Democrat cries 'rape' of budget by Republicans
On Tuesday, he compared Republican tactics for passing the state budget to rape.
On Thursday, he defended the comparison — even as a female lawmaker asked for an apology.
Democratic state Rep. Mickey Michaux of Durham is declining to apologize for comments he made during a press conference on Tuesday, when he expressed his anger over how the state budget is being crafted.
Republicans hold a supermajority in the state House and state Senate, and they've mostly written their budget proposal without the input of Democrats. If their budget is adopted without amendments, it would be the first time that has happened in modern North Carolina history.
In a news conference Tuesday, Michaux said in an interview Wednesday, used "the strongest terms I could think of at that point" to describe the situation.
"Today we have seen a rape of this budget," Michaux said Tuesday. "And I'm having problems right now trying to reconcile whether I'm in North Carolina or North Korea."
Michaux was speaking on the House floor Thursday when Republican state Rep. Holly Grange of Wilmington asked that he apologize for his rape comment. The budget has money in it to combat human trafficking, Grange noted, adding that legislators are going to talk about funding work to get rid of the state's backlog of rape kits.
"The minority party has resorted to comparing a legislative process to one of the most horrifying experiences a woman can have, which is rape," Grange said. "I ask that the women in this room and the women in this state receive an apology from the minority party."
Michaux, who never acknowledged Grange directly, spoke for a while longer before eventually defending himself over those comments.
"We on this side have had no input. No input at all on how this budget was crafted ... so yeah, sometimes it takes strong words to make people realize what's happening to them.," Michaux said.
"We are supposed to be a democratic, deliberative body," he continued. "We are not. We are an autocratic body at this juncture that is being forced to vote on something we should not be forced to vote on."
Michaux, the third African-American elected to the N.C. General Assembly, is serving his 43rd year in office but doesn't plan to seek re-election.
His comments on Tuesday quickly garnered attention online, where social media users criticized his choice of words.
Mark Coggins, who works for Republican state Rep. David Lewis, called the comments "disgusting." Brent Woodcox, an attorney who works for Republican legislative leaders, said no one should make arbitrary comparisons to rape, Nazis or slavery.
Another Twitter user said the word "rape" shouldn't be used for political grandstanding.
Michaux explained his thinking in an interview on Wednesday.
"What I was saying was that it’s something that certainly shouldn't happen," he said. “Particularly if you have the numbers (to pass a budget through a vote), there’s no reason to do this … unless you’re afraid that what the other party has to offer would be better.”
In response to a question, he acknowledged that rape victims might be offended that he compared the budget process to what they suffered through and said he didn't mean to diminish their pain.
“You don't think about that on the spur of the moment," he said. "That’s not the context under which I said it.”
Some of Michaux's fellow Democrats downplayed his comments Thursday afternoon. In a press conference publicizing three bills related to women's rights in the workplace and equal treatment, Sens. Erica Smith and Terry Van Duyn brushed off Michaux's comment comparing the budget to rape.
Smith, of Northampton County, said Michaux meant no disrespect to women.
"There are a lot of violated processes" in passing the budget, she said, adding, "I can see how that analogy could be made."
"He has been behind us 100 percent in our efforts to advocate for (the) Equal Rights Amendment, equal pay, equal opportunity, equal access and certainly our equal protection, whether we be women behind bars or women in front of bars," Smith continued. "So I certainly stand in support of him today, and with him being the astute, intelligent, longest-serving legislator in North Carolina, I know that he is someone who has stood in support of women, and fought for it and marched for it."
Van Duyn, of Buncombe County, said Michaux made an "unfortunate choice of words."
"But," she added, "I share his utter frustration at the lack of accountability, the lack of transparency around the budget process. It's fundamentally undemocratic, and I think that was the (intent). It's hard to imagine what it's like to make the sacrifices that we all make to come here and then to be totally shut out of the process."
Comparison to North Korea
On Wednesday, Michaux said he had received a couple of calls from people concerned that he compared North Carolina to North Korea - but had received no calls about the rape comment.
He said he told the callers, “The only thing I can say about that is, North Korea agrees to negotiate."
Michaux wasn't the only Democrat to compare N.C. Republicans to U.S. adversaries. State Sen. Dan Blue, a Raleigh Democrat, said Republicans have managed to "circumvent the democratic process out of fear."
On the Senate floor Wednesday, Blue told his Republican colleagues, "I think that Chairman Mao and President Khrushchev and the current day leaders of China and Russia would be very proud of the lessons you've learned from them."