Utah senator blasted for patronizing female colleague on Twitter

Francisco Kjolseth | Tribune file photo Rep. Dan McCay, R-Riverton.

Utah Sen. Dan McCay came under fire Thursday for deriding a female legislator on Twitter — including from a Democratic colleague who labeled him an “asshat” and accused him of sexism.

It happened after Rep. Suzanne Harrison said on social media that she was “frustrated that I have to decide whether to send my kids to school in person or online education for my kids in the midst of a pandemic.”

“Our teachers & schools are in an impossible situation because of lack of effective leadership or a plan from national & state leaders,” she said.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” McCay, R-Riverton, said in response to the first-term lawmaker. “You’re new at this. You’ll get better.”

McCay was immediately engulfed by Twitter responses criticizing his jab at Harrison as sexist and belittling — including from Rep. Andrew Stoddard, D-Sandy.

“@VoteSuz is one of the hardest working legislators and all-around best people I know!” Stoddard wrote. “And she does that in spite of near-constant criticism from asshats like this.”

Stoddard later deleted the tweet and apologized online, acknowledging he had called “a colleague of mine an inappropriate name.” “I reached out and apologized to him for the name-calling,” Stoddard said. “I stand by my defense of my friend, but I am sorry for how I went about it.”

Reached by phone Thursday evening, Harrison said she’s not exactly sure what McCay meant by his tweet but understands the sentiment behind it.

“The tone was loud and clear: patronizing, condescending, mansplaining,” the Draper lawmaker said.

McCay didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, as Twitter users called on him to delete his post and apologize to Harrison.

“Well, that was patronizing,” one person wrote. “Ted Yoho should not be a source of emulation.”

Yoho, a Florida congressman, last week made headlines for calling his colleague, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a “f----- bitch” at the U.S. Capitol. Later, in an impassioned speech on the House floor, Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., said Yoho’s verbal assault reflects a broader societal problem “of violence and violent language against women and the entire structure of power that supports that.”

Harrison said McCay’s comments, too, point to a larger pattern of dismissiveness and condescension toward woman — particularly those who are in positions of power.

“These types of dismissive, patronizing comments are part of a problem in our public sphere,” she said. “And this is not the first time Sen. McCay has said patronizing things to a woman. I think that as an elected leader, he should be an example of better behavior.”

She said the situation highlights the state’s need for more women in elected office and in the public sphere, and for female and male allies to call out sexism.

Harrison said Thursday evening that McCay hadn’t contacted her about the Twitter exchange.

Earlier in the week, Harrison wrote on Twitter about the discrimination she’s faced as a female elected official — including the countless “vile and disgusting names” she’s been called and subtle threats she’s received.

“I’ve been doxed — a man in our district published my address and phone number all over KSL with fake ads telling people to show up to my house which they did — which terrified my children,” she wrote. “A male constituent assaulted members of my campaign team, including a pre-teen girl who was volunteering, at a public meeting. All of this is unacceptable.”

In an interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, Stoddard said he “100%” felt that McCay had approached Harrison the way he did because she’s a woman.

“I’ve consistently seen males talk down to her because of this, belittle her because of this and treat her like she doesn’t have the experience, the knowledge, the passion, whatever they think she lacks just because she’s a woman,” he said. “And that is highly unfair because she is a far better legislator than they could ever hope to be.”

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Utah State House Democratic candidate Suzanne Harrison speaks during a panel discussion at the Hinckley Institute, during a discussion on how religion and politics mix, Monday, October 3, 2016.