Politics

The Michigan Democrat Who Has Had It

A car with a U.S. flag drives in front of the Michigan State Capitol.
A car participates in a convoy protesting COVID restrictions outside the Michigan State Capitol in Lansing on Feb. 20. Emily Elconin/Getty Images

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There’s a fierce battle going for political control of Michigan right now. Republicans have run the Legislature for decades—but this year, Democrats actually have a chance to change that. Emotions are running hot, and the state is seen as important ground for the talking points of both parties. Case in point: Democratic state Sen. Mallory McMorrow, who represents Royal Oak and the suburbs north of Detroit, has been doing interviews nonstop since April 19, the day she tweeted out a video of herself that went viral. In it, she’s standing on the floor of the Michigan Senate, delivering a speech calling out a Republican colleague who accused her of being a “groomer”—part of the increasingly alarmist language of the modern conservative movement to smear LGBTQ Americans and their supporters. The video has garnered millions of views, and the Republican state senator who accused McMorrow has kept pretty quiet ever since. President Joe Biden later called McMorrow, because this speech tapped into something for a lot of people: a brewing anger at conservative smear campaigns, and a sense that McMorrow’s words give Democrats a template for calling those smears out. On Tuesday’s episode of What Next, I spoke with McMorrow about whether a war of words can help Democrats win more elections in the midterms. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

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Mary Harris: So, state Sen. Lana Theis sent out this fundraising email basically saying that you’re an internet troll and you want to groom and sexualize children.

Mallory McMorrow: Yeah, it called me up by name and accused me directly of grooming and supporting pedophilia and wanting 8-year-olds to believe they were responsible for slavery. And my heart just sank. We are not even running against each other, and for her to send out an email fundraising for herself with these horrific, baseless accusations about me was beyond the pale.

How did you decide to give a speech?

I had started getting calls on Monday morning last week from local reporters who wanted my comment about this email and what I thought about it. I tried to stay focused on my job that day and I had a lot of things on my calendar. At the end of the day, I was giving my daughter a bath, and she was laughing so much and I just started crying. I wrote a lot of stuff down that night and decided I really wanted to give a public response, especially because part of Theis’ email accused me of being a social media troll and I’m not.

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Your speech was really about you, and it emphasized your family qualities like your whiteness, your straightness, your Christianness, your suburbanness. Why was that important to you?

I mean, the grooming thing is a horrific accusation, and just recognizing that however bad I felt for one day is how awful it must feel every day, if you are a member of the LGBTQ community, if you’re a parent of a trans child—that is what you are being told every single day. And we’ve seen this this trend starting in Virginia, with how Glenn Youngkin got elected off the broader messaging of white suburban moms being really frustrated and that’s how Republicans are going to win. So it’s the combination of white suburban moms rallying together and Christianity being weaponized—Sen. Theis, who sent the email about me, her Twitter bio said “Christian, Wife,” and she has introduced legislation around CRT and banning the 1619 Project and banning trans kids from playing on sports teams that match their gender identity.

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I am tired of seeing people like her and groups like Moms for Liberty going after school boards around the country claiming to speak in a unified voice for people like me, when I know the vast majority of people in my community who look like me and are not members of marginalized communities don’t feel this way at all. I really wanted to take my own identity back and also speak to the other suburban white moms I represent who do not feel this way at all.

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Our Republican Party here in Michigan has hit back, claiming that Democrats are against parental rights, and that Republicans are standing with parents against teachers in schools. That, to me, is creating a wedge where there can’t be one. So I think acknowledging that for moms, it has been really hard for the past few years when they’ve had to deal with school closures and balancing work and being at home with your kids all the time—I have gone through that. I had a baby during COVID and while serving as a state senator. I was trying to find child care in the midst of a pandemic and having a full-time job, so I get it, I see you, and there needs to be another place to put your energy that isn’t targeting other people.

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After your speech went viral, Lana Theis deleted her Twitter. Did that feel like a kind of victory to you?

No, because she also sent out another fundraising email that basically accused me of lying. She also went on a local podcast and really doubled down.

Michigan’s at such an interesting point right now because there’s a chance Democrats could gain real power in this next election. You’ve said one of the things Democrats need to do if they’re making this case is to call out hatred and basically say we have solutions to the problems that are making you so angry. It strikes me that you’re in a complicated position because the way the state has been run for the last few years means that Democrats actually haven’t been able to prove that they have solutions. The Republicans control the committees, so Democratic solutions are just hard to implement. Do you feel that tension?

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Absolutely so, and it’s been more than just a few years. The state Senate I serve in has been under Republican control since 1984. I wasn’t even alive then. We Democrats are having to make the case that there are solutions—to ask people to give us a chance—and say what has been run here in Michigan clearly isn’t working. Roads are still a mess. I know Republicans are going to love to point out that Gov. Gretchen Whitmer ran on a platform of “fix the damn roads” and say she hasn’t done it, but Republicans control the budget. So we’ve tried offering up solutions, like lowering corporate tax cuts to bring in new revenue, and that hasn’t gone through. I’ve introduced 40 bills over my past three-and-a-half years and not one has ever even gotten a hearing—and that’s intentional. It’s intentional so that when I run again, the message against me is, “She’s ineffective and hasn’t passed any bills.” I fundamentally believe we have real solutions to people’s problems, but people aren’t even going to hear that unless we blunt this culture war that is getting people so riled up and angry. If you are so fearful of other people, you’re not going to want to talk about economic solutions to our problems until we level and calm things down. So I think that’s why we have to do both: blunt the attack, and then say here are potential solutions and we hope you give us a chance to prove them out.

It’s interesting listening to you talk because you have this position as a state senator, but in some ways, I hear you saying a speech like this is one of the few powers you have.

Exactly. This is one of the few powers I currently have.

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