Covenant HealthCare, and Ohno Design. In 2019, she returned to her storytelling roots as the Managing Editor of Route Bay City. When she’s not editing or writing stories, you can find her reading books, knitting, or visiting the bars of Bay County. You can reach Kathy at editor@RouteBayCity.com