The burgeoning scandal concerning allegations of sexual harassment at the State Capitol have spurred a conversation around toxic masculinity in Lansing.
Allison Donahue, a reporter for the Michigan Advance, published a first-person account stating that Sen. Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Twp.) told her that a group of high school boys “could have a lot of fun” with her. Following that, two more allegations, one from sitting state Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) and another from a longtime lobbyist, surfaced.
“The boy’s club and the comments that people came forward with are this undercurrent of Capitol culture.” - Emily Lawler, MLive
The Senate Business Office is now investigating the claims. Lucido has denied some of the allegations, and his office has not responded to requests for comment.
When word of the allegations surfaced, several current and former women of the state Capitol took to social media to share their own experiences with problematic behavior at the Capitol.
Click the player above to listen to MichMash and MLive’s Emily Lawler talk about toxic masculinity in Lansing.
MLive’s Emily Lawler, a veteran Capitol reporter and current lead reporter for MLive’s public interest team, did an extended interview with MichMash for the show’s podcast. She explained that when allegations of a “boy’s club” came out about the Capitol, she wasn’t surprised.
“I think, unfortunately, the boy’s club and even some of the comments that people came forward with are sort of this undercurrent of Capitol culture,” she said. “There are a lot of really fun parts of being part of the Capitol culture, and frankly as a woman that’s not one of them. But I think it does exist.”
Power Dynamics In a Nontraditional Workplace
While the Capitol isn’t a traditional workplace — there are unique and sometimes very late hours, people are coming and going to meetings and session and hearings a lot — it’s still a workplace. And it’s a workplace that impacts every single person in the state because it is the job of the elected officials to craft policy on behalf of their constituents.
McMorrow said that she initially didn’t come forward with her allegation because she worried that it would impact her ability to do her job.
“If we sounded the alarm every time somebody did something untoward to us, women wouldn’t have any jobs to go to.” - Sen. McMorrow (D-Royal Oak)
“I knew I had to build relationships with my colleagues to be effective in my job, to pass bills, to serve the people that I was elected to represent,” she said on Detroit Today with Stephen Henderson. “Women and minorities and people in lower positions of power make these calculations every day when things happen.”
“If we sounded the alarm every time somebody did something untoward to us, women wouldn’t have any jobs to go to,” McMorrow said.
Allegations of harassment aside, these are questions of power dynamics.
Lawler explained that between the different tiers of people inside the Capitol, from elected lawmakers to their staff members to lobbyists, it becomes difficult to figure out what can even be done if complaints are made public.
“This is a workplace and some of the people at the Capitol are the hardest workers I’ve ever met,” Lawler said.
“They’re working for long hours and putting in a lot of work and obviously they should be able to do that without fear that this culture could interrupt this line of work.”