Howes: Courser-Gamrat embarrassment tars GOP

Daniel Howes
The Detroit News

Until the end, Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat would not be ignored.

The first-term Republicans from Lapeer and Plainwell, respectively, signaled as much in their “Contract for Liberty.” The rambling manifesto, posted before either served a single day in the state House, screamed pious self-regard to anyone who bothered to read it.

After a dramatic day and night in the capitol, the moralizers are gone — Courser to resignation at 3:12 a.m. and Gamrat to expulsion, the fourth lawmaker in Michigan’s 178-year history to be voted out of the Legislature. Their ignominy marks a tale of hubris, audaciousness and deception that reflects the superficiality of our politics and the incidental place of taxpayers in it.

Witness their defiant denial before the House, presaged in their “Contract for Liberty.” They felt “impressed to faithfully execute the duties” of their “respected positions by advancing the ideas and commitments that we have made during our campaigns,” they wrote, an ironic prelude for the pair charged with misconduct and misusing taxpayer funds to hide their extramarital affair.

“We pray that our efforts impact hearts and minds in a meaningful way and hope that others will join us in the pursuit of the restoration of personal liberty, stronger states, and a nation worthy of the blessings bestowed upon it.”

They talked of renewing “a culture of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” They said it is “time for principled, conservative leaders to stand firm.” They wrote of freedom, how “our own government should allow us the self-determination of personal success or failure.”

Failure is putting it kindly. You’d think the fall from such sanctimonious heights would be sufficient to help the offenders understand that their personal credibility is destroyed, that they should take their punishment stoically, quit and retire to their private consequences outside the state capital and far from the public trough.

You’d be wrong. Gamrat claimed Thursday she had a deal for censure — not expulsion. And Courser’s crucifixion complex, laid bare in discussions recorded by an aide, pushed him on, evidently unaware that the spiritual choice he detailed in their “Contract for Liberty” also applies to a more mundane choice to do the right thing.

Only when it became clear the Republican majority would make the compromises necessary to muster the votes for expulsion did Courser abruptly resign, ensuring the expulsion of Gamrat and the end to an affair that has transfixed Lansing and much of the state since The Detroit News broke the story on Aug. 7.

The details of the sordid tale should have been sufficient for bipartisan rebuke, a certain path to a super-majority that would ensure both would be sent packing. Not when Democrats, despite considerable political risk, figured they could score political points against Republican Speaker Kevin Cotter and claim his office bungled the investigation.

Not when they could whine — with some justification — that the speedy investigation and ensuing expulsion vote looked like railroading designed to a) make a Republican embarrassment disappear quickly lest it b) dominate the coming fall legislative session.

Not when Democrats could withhold enough votes to ensure the embattled, discredited pair stays around. By keeping glittering symbols of hypocrisy and misconduct in office, Courser and Gamrat would have been constant reminders of the chaos created by Republicans and the Tea Party wing that produced them.

Crude politics, that, but effective and reflective of our time. Be it in Lansing or Washington, divisiveness in the service of rank partisanship trumps bipartisanship almost every time, reminding everyone else that the people who make the laws too often are not required to follow to them.

The whole affair also shows just how opaque the Legislature’s rules are when it comes to transparency and adherence to freedom of information. It’s perfectly fine for Republican lawmakers to bludgeon Michigan Economic Development Corp. officials about the details of their recruitment efforts — even if they woefully misunderstand the process, tax credits and how it all works.

But full disclosure of the House report on the Courser-Gamrat affair — and the process in which it was prepared — is treated like the state secret it clearly is not. And Republicans demanding that the whole thing must end now, as Plymouth Rep. Kurt Heise and others said, strikes a note of panic that underscores just how politically weaponized this mess was becoming.

What else is new? The House wouldn’t pull an all-nighter to to craft a long-overdue package to repair and rebuild the state’s crumbling roads and bridges. But it will pull one to excise two political liabilities from their ranks, and do almost whatever it takes to make it happen.

That says a lot, and most of it ain’t good. Into the dialogue of the deaf over road funding and education, gutting economic development and pushing for a solution for Detroit’s broken schools, steps the couple that would not be ignored, as if their outing was as preordained as they believed their election to have been.

It wasn’t, any more than were the choices they made to deceive their staffs, their constituents and to misuse public funds.

(313) 222-2106

Daniel Howes’ column runs Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays and can be found at

Catch him 3 and 10 p.m. Thursdays on Michigan Radio’s “Stateside,” 91.7 FM.