Outside groups hit Republicans challengers in Gamrat, Courser state House primaries
Lansing — Outside groups have stepped up their efforts to influence two closely watched special Republican primaries in Lapeer and Allegan counties to fill the Michigan House seats left vacant by the scandalous departures of former Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat.
Courser and Gamrat are on the ballot Tuesday. But their attempted comebacks are being largely ignored by politically active groups that focused money and campaign mail around the perceived front-runners in the 82nd and 80th House districts.
Michigan’s Voice, a mystery political group launched by Lansing attorney Richard McLellan, has been sending advertisements to votersattacking Republican candidates Jim Storey in Allegan County and Gary Howell in Lapeer County.
The Great Lakes Education Project — a DeVos family-affiliated school choice advocacy group — is supporting Mary Whiteford and Jan Peabody. Senate Majority Floor Leader Mike Kowall, R-White Lake Township, donated $10,000 to Peabody’s campaign.
Both seats are in typically safe Republican districts.
The Gadsden Center, a Hartland-based conservative political group run by tea party activist Wes Nakagiri, has sent voters in Allegan County advertisements suggesting Whiteford would be beholden to lobbyists to pay off her nearly $70,000 in campaign debt — a charge Whiteford denies.
“I have no intention of paying myself back,” said Whiteford, who co-owns a wealth management company with her husband in South Haven.
Nakagiri’s Gadsden Center sent voters a second mailer this week calling her a “flip-flopper” for supporting Common Core education standards before coming out against them.
“Her taking both sides of the issue is something we thought people would want to be made aware of,” Nakagiri said Friday.
Whiteford said Nakagiri’s group is misrepresenting a Facebook post she wrote in 2013 about teachers who support Common Core.
At the time, Whiteford said the national curriculum standards would provide a consistent education for the children of members of the military.
“Am I flip-flopping? I’m learning,” Whiteford said. “I’m consistent in keeping the federal government out of education.”
The mailers from Michigan’s Voice claimed Storey “supported Obama’s failed stimulus program,” citing a vote in 2009 on Holland’s public works board to apply for a federal grant for testing carbon sequestration at the city’s coal power plant.
“We didn’t get the grant,” said Storey, an Allegan County commissioner.
Nonprofit corporations such as Michigan’s Voice and the Gadsden Center can engage in so-called voter education efforts by sending out politically tinged ads that stop short of telling voters for whom to cast their votes.
“You ought not to flood those voters’ mailboxes with lies,” Storey said.
The Michigan’s Voice mailers contain the Okemos law office address of Republican attorneys McLellan and Eric Doster.
McLellan said he registered the nonprofit corporation Oct. 26 at the behest of Doster, who did not return messages seeking comment.
In Lapeer County, Michigan’s Voice sent mailers targeting Howell for voting to place a road funding millage on the ballot.
Howell is seen as a leading contender against Peabody for Courser’s seat in a crowded 11-candidate field.
“It may be legal, but Michigan’s Voice is nothing. It’s just a front,” said David Forsmark, a political consultant working for Howell.