In some other time and in some other place, Sen. Pete Lucido’s careless comments to younger women he’d met around the state Capitol would have been nervously laughed off.
Telling a 22-year-old female reporter she could “have fun” with a pack of high school boys or they could “have fun” with her would have yielded yucks and backslaps from the guys within earshot. The embarrassed young woman, alone in the situation, would not share in the jovial display.
As it was, Allison Donahue’s experience last week emboldened Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) to share her interaction with Lucido, a Republican from an affluent northern Detroit suburb, from an orientation training 14 months prior. A potential future Senate majority leader, Lucido puts his hand on the lower back of the 33-year-old freshman, checks her out and says “I can see why” he unseated an incumbent male Senator at the ballot box.
How many times have creepy exchanges played out around the Capitol? According to the female colleagues and staff who’ve talked to McMorrow, the list is long.
But, wrongly or rightly, the poster child for this conduct is Pete Lucido, the chairman of two powerful Senate committees. A potential 2022 gubernatorial candidate. Someone who passed up a clear shot at Congress. A fast-talking senator who said on public television the week before that he’d go around his own leadership to push for the road-funding plan he wanted, if need be.
Now, Lucido is under investigation by the Senate Business Office, facing calls for his resignation, putting his leadership in a position of having to publicly discipline him so the mud he’s kicked up doesn’t splatter on them.
Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, thought little of referring to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer as “my” governor as if he were referring to his automobile or his breakfast. Then he called the governor “bat shit crazy,” and now he’s watching his step.
Last year, four former female Democratic state senate employees went public with their complaints that a male co-worker’s antics were inappropriate, at best. They felt their concerns were cast aside because his technical value to the Senate D’s was too valuable. They all ended up leaving their jobs. He kept his.
Neither Shirkey nor Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich may suffer any lasting political damage from these brushfires, but there’s no way they’re opening themselves up to he either being re-ignited by looking the other way.
This is not some other time or some other place. This is 2020 in the center of a deeply sensitive and hotly political environment. The time of loud, overbearing people shaming others with belittling snide comments has entered a vortex. Now, it’s the perceived bullies being publicly shamed on social media.
The bigger the political figure, the louder the blowback.
Lucido, the same guy once pictured screaming his lungs out a Donald Trump rally, isn’t going to get a pass as the president seeks a second term. Especially when he’s an elected Republican representing a state Trump won in 2016 by a handful of votes.
Instead of working the system to advance his road plan to keep vehicle registration fees in the county in which they are collected or positioning himself to challenge Whitmer in 2022, Lucido is the Michigan face of the bullying, objectifying conduct that makes Trump so despised by so many people.
The same aggressive, bull-in-a-china-shop tactics thats made him so effective as a legislator — nine public acts last year, chair of a committee that’s handled a quarter of the bills moved in the Senate, MIRS Senator of the Year in 2019 — is clearly his biggest weakness.
In 2020, shielding yourself as some wild, fast-talking Italian attorney from rough-and-tumble Macomb County is growing thin. When you’re a conservative Republican making a sexual innuendo to a reporter from a liberal news outlet, you’re playing with fire. Running your mouth and saying whatever’s on your mind to someone who isn’t your chum like you’re Jim Carery in “Liar, Liar” doesn’t add to your charm.
In 2020, those stepped on by reckless chatter are being embraced, encouraged, reassured, empowered.
In 2020, more and more people are treating others — regardless of what personal characteristic makes them stand out — with respect. Or at least they should be.
Is the media explosion around the Lucido story inflamed by the political atmosphere of 2020? Probably. But, whether it’s 2020 or not, choosing not to keep it professional, courteous and respectful with others isn’t OK.
(Kyle Melinn of the Capitol news service MIRS is at email@example.com.)