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‘Tax day rallies’ paved Gamrat’s way to Lansing

Joel Kurth
The Detroit News

Cindy Gamrat was new in town and new to politics. Her opponents were neither.

But Gamrat had big advantages last year in the Republican primary to succeed term-limited state Rep. Bob Genetski in the 80th House District in west Michigan. The Macomb County native and current Plainwell resident worked harder than her three opponents, knocking on 10,000 doors and mobilizing her family and tea party activists to energize voters.

And she could shoot a gun, said Randy Brink, a former Allegan County commissioner and farmer who ran against her.

“She went to all the gun clubs and they really loved her,” Brink said. “She had this everyday, next-door kind of charm, just a regular stay-at-home mom you’d meet on the street. I think that’s why all the guys voted for her.”

Gamrat prevailed in the election and came to Lansing promising to push through an anti-abortion, pro-gun, anti-school-testing agenda. The bills have gone nowhere and, today, her career is rocked by a scandal involving her relationship with state Rep. Todd Courser, R-Lapeer.

A week ago, Republican House Speaker Kevin Cotter of Mount Pleasant ordered an open-ended investigation of tea party conservatives Courser and Gamrat after The Detroit News reported interviews with former House employees and two audio recordings showed the lawmakers used their taxpayer-funded offices to maintain and cover up their relationship.

In early July, Courser and Gamrat fired staffers Ben Graham and Keith Allard, who objected to the lawmakers’ relationship. On May 20, Graham rejected Courser’s order to send a fictional email claiming the lawmaker had sex with a man behind a Lansing bar.

Those who know Gamrat say the scandal is a shock because she is so devoted to family and isn’t shy about offering opinions about God or marriage.

On her Facebook page, legislative alerts about Planned Parenthood funding and open carry gun bills are interspersed with photos of family canoe outings, 10-kilometer runs and inspirational messages about God.

“What’s irritating is both she and Courser ran on strong, pro-religious, pro-tea party, pro-conservative values, almost to the point of everyone who disagrees with them is wrong,” said Greg Moore, co-chairman of the Monroe County Republican Party.

“They presented themselves as one way — ‘God says do this’ — and acted another way and now two families may be destroyed.”

Her church, Gracespring Bible Church of Richland, is praying for her, said lead pastor Bryan Tema.

“Our heart is breaking for the family for sure,” Tema said. “The entire family is very committed to the church and has made significant contributions to it.”

Parents instilled work ethic

Born Cindy Bauer, she grew up in Macomb County. Her mother is a beautician and her father, a German immigrant, owns Bauer Precision Tool and Die in Warren.

The parents instilled a “love of liberty, entrepreneurial spirit and hard work ethic,” according to Gamrat’s online biography. As a teen, she worked at her father’s shop and competed nationally at roller speed skating. She graduated from the University of Michigan in 1995 with a degree in nursing, then married her high school sweetheart Joe Gamrat, according to her biography.

Three children followed. Then, a Christian awakening, according to her biography. She quit her job as an intensive care nurse and homeschooled her children. Over the years, records show the couple moved for Joe’s job, first to Cheboygan in northern Michigan and Huntington, Indiana, before settling in Plainwell near Kalamazoo in 2010.

She became interested in tea party politics in Indiana and passionate about them in Michigan, forming the Plainwell Patriots in 2011. The group hosted “tax day rallies” that year and the next that featured speeches about the integrity of balloting machines and tax reform.

About that time, she met Courser, a tea party leader from the other side of the state.

They formed an alliance. When Courser challenged incumbent Bobby Schostak in 2013 in a bid to become state Republican party chairman, Gamrat ran as his vice chair. The tea party ticket narrowly lost.

The next year, Gamrat bucked the establishment again, taking on better-known candidates for the state House. Brink admits he had never heard of her before the campaign, which was managed by her then-17-year-old son, Joey.

Gamrat appealed to voters because she’s smart, articulate and “has an energy that can be contagious,” said Stephen Young, chairman of the Allegan County Tea Party.

“A friend of mine who is almost 90 said he would never vote for a woman in office, they belonged home raising the children,” Young wrote in an email to The News. “Cindy went to his door and talked with him. He told her that very thing to her face, yet when the time came to vote, he voted for her. She is good.”

‘Contract’ devised together

In Lansing, Gamrat was a leader of about 20 tea party Republicans and considered a “force to be reckoned with,” said state Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth.

She sponsored 16 bills. One would make it a crime to coerce a woman into an abortion. Another, written before the U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage, would prohibit secular officials such as clerks and judges from performing weddings.

The bills were part of the “Contract for Liberty” that she devised with Courser. The two merged office staffs, gave them raises and alienated Republican leaders. Among other things, the pair rebutted Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s State of the State address, criticizing him for “nonstop spending and tax increases.”

In April, Gamrat was removed from the Republican caucus for violating confidentiality rules by complaining about budget talks on Facebook. It destroyed any chance of her legislation passing, Heise said.

“She got too eager too fast, politically, and it cost her,” he said.

Moore is blunter: “There’s a big difference between organizing 50 people to rally against something you don’t like versus going to Lansing and actually getting things done.”

The rebuke bolstered Gamrat’s reputation among the tea party faithful for taking on the old guard GOP. The rumors about her and Courser wouldn’t go away.

In May, an anonymous email from a Gmail account circulated that labeled Courser a “sexual predator” and Gamrat a “tramp.” Courser has acknowledged that the email was his attempt to tamp down, with a more incendiary allegation, speculation about a relationship with Gamrat.

In July, top aides parted ways with the pair. The recordings provided to The News confirmed the plan in Courser’s own words and ignited a scandal and investigation. Since then, numerous party officials have called on both to resign.

Gamrat has an easier path to recovery because she didn’t orchestrate the cover-up, Moore said.

But she needs to provide answers to voters.

“It’s frustrating when you are trying to advance a cause and people are idiots,” he said.

JKurth@detroitnews.com

@cityhallinsider

Gamrat statement set for 2 p.m.

State Rep. Cindy Gamrat may break her silence Friday about her relationship with Lapeer Republican State Rep. Todd Courser and a House investigation about her possible misuse of office.

The 2 p.m. news conference is set for the Abood Law Firm in East Lansing, where Gamrat, R-Plainwell, will issue a statement but — at least at this point — won’t take any questions, said spokesman Justin Near.

The Associated Press reported that the Abood firm is representing Gamrat. Come back to detroitnews.com for updates.

Gary Heinlein