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Alone At The Desk - 27.5: Nessel's First Ad

Dana Nessel's first ad during her campaign for AG was provocative. But it wasn't just about shock value. It was about sexism, misogyny and discrimination.

LANSING, Mich. — ADVERTISEMENT:

So when you're choosing Michigan's next Attorney General, ask yourself this. Who can you trust most? Not to show you their penis in a professional setting? Is it the candidate who doesn't have a penis? I'd say so. 

This ad was how many in Michigan were introduced to Dana Nessel. I've always wanted to ask the now-Michigan Attorney General about it. Who came up with the ad, for one. What prompted it? Simply hearing the word 'penis' in a political advertisement is jarring enough. But, there's a lot more than shock value going on here. This ad talks about sexual harassment. Misogyny. Discrimination. It does it in a very direct way. And - as you'll hear - she's talking to her own party.

In this bonus - far more brief episode - AG Dana Nessel gives us those answers... also, in a very direct way. 

I'm Nick LaFave. This is Alone At The Desk.

Alone At The Desk. A podcast by an average, middle aged guy who just happens to be a TV news anchor. We talk exciting and the boring parts of life, the industry, and life in the industry. And we cover some important stories along the way. Brought to you by 13 On Your Side News in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Before we get into the interview, I want to play you the first part of the ad again.

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If the last few weeks has taught us anything, it's that we need more women in positions of power, not less. So when you're choosing Michigan's next Attorney General, ask yourself this. Who can you trust most? Not to show you their penis in a professional setting? Is it the candidate who doesn't have a penis? I'd say so. 

NICK:

Whose idea was it? And were you at all worried it would would backfire?

NESSEL:

Well, it was my idea, unsurprisingly. And I will tell you the backstory on it. I was very frustrated at that time in the campaign, because, you know, I was, I was really taken aback by the pushback that I received to running for AG. Not because people thought that I wasn't qualified to run or... not because they thought I was too progressive or not any of those issues. But it was just that people saw Gretchen Whitmer as the front runner for governor. Jocelyn Benson was the only democrat who ran to be Secretary of State. Clearly, Debbie Stabenow was was running for re election for what I think her fourth term as United States Senator. And that left one more position at the top of the ticket, and that was Attorney General. And I just heard over and over again, from my own party, we can't have an all female ticket, we absolutely can't, that's too many women, there's no way the state of Michigan is going to vote for an all female ticket, we have to make sure that a man gets the nomination of our party to be Attorney General .... And I was very frustrated, because in 2014, the democrats ran an all male ticket and did... which did not perform very successfully, you might remember.

These were the contests Nessel was referring to. In the governor's race, Democrat Mark Schauer - a former U-S Congressman from the Battle Creek area - lost to incumbent Republican governor Rick Snyder by 5 points. In the attorney general's race, Democratic attorney Mark Totten lost to incumbent Republican A-G Bill Schutte by 8. And in the Secretary of State's race, Democratic attorney Godfrey Dillard lost to Republican incumbent Ruth Johnson by 11. It was obviously a vastly different political atmosphere at that time. It was a midterm with a Democratic president. Donald Trump wasn't on the scene. Regardless. Three male Democrats - essentially - got pounded.

NESSEL:

And I didn't hear anything about that. And I thought, if ever, there was a time in history where people were ready to have an all female ticket, where we had, you know, leaders and all of these offices that were women, it was probably then in 2018. And so I sort of did that as a push back to say, hey, look, you know, can we can we? Yeah, can we run an all female ticket? And I said, right in that add, can we afford not to? And and you know what, ultimately, Nick? I was right, we all won.

Gretchen Whitmer beat Bill Schutte by nearly 10 points to become governor. Jocelyn Benson beat Mary Treder Lang by 9 to become Secretary of State. And - in the closest of the three contests - Dana Nessel beat Tom Leonard by just less than 3 points to become attorney general. Combine that with Debbie Stabenow's re-election win over John James for U-S senate... and that's four women in the top four state-wide offices in Michigan. Again, something Nessel says people in her own party said they couldn't pull off.

NESSEL:

And and again, I would never suggest that you should vote for someone or not vote for someone based on their gender. But my point is, you certainly should. I should not have been excluded from consideration simply because I was a woman. And that is what I felt like was happening to me during that time period. And yes, that ad was bold, but it made the point that I wanted to make, which is that women didn't have enough representation. And we needed more representation. And the more representation we had, the more we'd be able to push back against some of these scandals that were happening.

Here, Nessel is referring to the 'Me Too' movement. Women who had been sexually harassed, discriminated against, or attacked - particularly in the workplace - were standing up to demand change. Story after story came out very high profile men across all industries who were either fired for their behavior, like Matt Lauer... or resigned, like former Senator Al Franken... or brought up on charges, like former Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein. While Nessel was fighting back against people who said you couldn't have an all-female ticket, she was also saying that she wouldn't use her office to harass people, as so many of those men had been caught doing.

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I want to tell you what you can expect me not to do. I will not sexually harass my staff. And I won't tolerate it in your workplace either. I will not walk around in a half open bathroom. And I'll continue to take all sex crime seriously, just like I did as a prosecutor. You will find me using your hard earned tax dollars to silence victims.

NESSEL:

And and I will say it was, you know, a seismic change from where I know, my department had been, and I will just tell you this story real quickly. You know, we have so many women, if you are, you know, we stay up on the seventh floor, which is the executive level in the Williams Building. We're, of course, for a very long time, nobody worked in 2020. But I actually had a few of the men in the office make comments and just say, "Well, I'm just not used to being in a room where I'm the only man" or "I'm one of only a few men," because they did have so many, you know, women that I placed up into, you know, pretty significant positions in the office. And it was really sort of telling to me that the discomfort that people have with that and I said well, you're gonna have to get used to more women being in the room when these important decisions are made. And that's not to exclude exclude men from those important places where decisions are being made. It's just to say that there should be more parity where we have, you know, equal numbers of men and women making those decisions so that we can know that those are fair decisions that are equitable.

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Yes, I'm a woman. That's not a liability. That's an asset.

CLOSING:

This has been Alone At The Desk with Nick LaFave. My thanks to Attorney General Dana Nessel for sharing her story. If you'd like to hear more of our episodes, just go to 13OnYourSide.com/podcasts. You can also find us on iTunes, Soundcloud and Spotify. And you can find me at Twitter.com/nicklafave or Facebook.com/nicknews. And you can email me directly at NickLaFave@13OnYourSide.com. Thanks for listening.