- Associated Press - Thursday, June 5, 2014

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan Democrats criticized three male Republican lawmakers Thursday for posing in a photograph that the Democrats said mocks women but that one of the men said was just a joke.

A Michigan Radio reporter posted a photo of three GOP lawmakers - Reps. Peter Pettalia of Presque Isle, Roger Victory of Hudsonville and Ben Glardon of Owosso - holding fashion magazines Thursday during a break on the House floor. Pettalia was quoted in the reporter’s tweet as saying, “Don’t say we don’t understand women.”

Democrats quickly spread the photo on Twitter and used it as an opportunity to knock Republicans more broadly. Michigan Democratic chairman Lon Johnson said the lawmakers should apologize for a Republican agenda that “threatens women’s access to health care and denies women equal pay.”

Pettalia told The Associated Press that his “off-the-cuff remark” was taken “way out of context.” He said it’s a “little joke” and he sees “no harm in it.”

“It’s really sad in this political world that almost everything we do can be misconstrued,” he said. The magazines belonged to Rep. Gail Haines, R-Lake Angelus, who asked to take a photo of her colleagues reading them, he said. The reporter snapped his photo as the lawmakers were posing for Haines, according to Pettalia.

The photo and a response from Democrats - a picture of four women lawmakers reading bills - have drawn attention from national media outlets, including the National Journal and Jezebel. The online exchange reflects an ongoing national debate about whether Republicans can appeal to women voters in the November midterm elections.

“The war on women is alive and well in Michigan,” Ingham County Clerk Barb Byrum said in a statement. She compared the incident to one in 2012 when she and Oakland County Clerk Lisa Brown, both Democratic state representatives at the time, were barred from speaking in the House during a debate over anti-abortion legislation when they used the words “vagina” and “vasectomy.” Brown is now running for lieutenant governor.

“What’s even worse than their sexist and immature act today is that they’ve repeatedly voted for controversial legislation that restricts and limits the rights of Michigan women,” Byrum said.

Andrea LaFontaine, R-Columbus Township, said in response to the exchange that her Republican colleagues treat her as an equal and with “the utmost respect.”

“I’m just so tired of Democrats making victims out of women,” she said.


Follow Emma Fidel on Twitter: https://twitter.com/emmafidel

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