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2 state reps face probe, calls to quit

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — State Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat came under intense public scrutiny and faced calls to resign from office Friday after The Detroit News revealed the freshman Republican lawmakers tried to get a House aide to hide their relationship.

Rep. Cindy Gamrat, R-Plainwell, talks with Rep Todd Courser, R-Lapeer, on the first day of the Legislature’s new session in January. The two lawmakers, in an unusual arrangement, combined their office operations, with three aides effectively working for both of them.

House Speaker Kevin Cotter authorized what his office called an “open ended” investigation into Courser and Gamrat’s conduct in response to The News’ report that Courser directed a House employee to distribute a fictional email alleging he had sex with a male prostitute in a bid to conceal an apparent relationship with Gamrat.

The News reported Friday that Courser designed the email to create a “controlled burn” smear campaign against himself and Gamrat that, according to an audio recording of Courser, would make revelations of their relationship look “tame by comparison.”

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller, R-Harrison Township, led the charge in seeking Courser’s resignation, calling the Lapeer Republican “completely unfit” for public office after being caught “using taxpayer dollars to abide and assist his gross misconduct.”

“Based on these revelations, under no circumstance can Todd Courser continue to represent the residents of Lapeer County, who are good, hard working community and faith-based folks,” Miller, whose district includes Lapeer, said in a statement. “This behavior is a slap in their face, especially from someone who presents himself as a moralist.”

Gamrat, R-Plainwell, and Courser did not respond to messages from The News on Friday. The pair, who are active commentators on social media, did not make any public statement about the newspaper’s story.

The sexually explicit email, which claimed Courser had been caught having “male-on-male sex behind a prominent Lansing nightclub,” was sent to rank-and-file Republicans across the state from an anonymous email account on May 20 and 21.

Courser’s former aide, Ben Graham, ultimately refused to send the email and participate in what he called a “cover-up” in a May 21 meeting he recorded with Courser and Gamrat, who have been running a joint House office.

Gamrat later asked Graham to keep quiet about their relationship, according to an audio recording Graham made of a meeting with Courser and Gamrat in her House office. In early July, Courser and Gamrat fired Graham and their chief-of-staff, Keith Allard — about a month after giving both young aides pay raises — without explanation.

“The fact that he was asking staffers to basically cover up for him and these young kids who were just getting started in their careers and compromising them in that way is really just shocking,” said Bobby Schostak, former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party. “It’s crazy, the whole thing.”

Other Republican leaders condemned Courser and voiced support for an internal House investigation.

“If they’ve done something to break the law or break House rules, I think the honorable thing would be for them to resign,” Rep. Al Pscholka, a Stevensville Republican and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “I hope folks know this isn’t what happens in the Legislature every day.”

One prominent southwest Michigan tea party leader also said Courser and Gamrat should step down.

“I think probably the best thing for them to do is resign and get their own personal lives straightened out,” said Gene Clem, president of VanKal Patriots, a Van Buren and Kalamazoo counties tea party group.

The News’ report on Courser and Gamrat’s actions was posted on the newspaper’s website shortly after midnight Friday.

By 3:22 a.m., Cotter issued an unusual middle-of-the-night statement calling for an immediate investigation by the nonpartisan House Business Office.

“The office will review the matter and determine whether there was a violation of House rules or any evidence of illegal behavior, and will follow up with any and all appropriate measures, including disciplinary steps,” Cotter said.

Cotter wants an “open-ended” probe by the House Business Office, which can hand out punishment for representatives who violate House rules or refer legal wrongdoing to prosecutors, spokesman Gideon D’Assandro said Friday.

The House Business Office periodically investigates complaints of representatives using state resources such as offices, equipment and employees for personal or political purposes, said Tim Bowlin, chief financial officer for House.

Courser and Gamrat’s former aides and the audio recordings suggest the legislators were mixing their personal interests with the management of the House office.

“I have a feeling that will be the direction of what I’m looking into now,” Bowlin told The News on Friday.

Bowlin said he’s awaiting instruction from Cotter on “exactly how far and how deep” his investigation can go.

Ronna Romney McDaniel, chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, said she found Courser and Gamrat’s intertwining of their House office operations with their personal relationship “so disturbing.”

“That is very serious and deserves to be investigated,” McDaniel told The News.

Calls for Courser and Gamrat to step down came from all corners of Michigan politics on Friday.

Miller’s call for Courser’s resignation comes as Courser has been contemplating running for her congressional seat in Michigan’s 10th District in 2016. Miller is retiring from Congress at the end of 2016.

“Todd Courser, a man who never passes on an opportunity to preach about his supposed morals and his close relationship with God, constantly evoking religion in his personal and political stances, has proven to be completely unfit to represent the hardworking residents of Lapeer County, using taxpayer dollars to abide and assist his gross misconduct,” Miller said in a statement.

The liberal political group Progress Michigan also called for Courser and Gamrat to resign from office. Gamrat represents the 80th District in west Michigan’s Allegan County, while Courser represents the 82nd District in Lapeer County.

“If Reps. Courser and Gamrat used state resources in an attempt to cover up their sexual affair, they have deceived their constituents and the public,” Progress Michigan executive director Lonnie Scott said in a statement.

On Courser’s Facebook page, commenters lambasted the pair of socially conservative lawmakers who often invoke their Christian faith in pursuit of legislation.

“You and Rep. Gamrat need to resign right now,” wrote Donna Hummer of Roscommon. “I hope your family can forgive your deceit but they will never forget it.”

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