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Amanda Renterias parents emigrated from central Mexico in the 1960s to work as fruit pickers in California. They settled in the rural town of Woodlake and raised three daughters. When Renteria, the middle child, was accepted to Stanford University and signed on with the elite schools basketball team, her small high school was so thrilled that an announcement was made over the intercom system.
I was completely embarrassed. All I wanted to do was blend in, Renteria said, still cringing at the memory.
Now the top aide to Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Renteria does not always blend in. Nor does she try to. At 33, she is one of the younger chiefs of staff and is the only Latina chief in the Senate. She plays in a male-dominated basketball league. In fact, shes such a fitness junkie that she sits on an exercise ball rather than a desk chair.
Renteria extends her high energy level to the Stabenow office. For instance, soon after she was elevated to the chief post from legislative director this year, she launched a fun committee.
The fun committee hosted a staff celebration loaded with blueberries and fresh veggies after a $3 billion subsidy for specialty crops was inserted into the farm bill this year. Michigan is a large producer of blueberries, apples, cherries, asparagus and celery, and to push the subsidy, Renteria reached out to chiefs from states rich in specialty crops.
Amanda knows the importance of celebrating, Stabenow said. I think its all part of team building, which she is very good at.
Renteria joined Stabenows office in 2006 as a legislative aide on financial issues. She became legislative director in 2007, and was named chief of staff in early 2008.
Stabenow hailed Renterias relationship-building with Senate colleagues, which began as soon as Renteria came into the job.
Renteria, approachable and energetic, contacted other chiefs to ask questions about ethics and Senator-to-Senator relationships. She also asked chiefs from other Midwest offices to cooperate on Great Lakes issues, and of course, on specialty crops.
I saw where we were really missing an opportunity with specialty crops, and I reached out to other chiefs to see about getting something done, she said. Theres a lot more creativity if you have a coalition behind something.
Renteria majored in economics and political science at Stanford, where she wrote her senior thesis on women in politics. Rather than opting for government, though, Renteria became a financial analyst for Goldman Sachs in Los Angeles. After three years, she decided she needed to make a difference, cheesy as that sounds, in the public sector.
Renteria next became a math teacher at her former high school, Woodlake. She then had a stint with the city of San Jose, where she consulted on a neighborhood revitalization initiative. She earned an MBA from Harvard Business School, with the goal of focusing on community development.
So when I got to Washington, I was already exposed to a lot of this stuff, Renteria pointed out. I knew what [Community Development Block Grant] funds were. I knew what it was like to teach in a classroom with limited resources.