Snyder calls election; officials say Banks can’t run

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Michigan officials believe the state constitution will prohibit recently resigned state Rep. Brian Banks for running for his old seat in a special election announced Thursday by Gov. Rick Snyder, but legislators are also considering a measure that could definitively deny him the chance.

Snyder has called a special primary election for Aug. 8 and a special general election for Nov. 7. Candidates must file for the primary by 4 p.m. April 25.

Both dates for the 1st House District race coincide with already scheduled elections, which the governor’s office said will minimize costs for local governments. It also means Banks’ seat will sit vacant for more than nine months.

His district, traditionally represented by Democrats, includes part of the east side of Detroit, Harper Woods, Grosse Pointe Woods and part of the Village of Grosse Pointe Shores.

“We wanted to hold this special election as soon as possible to ensure the people in the 1st House District have a representative in the House, but we also needed to keep in mind the additional cost for communities if we were to schedule a completely separate election for just this office," Snyder said in a statement.

“It is my hope that the arrangement will streamline the process and costs for the communities affected while also giving voters time to adequately research the candidates who may decide to run for election.”

Banks, a Harper Woods Democrat who resigned Feb. 6 as part of a plea deal to avoid felony charges in a bank loan fraud case, has not said whether he intends to campaign for his old job but on Feb. 8 announced a political fundraiser to support “his next move.”

He did not immediately respond Thursday to a request for comment on his future political plans.

The offices of both Attorney General Bill Schuette and Secretary of State Ruth Johnson believe constitutional term-limit provisions prohibit Banks from running in the special election.

The Michigan Constitution “is pretty clear,” according to Schuette spokeswoman Andrea Bitely.

She pointed to sections stating that no person can be elected to the state House more than three times, and that serving at least half a term counts as one of those times. Because Banks has served a third term, if he was elected in November to serve more than half the remaining two-year session, it could be considered a fourth term.

“We defer to the AG's Office, but that's our understanding,” Secretary of State spokesman Fred Woodhams said.

Rep. Aaron Miller, who chairs the state House Committee on Elections and Ethics, said Thursday he generally agrees with that assessment but believes the constitution remains somewhat “ambiguous” on Banks’ ability to run in a special election.

“I don’t think that’s anybody’s fault. I just think this potential case is the first of its kind, and so the constitution doesn’t directly discuss it,” Miller said in a legislative hearing.

Legislation he introduced Tuesday would make any resignation or expulsion effective for an entire two-year term in the state House or four-year term in the Senate.

A similar bill passed the state House last session, largely in response to former Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, who had resigned and been expelled in September 2015 after their sex scandal rocked the state Capitol. Courser and Gamrat both ran for re-election that same year but lost in their respective Republican primaries.

“This bill applies to the incidents we had last session,” said Miller, whose committee did not vote on the legislation but could next week.

Pam Sossi of Harper Woods and Washington Youson of Detroit, each of whom lost to Banks in the August Democratic primary, have both said they plan to run for the seat again.

Banks this month pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of making false statements of financial condition as part of a deal that saw Schuette’s office drop two felony charges against him.

He was accused of submitting fake pay stubs while seeking a personal loan from the Detroit Metropolitan Credit Union in June 2010. Banks said the loan was to pay for a course as he prepared for the Michigan Bar Exam.

Banks could face up to a year in jail on the misdemeanor conviction. His sentencing is scheduled for Friday.