When Rep. Isela Blanc accused Rep. Bob Thorpe of misogyny few people were surprised by her claim, but they were shocked by her target. What people found equally as shocking was the fact that Blanc’s accusation was ignored by nearly everyone except Capitol Times reporter, Hank Stephenson, who just last summer was accused of misogyny by Blanc’s campaign team.
The issue began when Thorpe asked Blanc if he could speak to her before he convened a meeting of the House Federalism, Property Rights and Public Policy Committee. Thorpe, as chair of the Committee, had received complaints from Committee members about Blanc’s behavior and hoped to discuss House rules and the expected decorum of House members.
Asking Blanc to step into the hallway, in order to have a private conversation before the start of the March 14 Committee meeting, was Thorpe’s first mistake. Blanc immediately became defensive, according to Thorpe.
Also by Loretta Hunnicutt:
Stephenson reported that Blanc told Thorpe that a conversation would have to wait until after the Committee’s hearing. Because Thorpe wanted to discuss Blanc’s behavior toward Senator Gail Griffin, and Mark Killian, head of the Arizona Department of Agriculture, at the previous hearing, he stated that they either have a conversation before the hearing or he would simply not allow her to fully participate.
“Blanc agreed to talk outside of the hearing room, but only if House staff were present. According to Blanc, once staff had joined them, Thorpe said he would skip over Blanc during the committee hearing, which she understood to mean he wouldn’t allow her to ask questions, presumably because she wasn’t following decorum,” reported Stephenson.
Blanc then escalated the encounter into one she characterized as a misogynistic attack by a bully. Anyone, who knows the gentle and soft-spoken Thorpe, scoffed at the charge, but Stephenson was more than willing to write about it and give her claim legitimacy.
Trio draws ire saying they’re the only Dems supporting education, women
By: Hank Stephenson August 19, 2016
A team of three Democratic candidates competing in Tempe’s Legislative District 26 is making waves in Democratic circles for two mailers they sent out claiming they are the “only candidates” who support education and women’s rights.Their opponents accuse the Democratic slate, which bills itself as the “Clean Team” because they are using public funding via the Clean Elections system, of dirty campaigning.The slate, consisting of Rep. Juan Mendez, who is attempting to move up to the Senate, and House candidates Athena Salman and Isela Blanc, faces three other Democrats in the overwhelmingly Democratic district: David Lucier for the Senate and Rep. Celeste Plumlee and Michael Martinez for the district’s two House seats.But when Mendez, Salman and Blanc claimed they were the “only candidates” to stand up for education and women’s rights, the district’s other Democratic candidates and some district activists quickly took to social media to denounce the mailers…..
“It is entirely untrue and I find Salman, Blanc and Mendez’s blatant dishonesty and willingness to stoop so low to get elected shocking,” Alston said. “Their dishonesty in pursuit of public office is a betrayal of the people of LD26, who deserve a candidate who is honest and has a record of supporting public education.”
Stephenson failed to mention that at least one other lawmaker had a similar experience with Blanc. That lawmaker had simply tried to offer Blanc some advice on decorum during Floor debate. For their effort to help Blanc, the lawmaker was treated to one of Blanc’s now well-known passive-aggressive attacks.
Stephenson also failed to mention when he tried to get Thorpe to discuss the matter while on the House floor, Thorpe told him that he didn’t want to talk about issues concerning other legislators. Blanc and her fellow Democrats apparently chose not to show this same level of respect towards Republican members. Thorpe told Stephenson that if he wanted to understand what the issues were, he needed to watch the Committee’s videos. It appears that he didn’t bother to watch them.
Crying wolf could have chilling effect
One female lawmaker, who recognizes that we still live in a male dominated society, was very surprised by Blanc’s charge. Rep. Dr. Regina Cobb says that because of the decorum expected by all members; the House might be one place where misogyny is checked.
Cobb said she was astounded that Blanc chose to target Thorpe. “Mr. Thorpe is one of the members, who goes out of his way to see that everyone is treated fairly. If there is some substance to that,” said Cobb referring to the Thorpe/ Blanc encounter, “I just find it appalling that misogyny would be the reason for the conflict. If there was a conflict, it would have been because of personalities; not because she isn’t a man. I don’t think misogyny had nothing to do with that. I was pretty shocked; I have never had anything like that happen. It just isn’t part of what we do.”
Cobb is concerned that Blanc’s claim could have a chilling effect on House business. Lawmakers have to feel safe to talk to each other. They have to feel free to exchange ideas and hammer out agreements in order to serve all Arizonans.
