Steve Halloran(l), Books in chains(r)

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‘Disgusting’: GOP senator faces resignation calls after substituting Dem’s name into graphic book scene

'Pure aggression to read a rape scene out loud...'


Katherine Huggins


Posted on Mar 19, 2024

A GOP lawmaker in Nebraska is facing criticism and resignation calls after inserting a Democratic colleague’s name into a book’s graphic rape scene.

Amid a debate over legislation that would ban literature with “obscene” material from schools, Republican Sen. Steve Halloran on Monday read aloud a passage from Alice Sebold’s “Lucky” and substituted the name “Cavanaugh” into the text.

Nebraska currently has two Democratic senators with that last name, siblings Machaela Cavanuagh and John Cavanuagh. While Halloran did not specify which senator he was referring to, the passage depicts a woman being raped.

Sebold’s 1999 memoir was reportedly the 42nd most banned book by schools during the 2021-2022 school year. The book itself was mired in controversy after the man who was convicted for Sebold’s rape was exonerated in 2021.

Machaela Cavanaugh called Halloran’s move “gross, disrespectful, and beneath the Nebraska Unicameral” in an X post Monday night.

The backlash was swift, and Halloran is now facing calls to resign.

“Honestly, I think Halloran should resign,” said Democratic Sen. Megan Hunt. “How dare he even form his mouth to say the words ‘Give me a blow job Senator Cavanaugh.’ He said that because he wanted to say it. It was beyond the pale. Pure aggression to read a rape scene out loud and put it like that. Broken brain.”

“The problem isn’t that graphic language exists in books,” Hunt continued. “The problem isn’t that rape survivors have written about their experiences. The problem is standing on a platform as a state senator, and fixing your mouth to tell one of your colleagues to give you a blow job.”

But Hunt was not the only lawmaker condemning Halloran’s actions and calling for his resignation. Republican Sen. Julie Slama did so as well.

“Disgusting. No context makes this appropriate,” Slama said.

In a separate post, Slama wrote that she was “out of words” over Halloran’s actions and bet there are “plenty of laughs happening as certain senators pretend it’s funny to treat colleagues this way.”

“One last thought for the evening: Halloran should resign for this,” Slama added.

Others on social media voiced their agreement and denounced Halloran’s “aggressive bully tactics” before arguing that he needed to be “tossed out of office.”

According to Omaha World-Herald reporter Erin Bamer, protesters showed up in person Wednesday morning outside of Halloran’s office.

After Halloran’s remarks, Machaela Cavanaugh responded in tears that there are members of the legislature that have experienced sexual violence. She also argued that she has repeatedly tried to be respectful to the bill’s supporters, including author Republican Sen. Joni Albrecht.

“That was so out of line and unnecessary and disgusting to say my name over and over again like that,” she said.

Albrecht, for her part, apologized to Cavanaugh in the chamber and said that she was “mortified” that her name was substituted. Albrecht, however, went on to explain why she believed the incident proved that such books should be removed from schools.

During his remarks on the floor, John Cavanaugh argued that Halloran “missed the point” and that while there are graphic scenes in books, “there are graphic things that happen to people in life, and stories have context, and they give meaning to the people who read them who feel alone.”

One X user who says she emailed Halloran her “disgust,” said he responded by saying he meant his remarks to be about John Cavanaugh—not Machaela.

“Because this makes it somehow better?” replied one person.

“He invoked both of our names at the start and then dropped the first name,” Machaela Cavanaugh responded. “Whichever one of us this assault was meant for does[n’t] make it less horrific — though I believe it was directed at me. Men can also be victims of assault and his response is dismissive of that fact.”

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*First Published: Mar 19, 2024, 10:02 am CDT