Expelled Rep. Gamrat files to run for her former seat

Chad Livengood and Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Former state Rep. Cindy Gamrat, the west Michigan tea party conservative who was ousted from office less than a week ago because of a scandal, has filed to run for her former job in a special election.

Gamrat confirmed Thursday she filed to run in the special 80th House District Nov. 3 primary in Allegan County after praying and consulting her family.

The Plainwell Republican said she doesn’t think the powers-that-be in Lansing who orchestrated her ouster last week should have the final word on her political fate.

“I’ve always maintained that I thought the decision should be up to the voters,” Gamrat told The Detroit News. “I think that they ought to have a voice in this matter.”

Gamrat said she received an outpouring of support in the district — including a hug from a jogger recently — which influenced her decision to try to win back her House seat.

“She felt bad for what I had been put through and thought God still had a plan for me,” Gamrat said.

House sergeants escort state Rep. Todd Courser, standing left, from the chamber after he signed a letter of resignation in Lansing, Mich. on Sept. 11, 2015.

Gamrat said she has experienced “a lot of healing” in the six days since the Michigan House of Representatives voted 91-12 at 4:13 a.m. last Friday to expel her. The Michigan Constitution prohibits a member from being “expelled a second time for the same cause.”

Gamrat argued on the House floor for a censure from her colleagues after claiming last Thursday afternoon that House attorneys tricked her into admitting to misconduct charges under the belief that she would be reprimanded rather than expelled. House Republican leaders denounced her, saying they never agreed to a predetermined punishment.

Gamrat’s decision to try to win back her seat was panned by some fellow Republicans, including her former chief of staff.

“Cindy Gamrat's personal actions and penchant for dishonesty have indelibly tarnished the conservative movement in Michigan,” former Gamrat aide Keith Allard said.

Gamrat’s decision came as former state Rep. Todd Courser said Wednesday he doesn’t know if he will file to run for his old House District 82 seat in Lapeer County after resigning from office last Friday an hour before Gamrat’s ouster. Courser has admitted to covering up an extramarital affair with Gamrat and misusing taxpayer resources.

The presence of a freshly ousted legislator adds a new dynamic to the Nov. 3 GOP primary for finishing the term Gamrat won last November. A special general election for the safe Republican seat is scheduled for March 8, the day of Michigan’s presidential primary.

Mary Whiteford, an Allegan County Republican activist who finished a close second to Gamrat in the August 2014 primary, has filed to run as well. A pediatric emergency nurse from Casco Township near South Haven, Whiteford lost her bid to become the Michigan Republican Party’s new national committeewoman earlier this year.

Whiteford declined to respond directly to Gamrat’s candidacy but said she now has more than 50 endorsements and plans to keep attending meetings and listening to residents’ concerns.

“There is a way to vote conservatively and still have a voice in the (House Republican) caucus, and I’m going to give constituents that voice,” Whiteford said. “I’ve got such great people in my county, living their lives and taking care of their families, and they deserve a voice.”

Other GOP candidates who have filed for the seat are Allegan County Commissioner Bill Sage of Trowbridge Township; Martin resident Shannon Szukala, who is a member of the Grand Rapids tea party called the River City Patriots; and Allegan County law clerk Kevin Travis of Hopkins, who also has been a Kent County worker and an analyst for drugmaker Perrigo Co.

County Commissioner Jim Storey of Holland, also a Republican, has announced his intention to run. The Allegan County Democratic Party says retired federal judge David Gernant of Plainwell plans to announce his candidacy at a Friday 3 p.m. courthouse event.

The deadline to file for the Courser and Gamrat seats is 4 p.m. Friday.

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

The News’ story 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.

Courser told WKAR’s “Off the Record” that his wife would have a veto over his decision to seek public office.

“Really we’re walking through, trying to do the healing,” the Lapeer Republican said in an interview that will air on television Friday. “I have not made a decision.”

“I’m not leaning. You look at it every day — kind of like the expulsion. ... I’m just still trying to get up in the morning, how’s that? There’s a lot of personal turmoil.”

Attorney General Bill Schuette, who is investigating the Courser-Gamrat matter and is a fellow Republican, declined to weigh in Thursday on whether either should run for their seats again.

“People will make decisions whether or not they desire to stand for election, and voters will make a decision at the ballot box, period,” Schuette told reporters on a Thursday conference call.

Schuette said his office began its investigation Sept. 4 — a week before the House formally requested one.

“It will be thorough and extensive without fear or favor — no matter where the chips fall. Beyond that, we never comment about the details of any investigation,” he said.

Schuette also said the investigation was not prompted by an earlier request from House Minority Leader Tim Greimel, D-Auburn Hills.

“I made a decision and thought it was appropriate,” he said. “I really won’t go beyond that.”

He noted the investigation is a joint one with the Michigan State Police, but wouldn’t detail its scope, such as whether it will potentially include other lawmakers such as House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant.

During the “Off the Record” interview, Courser used a lighter tone at times to discuss the aftermath of the scandal.

“I don’t know if you guys know this,” he said. “This is my first worldwide sex scandal and cover-up, so there are probably some things I should have done differently — if we’re looking back on that.”

Detroit News Staff Writer Gary Heinlein contributed.