Cobb explained that in dental school, a male-dominated institution much like the House, she had to work harder, but did not try to segregate herself from the male students.” We worked hard to be in this man’s world. You might have wanted to segregate yourself, but you just worked harder. You had to work harder. For Rep. Blanc to turn this into an issue of misogyny is just wrong. I came up against it in dental school and did not expect special treatment.”
Legislators say that members are treated according to the way they treat others. If a member, whether male or female, makes specious arguments or grandstands, they will be treated with the same respect they showed their colleagues.
Different: maybe, disparate: probably not
It was Blanc’s treatment of Sen. Gail Griffin during a discussion of her bill, SCM1011, on March 7, in a Federalism Property Rights and Public Policy Committee hearing that sparked Thorpe to address Blanc.
In that hearing, Blanc treated Sen. Griffin in an obviously condescending manner. One member later said that they were uncomfortable watching Blanc talk to Griffin, who they say maintained her “composure and grace while being mocked by Blanc.”
After allowing lobbyist Sandy Bahr all the time she needed to rebut arguments in favor of the bill, which would create a message to Congress urging the repeal or amendment of the Antiquities Act of 1906, Thorpe asked members to limit their questions in order to move the bill along and allow time for a presentation from Agriculture Dir. Killian.
In his article, Stephenson never mentions Killian’s presence or Thorpe’s reason for limiting discussion. Instead he wrote:
After about 30 minutes of testimony, Thorpe said he wanted to limit committee members to asking one question of people testifying on the legislation.
But Blanc asked Sierra Club lobbyist Sandy Bahr a multi-part question, which irked Thorpe.
Thorpe cut her off to ask that she limit herself to one question, but Blanc said it was her responsibility to take the time to address the memorial fully.
“Can you abide by the chairman’s wishes and just ask one more question?” Thorpe said during the hearing.
Blanc agreed to limit herself to one question, but Thorpe then repeatedly cut her off mid-sentence.
“You’re not allowing me to complete my sentence, sir,” she said.
Stephenson also failed to mention that Rep. Grantham, sitting next to Blanc, signaled to Thorpe that Blanc’s question actually contained numerous questions. Stephenson rightly points out that Rep. Navarette did ask two questions, but failed to note that they were simple clarifying questions, not like Blanc’s which included one question about all Supreme Court decisions related to the Antiquities Act. While the treatment of the two questioners was different, it was hardly disparate given the very nature of their questions.
No exceptions to the rules
No one is exempt from the Arizona Legislature’s rules. Those rules are in place to ensure that the elected representatives can engage in vigorous debate and disagree without being disagreeable. At times, debate takes on a personal tone, but for the most part lawmakers that treat their colleagues with respect with be treated in kind.
If a legislator wastes members’ time by grandstanding as Blanc did during a discussion of specialty license plates, they may become the subject of some snark, but not of the misogynistic kind. In a Floor debate on HB2523, Blanc’s passionate fight against science education specialty license plates made her a subject snarky scorn by Rep. Michelle Ugenti-Rita.
Ironically, Ugenti-Rita is one of the lawmakers Stephenson turned to for evidence of the abuses by the good ol’ boy system. She acknowledged that “the current House leadership is very responsive to any complaints on the issue,” according to Stephenson’s article.
“If they can accuse you”
Thorpe made a statement about the incident during the following Floor Session. After his statement he was approached by one female lawmaker, who said she was unhappy with any concession. She said that as a woman, she was concerned that Blanc’s accusation would have a “cry wolf-effect.” Given the fact that the Legislature is still male-dominated, there will likely be instances in which women do receive disparate treatment and now those claims will be suspect. She told the mild-mannered Thorpe, “If they can accuse you of bullying behavior, they can accuse anyone.”
It may be too late. Apathy and distrust had already settled in for many members after Rep. Kirsten Engel took Rep. Anthony Kern to task for referring to Blanc as a “young lady” during one Floor debate. Engel earned some praise for her scolding of Kern, but turned some feminist lawmakers off due to the opportunistic rather than educational tone of her comments.
Speaker Mesnard’s quick reaction to Blanc might have actually hurt more women than it helped.
More remarkable than the leadership’s reaction to Blanc’s accusations is Stephenson’s coverage of them. Having been accused by the Blanc-Salman-Mendez campaign team of sexism for his article in which he referred to Salman as Mendez’s girlfriend, Stephenson should have been more skeptical of Blanc’s claims. Unless of course, the hit piece on Thorpe was a mea culpa of sorts to Blanc’s team, or written to prove Stephenson is not a sexist.
Whatever the case may be, Stephenson and others like him have been suffering from a fairly uneventful Legislative Session and the low hanging fruit provided by Blanc is ripe for the pulp’s pages.