Self-styled ‘gladiators’ Courser, Gamrat defiant to end

Chad Livengood
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat left office in much the same way they came to Lansing: defying the political establishment in unpredictable ways.

Todd Courser tells Rep. Ed McBroom, who chaired the panel that recommended ousting him, that he will resign instead of waiting for a third vote.

The tea party conservatives took their oaths of office in January as self-proclaimed GOP “gladiators” who wrote “liberty” manifestos that questioned the priorities of fellow Republicans. They chose their own path out of the Michigan House of Representatives early Friday morning even as they were forced out for their misconduct.

For almost 12 hours of voting, Courser of Lapeer and Gamrat of Plainwell clung to their seats of power with the unexpected help of minority Democrats. But when House Republican and Democratic leaders cut a deal — adding the Democrats’ request for a formal attorney general’s criminal investigation of the lawmakers to the expulsion resolution — the freshman legislators went their separate ways.

How Courser-Gamrat scandal unfolded

AG Schuette says he was already investigating lawmakers

Courser, who defiantly resisted calls for a voluntary departure after masterminding a bizarre cover-up of his extramarital affair with Gamrat, abruptly resigned at 3:12 a.m. Friday before the House could hold a third vote on his ouster. He tried to stretch out his stay on the floor by saying goodbyes, but was forced off by House sergeants.

Gamrat, who was publicly more apologetic than Courser and continually mentioned resignation as an option, still stood her ground. She was thrown out of office just after 4 a.m. The crestfallen lawmaker was escorted off the floor by Capitol police and became the fourth legislator in Michigan’s 178-year history to be expelled.

“Resigning would have been a whole lot easier, I’ll tell you that,” Gamrat said in a final plea on the floor for a censure before the House voted 91-12 to oust her. “But sometimes the easy roads aren’t the best roads to take.”

Courser’s and Gamrat’s departure from the Legislature came five weeks after The Detroit News revealed the existence of audio recordings of Courser orchestrating a scheme to cover up their affair. It involved spreading a phony diversionary story that he was caught having sex with a male prostitute behind a Lansing nightclub.

The News’ story on Aug. 7 led to an internal House investigation that found evidence of Courser and Gamrat engaging in deception and dishonesty to maintain and cover up their affair, as well as a misuse of taxpayer resources.

“I have done everything I can to redeem this situation, and I am sincerely sorry for what it’s caused,” Gamrat said. “And I don’t know what else I could have done more.”

At a Friday press conference, Gamrat reflected more on her thinking.

“We talked a lot about this as a family, and we did talk about resigning at times and we said there could be honor in resigning,” she said. “But we also said there could be honor in taking responsibility for those actions and accepting those consequences.”

Cindy Gamrat walks the House floor with her son, Joey, before her expulsion.

Lawmakers thrown for a loop

Courser’s resignation shocked lawmakers; on an earlier vote, he had voted to keep himself in office.

“I thought he was going to go kicking and screaming,” said Rep. John Chirkun, a Roseville Democrat who served on a special committee that voted Thursday morning to expel Courser and Gamrat.

House Speaker Kevin Cotter also was surprised by the turn of events.

“It was the reverse of what I expected,” said Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant. “That did throw me for a bit of a loop.”

Courser and Gamrat spent much of their eight months in office battling Cotter, who tossed Gamrat from the Republican caucus in April for leaking confidential information.

“To me, it didn’t make a difference of how we got there as we got to the result of both of these members no longer being a member of the body,” Cotter told reporters.

Courser signed a resignation letter just as House Republicans appeared to have secured enough Democratic votes to remove him from office.

“I just felt like the hour is late and ... it was the appropriate moment to do it,” Courser said.

“I’ve put everybody through a whole bunch ... as far as across the state, my own family, the constituents, the people in this room.”

Courser’s resignation and Gamrat’s expulsion ended a whirlwind day in the House that began with a special committee’s 4-0 vote to oust the pair after they admitted under penalty of perjury to misusing public funds and engaging in official misconduct.

“Gamrat and Courser did this to themselves, and we got the evidence to prove it,” said Rep. Kurt Heise, R-Plymouth, the panel’s vice chairman. “I mean, basically, they both copped guilty pleas right in front of us.”

After the committee vote, a defiant Courser said he wasn’t considering stepping down voluntarily.

But over half a day later, in the middle of the night, Courser indicated he was worn out by a 14-hour session, a pending third vote on his ouster and the noticeable animosity toward his continued presence in the chamber.

Some fellow Republicans booed Courser as House Clerk Gary Randall announced his resignation.

Deal gets Democratic votes

Prior to Courser’s resignation, the House was mired in an impasse as GOP leaders fell six votes short of the constitutionally required 73-member super majority needed to oust Courser from office.

Four Republicans took the floor to urge Courser’s ouster, while Courser and five Democrats either advocated a “no” vote or a non-vote. A bloc of at least 26 Democrats withheld their votes throughout the night in protest of how the GOP majority investigated and sought the ousters of the two legislators.

Courser and Democrats questioned whether Cotter’s office mishandled complaints about the affair from former aides Keith Allard and Ben Graham, and used the expulsion proceedings to hide their missteps.

“This is going to get buried, wiped under the rug,” said Rep. Jim Townsend, D-Royal Oak. “That’s not the way we should be operating here in the state Capitol.”

But Republicans pushed back, contending the Democrats would be held politically responsible if Courser and Gamrat remained in office. Some Democratic consultants openly questioned the strategy.

“I have to think that Courser has got to be loving this,” Heise said late Thursday night in the midst of the gridlock.

Rep. Ed McBroom, a Dickinson County dairy farmer who chaired the committee that recommended expelling Courser and Gamrat, said Democrats had a misplaced concern about Allard and Graham’s role as witnesses to their former bosses’ conduct.

“The two people who are members of this body started this,” said McBroom, R-Vulcan. “And today is the day to end this. The circus needs to go.”

In a late-night deal to get Democratic votes for Gamrat’s expulsion, the GOP majority agreed to hand over the House’s internal investigation to Attorney General Bill Schuette and the Michigan State Police, who are investigating criminal wrongdoing by Courser and Gamrat.

Democrats declared a political victory after Gamrat was escorted out of the Capitol.

“Our biggest concern was that the Republicans’ effort to ram this through in just a week doesn’t attempt to sweep this entire matter under the rug and prevent any further investigation into what occurred,” said House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills.

Staff Writer Gary Heinlein contributed.