Democrats: Chatfield’s remarks on Whitmer, Nessel show he’s ‘intimidated by powerful women’

    House Speaker Lee Chatfield and Republicans offer 'road map,' Feb. 19, 2019 | Ken Coleman
    Updated 4:44 p.m.

    Michigan Democratic Party Chair Lavora Barnes on Wednesday accused state House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering) of being “intimidated by powerful women” in making “sexist remarks” about Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel’s handling of the Line 5 tunnel issue.

    Lavora Barnes
    MDP Chair Lavora Barnes celebrates victory, Feb. 2, 2019 | Ken Coleman

    “If [Chatfield] wants to use science as the excuse for his sexist comments, we would welcome all Republicans finally adopting the same position when it comes to the Great Lakes, as well as women’s healthcare, climate change, and a host of other areas where facts and figures should guide our decisions rather than emotion or dogma,” Barnes wrote.

    The accusation stems from Chatfield’s assertion on WJR-AM Monday that the state needs to use “sound science” in attempting to protect the Great Lakes, and that Whitmer’s and Nessel’s attempts to block construction of Enbridge’s Line 5 tunnel in the Mackinac Straits have been “driven purely by emotion.”  

    In an email from his spokesperson, the speaker said that “To take a statement that [he’s] made multiple times over the span of five years and now claim that it’s sexist and was gender specific is absolutely ridiculous. This story is absurd.”*

    The liberal group Progress Michigan also weighed in, demanding an apology from Chatfield.

    “Belittling the Governor and Attorney General by saying they are ‘driven by emotion’ when they’ve clearly been thoughtful, deliberate, and direct in their approach to Line 5 is the type of sexism that we cannot tolerate in Michigan,” said Executive Director Lonnie Scott in a statement. “… This wasn’t some off-handed comment or mistake. This is the continuation of generations of sexist rhetoric that is used to downplay strong female leaders like Whitmer and Nessel.”

    Gretchen Whitmer and Dana Nessel
    Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and Attorney General Dana Nessel in Clawson, March 18, 2019 | Andrew Roth

    Halting construction of Canadian company Enbridge’s propane and crude oil pipeline has been a longtime goal of environmentalists, and both Democrats made it a campaign promise.

    Nessel’s office last week issued a legal opinion that the law creating a governing board for the pipeline was unconstitutional, and Whitmer issued an executive directive shortly after barring state agencies from granting permits for the pipeline.

    State Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey (R-Clarklake) recently described Nessel’s opinion on the pipeline authority “shameful,” leading Nessel to respond via tweet that “[Republicans] believe in strict construction of the Constitution. Until they don’t.”

    This story has been updated with comments from state House Speaker Lee Chatfield.

    Derek Robertson
    Derek Robertson covers local government, education, health care and the social safety net, and LGBTQ issues. Previously, he wrote for Politico Magazine in Washington, and before that covered local politics in Chicago. He is a Genesee County native and graduate of both Wayne State University, where he studied history, and the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He enjoys film, the Detroit Pistons and his cat. He once competed in the National Spelling Bee, but was eliminated before any potential ESPN appearances.

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