A rookie news reporter was heaped with praise Wednesday for standing up to a powerful Michigan lawmaker who she says humiliated her when he told a visiting group of Catholic high school boys that they could “have a lot of fun” with her.
But Allison Donahue, who is just 22 and has worked for the Michigan Advance for eight months, said the hardest thing was telling her father about her confrontation Tuesday with state Sen. Pete Lucido outside the Senate chamber in Lansing.
“He was upset,” she said in an interview. “I frequently call him after work and tell him about the crazy days I have. It was heartbreaking to tell my dad something like that.”
Donahue said something similar happened to her when she was 15, and “I had to tell him about that, too.”
Lucido, 59, a Republican, issued an apology Wednesday. But his mea culpa came after he first told the Detroit Free Press that he didn’t feel he owed Donahue an apology, saying the whole matter had been “blown out of proportion.”
“I apologize for the misunderstanding yesterday and for offending Allison Donahue,” he said in a brief statement.
Donahue said she appreciated Lucido’s apology and said she hopes he read her first-person account of Tuesday’s encounter.
“I hope he reaches out and we can talk more,” she said. “Maybe we can find some common ground.”
NBC News tried to reach Lucido for comment, but there was no immediate response.
Leaders of his own party, as well as Democrats, were concerned by the incident.
“I take this very seriously and intend to have a very intense and lengthy conversation with the senator as soon as we’re done with session,” Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey, a Republican, told reporters. “If those words that were reported are accurate, it’s very unacceptable, and that’s all I’ve got to say about it.”
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Shirkey and Senate Democratic leader Jim Ananich later formally requested a sexual harassment investigation.
Lucido, the Senate’s majority whip, is a married father of three whose district includes Lansing, the state capital. He is also reported to be eyeing a run for governor in 2022 against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat.
Donahue, who is from western Michigan, covers education, immigration and women’s and LGBTQ issues for the Michigan Advance, a free nonprofit news site based in Lansing.
In her account, Donahue said she was waiting to ask Lucido about his involvement in an anti-Whitmer group on Facebook, which includes “posts about graphic violence against Democrats, anti-Muslim rhetoric and degrading comments about women.”
Lucido had been hosting a group of students from his alma mater, De La Salle Collegiate, an all boy’s Catholic high school in the Detroit suburb of Warren.
“I asked Lucido for a moment to address the issue at hand, and he told me he would catch up with me after he was finished honoring the group of students,” Donahue wrote. “As I turned to walk away, he asked, ‘You’ve heard of De La Salle, right?'”
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Donahue said she hadn’t.
“‘It’s an all boys’ school,’ he told me,” Donahue wrote. “‘You should hang around! You could have a lot of fun with these boys, or they could have a lot of fun with you.'”
Then, according to Donahue, “the teenagers burst into an Old Boys’ Network-type of laughter, and I walked away knowing that I had been the punchline of their ‘locker room’ talk.”
Donahue wrote that she was outraged and embarrassed.
“The senator’s insinuating comments about the ‘fun’ I might have with a group of teenage boys was belittling and it came from a place of power,” she wrote. “It made me feel small and it made me want to walk away from the Capitol and tell my editor that Lucido wasn’t available to comment.”
But Donahue stayed put. “The 15-year-old girl in me, who didn’t know how to advocate for herself then, was telling me to do it now,” she wrote.
Donahue said that when Lucido returned, she asked him about the Facebook group and then, her voice shaking, gave him a piece of her mind.
“I thought the comment that you made was unprofessional in front of the group of boys, saying that I would have fun with them,” she wrote that she told Lucido. “I don’t know what you were insinuating, but—”
Donahue wrote that Lucido cut her off and went into a long explanation about how De La Salle is an all-male school and how he grew up feeling awkward around women.
“I didn’t even know how to act around a woman,” Lucido said, according to Donahue.
Donahue wrote that when she countered that he wouldn’t have made that kind of remark to a male reporter, Lucido “assured me it was nothing personal and this is just how he talks to young women.”
Donahue said she bounced what happened with Lucido off her editor, who happens to be a woman. “She said something along the lines of ‘men have said weird things to me but never something so explicit.'”
“I realized how serious his insinuation was,” Donahue said.
So she wrote it all down, and her story was published Wednesday in the Michigan Advance.
Bill Roose, a spokesman for De La Salle, said that most of the students didn’t hear Lucido’s crack and that those who laughed did so when Donahue said she’d never heard of their school.
Nevertheless, Roose said the school doesn’t approve of Lucido’s reported remarks, and he released a statement from Principal Nathan Maus.
“Senator Lucido’s comments do not represent De La Salle nor the values and conduct we instill in our young men,” Maus said. “We are very sorry the reporter was put in this position and we have met with the boys who were on the tour to discuss the improper nature of this situation.”