Senator-reporter unpleasantness in Lansing uncorks women's tales from the trenches

January 15, 2020, 10:57 PM by  Alan Stamm

Rookie reporter Allison Donahue has a sisterhood she didn't know.

The Michigan Advance writer's stand-up response to a Republican state senator's sexist and belittling remark this week resonates with women who describe similar behavior by Lansing legislators.

Angela Vasquez-Giroux recalls "senators catcalling staffers on our way into session." (Photo: Facebook)

"I was harassed and demeaned and touched without my consent more during my time in the Senate than the rest of my professional career combined," tweets Angela Vasquez-Giroux, communications and media relations at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan.

"Senators catcalling staffers on our way into session. Senators touching the small of your back every time you walk by. High-powered staff calling you aside to 'let you know' people are saying you're sleeping with a senator, then starting the rumor again themselves."

She's a former MLive politics reporter (2011-13) who later was senior communications advisor for Michigan Senate Democrats and communications director for Dana Nessel's successful 2018 run for attorney general.

Another Lansing veteran also chimes in. "What this whole situation highlights is how toxic the Lansing bubble is for women trying to make their way in a male-dominated environment," Emily Schwarzkopf says in an eight-tweet thread that includes this:

She has worked at the state Department of Health and Human Services since last March as director of legislative, appropriations and constituent services.

Emily Schwarzkopf describes Lansing as "toxic ... for women trying to make their way in a male-dominated environment."
(Photo: LinkedIn)

These reactions and others prompt first-term Sen. Mallory McMorrow, D-Royal Oak, to comment: "This has to end. ... How powerful people treat others matters."

Ripples spread widely:

  • Carly Hammond of Frankenmouth, a 24-year-old state House candidate, posts: "We should organize around this. If this can be a moment, let's not let it die."

  • An aide to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, energy and environmental policy adviser Kara Cook, tweets: "I am unfortunately not surprised by this. I was 23 when I started working in politics in Lansing and the number of inappropriate comments or actions that I've personally experienced is hard to comprehend. This needs to stop."

  • A Democratic representative from Livonia tweets:

Though she lacks the depth and breadth of those women's experiences, the 22-year-old journalist behind this new flow of fury is no stranger to sexism.

Below is part of what Donahue, a 2019 Grand Valley State University graduate, says in a six-tweet thread Wednesday about her encounter just outside the Senate chamber a day earlier. She says Sen. Lucido of Shelby Township stood with students from his all-male Warren high school and told her: "You should hang around! You could have a lot of fun with these boys, or they could have a lot of fun with you."

"I've stayed silent before. So many times I have acted like I didn't hear it, or I thought it was funny or I didn’t understand.

"And every time I walk away from that feeling disappointed in myself and guilty. This time easily could have been like that. But I realized that I have the confidence to stand up to him."

For that, she's saluted by women who relate to a moment the reporter says "made me embarrassed, it made me feel small." 

Sen. Peter Lucido, R-Shelby Township, and Allison Donahue of Michigan Advance. (Photo: Twittrer/Fox 2)

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