Michigan Rep. Laurie Pohutsky has become used to the death threats that have become a regular part of the job of being a Wolverine State lawmaker, but she reports that this drumbeat of menace has become louder in the wake of Rudy Giuliani’s hearing before the Legislature last week.
“One of my colleagues that sits on that Committee said that it’s a slow day when he just gets one death threat, post-committee hearing,” Pohutsky told Law&Crime in a video interview on Sunday. “So I know that—between what the representatives have said and what their staff have also said— there’s at least dozens, every day.”
Pohutsky made sure to note that most of these have not targeted her, personally.
For one, the 32-year-old Democratic lawmaker was not in the committee room when Giuliani brought Mellissa Carone to float voter-fraud claims before lawmakers that had recently failed before a judge.
Also, unlike her colleague who has been the biggest magnet for Trump supporters’ hatred, Pohutsky is white.
Pohutsky’s fellow Democratic Rep. Cynthia A. Johnson of Detroit received bile-filled and racist voicemails on her phone. Johnson posted these on her Facebook page. One bigot called her the N-word and told her she should be “swinging from a fucking rope.”
Rep. Johnson was not immediately available to speak about the incident.
According to Pohutsky, Michigan’s Republican leadership was unfazed by the reports of Johnson’s treatment and castigated her for complaining about it.
“She shared these with Republicans,” Pohutsky said. “She sent out three different emails last night to both caucuses, saying ‘I want you to hear what’s being said, and you need to stand up and speak to your constituents and speak to your party and tell them this isn’t acceptable.'”
“And one Republican Representative admonished her for sending it, saying, ‘I don’t understand why you would send this to me, and you should be ashamed of yourself,'” she added.
That Michigan Republican, Rep. Mary Whiteford of Casco Township, scolded Johnson in an email: “I’m praying for you to have compassion for those that you disagree with.”
Whiteford did not immediately respond to an email requesting comment.
Multiple branches of Michigan government have been like tinderboxes since late April, since President Donald Trump goaded armed protests inside the Capitol and escalated his rhetoric against Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D) even after authorities busted an alleged kidnapping plot against her. Two of the men charged in that conspiracy, 38-year-old brothers William Null and Michael Null, were recently released from jail on bond.
Throngs of protesters, including some who were armed, swarmed Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson’s (D) house parroting Trump’s stolen-election lies.
“They shouted baseless conspiracy theories about the election, and in videos uploaded to social media, at least one individual could be heard shouting ‘you’re murderers’ within earshot of her child’s bedroom,” Michigan’s attorney general Dana Nessel (D) said on Sunday night in a statement. “This mob-like behavior is an affront to basic morality and decency. In a civil society, there are many ways to peaceably assemble and demonstrate.”
Nessel’s office did not immediately respond to an email requesting information about threats against the Michigan Legislature.
With Giuliani’s positive COVID-19 diagnosis, Pohutsky is worried about more than extremist violence.
“I know that many of my colleagues many of the staff members that were in that room have taken extraordinary measures throughout this pandemic to try and be safe and to limit the exposure and exposure to others,” Pohutsky said, adding that their actions resonate far beyond Michigan’s capital of Lansing.
“We all go back to our respective communities so we have our responsibilities to keep them safe as well,” she emphasized.
In a carefully worded statement released after this interview was conducted on Sunday, the Trump campaign said that Giuliani tested negative twice before going on his three-state tour of hearings to discredit the 2020 elections, but the statement did not give the dates of the test. It remains unclear whether Giuliani was infected during the committee hearing.
“It makes me angry,” Pohutsky said, referring to the Republican leadership’s decision to hold what she called statehouse’s “sham” House Oversight Committee hearing and not enforce a mask rule. “It makes me frustrated.”
Before her elections to Michigan’s Legislature, Pohutsky was a microbiologist, and she mentioned that background in explaining her precautions following exposure to colleagues who were in the Committee room.
“I myself am going to get tested tomorrow,” she said. “We’re supposed to have a caucus call tomorrow also to see what’s going to be done if anything, see if there’s going to be a cancellation in session. Unfortunately, we are down to the bare wire. There are things we need to get done throughout the remainder of this term, and canceling session would obviously set us back.”
[Image via Zoom interview with Michigan Rep. Laurie Pohutsky]
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