July 7, 2012 at 1:00 am

Rep. McCotter gives up seat in Congress

'Nightmarish' recent events prompt sudden decision

Thad McCotter says his next step is to find a job to provide for his family. (J. Scott Applewhite / Associated Press)

Thad McCotter, the onetime presidential hopeful who was stung by a petition fraud scandal, resigned abruptly from Congress on Friday, citing "nightmarish" recent weeks that have weighed on his family.

With six months left on his fifth term in Congress, McCotter's premature exit capped off one of the most stunning downfalls in Michigan politics. The onetime sure shot for re-election was disqualified from the Aug. 7 ballot in May after the Secretary of State deemed 87 percent of petition signatures his campaign submitted were invalid due to widespread tampering. The revelation ended his chances of re-election and sparked a criminal fraud investigation by Michigan's attorney general.

McCotter's announcement late Friday comes a day after The Detroit News wrote about a crude variety show pilot episode he had pitched called "Bumper Sticker: Made on MoTown" that was cast with characters bearing the nicknames of his congressional staffers, his brother and a drunk, perverted "Black Santa." The characters spewed banter about drinking, sex, race, flatulence, puking and women's anatomy.

"The recent event's totality of calumnies, indignities and deceits have weighed most heavily upon my family," McCotter, 46, said in a statement Friday evening.

"Thus, acutely aware one cannot rebuild their hearth of home amongst the ruins of their U.S. House office, for the sake of my loved ones I must 'strike another match, go start anew' by embracing the promotion back from public servant to sovereign citizen."

Keeping with his habit of quoting rock lyrics in House floor speeches, McCotter's "strike another match, go start anew" was from Bob Dylan's "It's All Over, Baby Blue."

'Diminishing prospects'

Under Michigan law, Gov. Rick Snyder can call a special election to fill McCotter's 11th District seat for the remainder of the year. It was unclear late Friday how soon or whether a special election would be held with the August primary less than five weeks away.

In his resignation McCotter, a lawyer, explained: "I do not leave for an existing job and face diminishing prospects (and am both unwilling and ill-suited to lobby). My priorities are twofold: find gainful employment to help provide for my family and continue to assist, in any way they see fit, the Michigan Attorney General's earnest and thorough investigation, which I requested, into the 2012 petition filing."

McCotter, who has a penchant for guitar playing, chain smoking and dry humor, declined a request for comment, according to a staffer.

McCotter maintained he did nothing differently with his petition signature gathering this cycle and trusted the same longtime staffers to handle the necessary minimum requirement of 1,000 signatures to get on the ballot. The doctoring and photocopying of petitions was so widespread the state's election director called it unheard of.

McCotter originally said he would launch a write-in campaign to hold on to his seat that includes parts of Wayne and Oakland counties but bowed out in the midst of the Attorney General's investigation.

"I'm ruined, I'm done," McCotter told The News last month in his first public comments since his stumble from the national stage. "My future is a dimming light in a dark pit."

McCotter called his "Bumper Sticker" show pilot a "cathartic" creative outlet that helped him through the humiliation of his presidential campaign flop.

The show's revelations likely led to McCotter's "selfish" decision to resign before his term ended, said Bill Ballenger, publisher of Inside Michigan Politics.

"This was the final straw that broke the camel's back," Ballenger said. "I don't want to pile on, but this was the ultimate self-centered, egotistical thing to do.

"The guy has melted down and imploded before our very eyes in a way we've never seen."

State GOP surprised

McCotter's decision sent shock waves across GOP circles Friday night.

"One minute he's running for president, the next minute he's resigning (from Congress)," said state Rep. Chuck Moss, R-Birmingham. "I'm speechless. I never saw this coming."

Former Attorney General Mike Cox, who has been critical of McCotter blaming his staff for botching his nominating petitions, also was at a loss for words.

"If he says it's the best thing for him, I take that at face value," Cox said. "I think he handled it wrong, but that doesn't change the fact that for a good nine years he was a very good congressman."

Snyder was out of state Friday on vacation with his wife and unavailable for comment, spokeswoman Geralyn Lasher said

McCotter got his start in politics on the Schoolcraft College Board of Trustees in 1989. He later won a seat on the Wayne County Commission in 1992 and was elected to the state Senate in 1998. In 2003, McCotter went to Washington to represent the 11th District and launched a long-shot bid for president over Fourth of July weekend last year.

Jack Kirksey, the mayor of Livonia and former Schoolcraft trustee,was taken aback by how fast his fellow Livonia Republican fell from grace. "If I was writing a textbook on politics, that would be one whole chapter," he said.

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The Aug. 7 primary election for the 11th District has Kerry Bentivolio, a former teacher, veteran and Milford reindeer farmer, as the only Republican on the ballot. Former state Sen. Nancy Cassis, R-Novi, launched a write-in campaign with the blessing of party establishment in Oakland and Wayne counties, which the 11th District encompasses. The Rev. Drexel Morton, pastor at All Saints Lutheran Church in Hartland, also filed as a Republican write-in candidate for the seat.

Dr. Syed Taj, a Canton Township trustee, and Bill Roberts, a Lyndon LaRouche activist, are vying for the Democratic nomination in a seat that now is considered a toss-up with McCotter out of the race.

McCotter's resignation is "a slap in the face to the people who voted for him," said Natalie Mosher, Taj's campaign manager. McCotter's remaining political funds will be donated to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. Federal Election Commission records show his presidential campaign committee reported about $105,000 in debt in July and $615 in available cash. McCotter's congressional campaign reports $193,242 in cash and no debts through March 31.

In his decade in Washington, Congress had become too destructive, too divisive, McCotter said, and he told The News he was planning to exit after 2014 before the toxic environment ate him up. Before the petition flap, McCotter said he was prepared to stick it out for another term.

Now, "I will be so happy to be rid of it," he told The News last month.

"I've embraced the reality of private life and look forward to it."

mschultz@detnews.com

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