Tensions boiled over in the state Senate chamber during session Thursday, with one Democratic state lawmaker saying she walked out of session after hearing a Republican senator describe her female colleagues in dismissive and sexist terms.
“The ability to simply generalize who is and who isn’t in support of your district or your people … it does little to convince open-minded people that there’s a reason to listen to the shrill outrage and determine whether or not it’s feigned or not,” state Sen. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan) said.
McBroom appeared to be directing his comments toward state Sens. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit) and Erika Geiss (D-Taylor), who had just given speeches criticizing Republicans for picking partisan fights while allowing racist sentiments and other issues to fester during the COVID-19 crisis.
“The latest comments — ‘I am not from Detroit,’ or ‘Everything isn’t about Detroit’ — [are] divisive, tacky, and quite frankly, insulting,” Santana had said, apparently referencing remarks made by state Sen. Kim LaSata (R-Bainbridge Twp.) on Friday that Detroit lawmakers and others said were offensive and racist.
“… I would be negligent in my duties if I did not stand up here and voice my disapproval regarding the lack of civility and the apparent disrespect of my people and my city during these challenging times,” Santana added.
Geiss then took the podium and blasted Republicans who have expressed outrage toward Gov. Gretchen Whitmer over a boat launch controversy with her husband, while not taking any action to condemn white supremacy and symbols of hatred that have been a theme among right-wing protests at the state Capitol.
“It’s clear that the masks and hoods have been pulled off, revealing the true self — congratulations. You’ve proven the hypocrisy of this democracy,” Geiss said.
“My comments today are not an indictment on all. But to the voice of the majority, I am gravely disappointed. To others, silence means acceptance. Be mindful of the company you keep,” Geiss said.
McBroom accused the lawmakers of generalizing all Republicans and called their accusations “hurtful and shameful.”
After seeming to suggest that their “shrill” outrage might be performative, McBroom then went onto criticize Attorney General Dana Nessel and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), stating that he hasn’t received an apology from either for various wrongs he feels they have done to his Senate District in the Upper Peninsula.
Those included what McBroom called an “unfortunate” letter sent to the Hannahville Indian Community by Nessel’s office, which advised the tribe that the planned reopening of their U.P. casino by May 6 could subject employees and customers to penalties under the stay-home order; and the DNR’s recent decision to terminate a project that would have repurposed a dormant U.P. mine.
He also slammed the state for not opening rest stops in the U.P. faster, even as many functions in the region reopened Friday.
“I understand they want to keep bathrooms closed; I got that. Can’t you let a guy have a picnic table? Where’s the fairness in this?” McBroom said.
State Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak) wrote on Twitter afterwards that she walked out of the chamber after hearing McBroom describe her colleagues as “shrill.”
This is a tense moment. I feel that. Debate and disagreement happens. But when Sen. McBroom stood up and called two of my colleagues "shrill" after they passionately spoke on racism, empathy, and growing dangerous rhetoric, I walked out.
Those two colleagues happen to be women.
— Mallory McMorrow (@MalloryMcMorrow) May 28, 2020
“There have certainly been heated speeches, but [what McBroom said] is just so disrespectful and so unnecessary,” McMorrow told the Advance.
“They [Santana and Geiss] spoke very passionately. And for Sen. McBroom to stand up and say that he is frustrated that he’s forced to listen to these ‘shrill’ speeches — I mean, that was, it was too much for me.
“It’s something that is only said to and about women, you know. When women stand up and speak their mind, we’re shrill,” McMorrow said, adding that McBroom had “no reason to make gendered commentary” about anyone.
McBroom’s office did not return a request for comment.