Ex-Michigan lawmakers seek 2nd chance at polls after affair cover-up scandal

31 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Cindy Gamrat says she is ‘confident’ going into Tuesday’s election.

Cover art from “Bankrolling the Bench: The New Politics of Judicial Elections 2013-14” by the Brennan Center for Justice, Justice at Stake, and the National Institute on Money in State Politics.

When voters in Allegan and Lapeer County go to the polls on Tuesday to select their favorite candidate to fill two vacant seats in the state House of Representatives, they’ll also be on the hook for a hefty, and unexpected, bill — likely well into the six figures.LAPEER, Mich. (AP) — A prosecutor will decide in the next week or so how to proceed following an investigation into whether a former lawmaker was blackmailed over his extramarital affair with another legislator.

Lansing — Outside groups have stepped up their efforts to influence two closely watched special Republican primaries in Lapeer and Allegan counties to fill the Michigan House seats left vacant by the scandalous departures of former Reps. — Two former lawmakers who were booted from Michigan’s Capitol for an extramarital affair and a strange cover-up scheme are seeking another chance. LANSING, MI — Michigan’s 2014 state Supreme Court election was the most expensive in the country, with three open seats drawing eight candidates, $4.98 million in campaign fundraising and $4.53 million in outside cash.

A more eye-opening figure was the $4.6 million in “issue ad” TV spending that was never reported, including ads from groups like the Virginia-based Center for Individual Freedom, which does not disclose donors but spent roughly $468,000 applauding Republican-nominated Justices David Viviano and Brian Zahra. But their attempted comebacks are being largely ignored by politically active groups that focused money and campaign mail around the perceived front-runners in the 82nd and 80th House districts. Courser sent a false email saying he had sex with a male prostitute — an attempt to make the affair less plausible if revealed by an anonymous “blackmailer.” Courser says the report should be released immediately, not after the election. Michigan’s Voice, a mystery political group launched by Lansing attorney Richard McLellan, has been sending advertisements to votersattacking Republican candidates Jim Storey in Allegan County and Gary Howell in Lapeer County.

Since the scandal broke, Gamrat has faced a barrage of criticism — from Allegan County Republican Party’s executive committee and the spokesman for the Michigan Tea Party Alliance, who called on her to resign in August, to a flurry of editorials opposing her efforts to regain her seat. Neither department would comment on the contents of the report. “There is now no legitimate reason for law enforcement to withhold this information from me and from the public — but they are requiring me to file a FOIA (freedom of information act) request or file a subpoena to get the information released,” Courser wrote. “I have asked that law enforcement release the names of the men who were involved in the plot to extort me into resigning from office.” Courser and Gamrat were swept up in a sex scandal and bizarre cover-up attempt last spring in which audio recordings revealed Courser asking his staff to send an anonymous e-mail he’d written accusing him of being addicted to drugs and pornography and paying for sex with men outside a Lansing bar. That included complaints about constituents’ calls to her office that were ignored; Gamrat’s failure to appear at Allegan County events normally attended by state lawmakers, and her decision to merge her office operations with Courser. GOV WATCH: Michigan’s 2018 gubernatorial election is still years away, but campaign finance documents filed with the state this week again hinted at potential runs for three top Republicans,: Attorney General Bill Schuette, Lieutenant Gov. In addition, township clerks had to scramble to find workers to staff polling places that had planned to be shuttered for the Nov. 3 election. “A lot of the township clerks who weren’t having elections are having to recertify poll workers,” said Lapeer County Clerk Theresa Spencer. “And for some jurisdictions, if there aren’t any elections, the certified poll workers — some are folks who have retired — might have already left for Florida for the winter.” Spencer, who said the last countywide election in May cost about $120,000, held a countywide training for poll workers a few weeks ago and about 40 people showed up.

During their first seven months in office, Gamrat and Courser teamed up to challenge the Republican establishment in the Legislature — issuing, for instance, a counter “Liberty Response” to Gov. Nakagiri’s Gadsden Center sent voters a second mailer this week calling her a “flip-flopper” for supporting Common Core education standards before coming out against them. Schuette reported around $153,700 in contributions to his attorney general campaign fund, even though term limits will prevent him from running for that office again.

The mailers from Michigan’s Voice claimed Storey “supported Obama’s failed stimulus program,” citing a vote in 2009 on Holland’s public works board to apply for a federal grant for testing carbon sequestration at the city’s coal power plant. In April, Gamrat was banned from GOP Caucus meetings by House Speaker Kevin Cotter, who accused her of breaking caucus confidentiality rules by posting a comment on Facebook during a budget workshop. But that decision had to be reversed. “That would have saved the schools a lot of money,” she said. “We learned about the change the day after the printer called us and said the ballots are being shipped this afternoon. Nonprofit corporations such as Michigan’s Voice and the Gadsden Center can engage in so-called voter education efforts by sending out politically tinged ads that stop short of telling voters for whom to cast their votes.

Former aides for the pair told the media and House investigators the two merged their office operations to facilitate the affair, which included afternoon trysts at a nearby hotel while staff was ordered to wait for their return for evening staff meetings. House Business Office director Tim Bowlin said totals haven’t been compiled yet, but he and other staffers put in hundreds of hours on the investigation. They are: Republicans Gamrat, Mary Whiteford, Jim Storey, Eric DeWitt, Bill Sage, James Siver, Shannon Szukala and Kevin Travis and Democrat David Gernant.

Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, forced out of office after an extra-marital affair, are falling deeper into a fundraising hole as they seek re-election. She acknowledges issues in responding to some constituents, but “that was an issue because of inexperienced staff.” If she wasn’t as visible in the district as some wanted, that’s because “as a newly elected official, I made it a priority to learn and understand my committee and read the bills and learn the position.” As for concerns that her alienation from House colleagues would make her an ineffective representative for the 80th District, Gamrat said it depends on what people are seeking. “It depends what you call effective,” she said. “Going along with leadership and tax increases? Because his seat is wholly contained within the city of Grand Rapids, which was already having a city election, the special election to fill his seat is not costing the county any additional money. Ted Cruz as conservatives willing to speak truth to power, and says it is a stance that strikes a chord with many voters. “I had someone tell me, ‘I voted for Mary Whiteford last time (in the 2014 GOP primary), but I’m voting for you this time because I’m fed up with Lansing,’ ” Gamrat said.

Gamrat said she is unfazed that two of her opponents on Nov. 3 — Jim Storey, an Allegan County commissioner, and Mary Whiteford, Allegan County GOP vice chairwoman — have raised considerably more money this campaign season. She doesn’t need as much money, she said, “because I already had the infrastructure in place to run a campaign,” including yard signs and leaflets left over from last year.

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