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Former Rep. Todd Courser files to run for his old seat

Gary Heinlein, Chad Livengood, and Holly Fournier


A defiant Todd Courser filed Friday to run in a special election for the state House seat from which he resigned under pressure just a week ago.

The tea party conservative Republican arrived at the Lapeer County clerk’s office about 3 p.m. and told a group of reporters he was mistreated by fellow state representatives who last week were prepared to oust him for misconduct. He and ex-Rep. Cindy Gamrat, R-Plainwell, were accused by a House Business Office report of deceit and misuse of taxpayer resources in covering up their extramarital affair and other activities.

“I think this really should have been left up to the voters and voters will have a chance to weigh in,” said the Lapeer Republican. “They haven’t really heard all the good stuff about my time in Lansing.”

Courser argued the investigation and hearings concerning him and Gamrat were “mismanaged all along the way,” and the 833-page report was “based on allegations but very little evidence.”

But he and Gamrat earlier agreed to the findings of the House Business Office report. During his testimony to the special committee that recommended to expel him, Courser said under oath that his earlier fear that the hearings would be unfair “has been dispelled.”

Clad in jeans and a striped shirt, Courser called his candidate filing “a big day.” He said he believes he can win back his House seat and that Republican leaders would have to bow to the will of voters by letting him back in.

If Courser wins the Nov. 3 special primary and March 8 general election, the House still could vote to expel him since he resigned from office. House Republican leaders also have the extraordinary power not to seat an elected representative.

Gideon D’Assandro, a spokesman for House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mount Pleasant, confirmed the constitution empowers House lawmakers to decide if Courser is fit to be seated in the chamber, meaning they could deny him membership if he’s elected next year. Asked Friday if it’s possible, D’Assandro said, “We haven’t discussed that yet.”

Courser joins 10 other Republicans for the Nov. 3 special primary.

They include Lapeer residents Chris Tuski, Jake Davison, James Dewilde, Allan J. Landosky, Russell C. Adams and Jan Peabody, the chairwoman of the Lapeer County Republican Party who lost the August 2014 primary to Courser 36.9 percent-33.1 percent. The other candidates are Ian Kempf of Imlay City, Gary Howell of North Branch, Sharna Cramer Smith of Attica and Rick Guerrero Jr. of Imlay City.

Three Democrats have filed as well. They are Eric Johnson of Lapeer, R. D. Bohm of Dryden and Margaret Guerrero DeLuca of Imlay City, who narrowly lost to Courser in the November 2014 election.

The winners of the primaries would meet in the March 8 special general election.

The crowded field has some House Republicans nervous that Courser could be back in the Legislature by spring.

“In a crowded field like that ... he could survive a primary just based on name ID,” said Rep. Kurt Heise, the Plymouth Republican who served on the House committee that voted last week to expel Courser.

Gamrat, Courser’s partner in the month-long House scandal, filed Thursday to run to win back the 80th District seat the House of Representatives expelled her from a week ago. She faces seven other Republican candidates, including new entrants Eric M. DeWitt of Holland and James A. Siver of Fennville. David Germant of Plainwell is the only Democrat running.

“It’s just another continuation of the lunacy of these two individuals and the fact that they have contempt and disrespect for the Legislature and now the electoral system as well,” Heise said.

The only way to reduce the size of the fields is for candidates to withdraw. They have until 4 p.m. Monday to do so.

Lt. Gov. Brian Calley called the special election to fill Courser and Gamrat’s seats a week ago while Gov. Rick Snyder was on a trade mission in Germany.

“I am surprised that they would really want to jump back in and run,” Calley said Friday in an interview at the Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference. “But, ultimately, it’s a free country and their voters will have the last say.”

Gamrat, ousted early last Friday by a House vote, said she believed her expulsion was too harsh and wants constituents to have the final say about whether she serves in the House.

If Gamrat were to win, the House is prohibited by the state constitution from expelling her for the same cause a second time. But it could decide not to seat her.

Heise said there could be a legal challenge to Gamrat’s filing on grounds that her removal from office should be effective through the end of 2016.

Courser echoed Gamrat’s argument that his district’s voters should decide his political future. “My voting record is one … they’ve been given very good representation,” he said.

Courser introduced 12 bills during his eight months in the Legislature, according to a Mackinac Center for Public Policy analysis. None of the legislation was voted on by House committees.

Courser’s decision to run again was not welcomed by Lapeer residents Paulette Johnson and Paula Proctor.

“Don’t do it, Todd,” the twin sisters urged as he walked toward the county clerk’s office.

“He’s an embarrassment to this community,” Proctor said. “He’s given this community a black eye and for him to do it again (run) is disgusting.”

Johnson said she doubts Courser has any chance to be re-elected.

“I think Lapeer County voters are better than that,” she said. “We’re not a herd.”

Arcadia Township Clerk Smith called Courser’s filing “disappointing.” She added, “But I want to focus on getting Lapeer County moving forward without him. Getting someone in there we can trust is a big deal to me.”

Smith finished last out of four candidates in last year’s 82nd District GOP primary, won by Courser en route to capturing the House seat.

Courser’s filing angered some establishment Republicans attending the state GOP’s Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference at the Grand Hotel.

“What makes him think he’s qualified to represent the district when a week ago he found it necessary to resign?” asked Paul Mitchell, the retired businessman running for Congress who lives in Courser’s Lapeer County district. “Enough is enough.”

Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive, said Courser and Gamrat’s candidacies run counter to their professed fiscal conservative values.

“Interesting that tea party folks who don’t want to spend any money want to have a special election, isn’t it?” Meekhof said. “I think the public is sick of their 15 minutes (of fame).”

Courser resigned at 3:12 a.m. last Friday morning just as House Republican leaders appeared to have the votes from Democrats to boot him from office following five weeks of a raging scandal over his combined office and extramarital liaisons with Gamrat, who was expelled an hour later.

The Michigan State Police and Attorney General’s office are now conducting investigations into whether Courser and Gamrat broke any laws in using a combined office to maintain and cover up their affair.

Gamrat also has defended her record of work in the Legislature.

During her eight-month state House career, she introduced 21 bills, none of which were voted out of committee, according to a Mackinac Center analysis. Five of the bills were introduced on Sept. 9 — about two days before she was expelled.

Dave Agema, Michigan’s Republican National Committeeman, has been a longtime ally of Gamrat’s in west Michigan. He said Friday he advised her against running.

“I thought that she should just go home and get the family in order,” Agema said. “And she told me her husband was in favor of it.”

Agema said both special elections will essentially amount to mid-term referendums on Courser and Gamrat.

“I think the constituents should decide and not the people in the House,” said Agema, a former state representative from Grandville.