Indicted state Rep. Inman facing recall campaign

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Rep. Larry Inman, R-Traverse City, discusses his recent indictment on bribery charges inside his Lansing office.

Lansing — Activists in Grand Traverse County are launching a campaign to recall and remove from office embattled Republican state Rep. Larry Inman as he prepares to stand trial on federal bribery and extortion charges.

Recall petition language submitted Friday to the Michigan Board of State Canvassers notes Inman was indicted in May on three felony counts and has missed more 80 votes while refusing to resign during an extended leave of absence.

The petition also explains that an attorney for Inman, who is seeking treatment for opioid addiction, has filed a notice asserting his client may use a “diminished capacity” defense at trial. He’s pleaded not guilty to all charges.

If approved by canvassers, organizers would need to collect at least 12,000 signatures in 60 days to force a recall election. While it is a high threshold that has rarely been met, former Grand Traverse County Commissioner Sondra Hardy is confident the recall group will succeed.

“The citizens of Grand Traverse County are pretty unhappy, and there’s a lot of people here,” Hardy told The Detroit News, arguing Inman’s absence has left his district without adequate representation in Lansing. “We will be going door to door, and we don’t think we’ll have any trouble.”

Attorney Chris Cook, who is representing Inman in the federal case, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Earlier this month, Cook said Inman was receiving outpatient treatment for opioid addiction but was also considering inpatient facilities.

The third-term Republican, who lives in Williamsburg near Traverse City, has resisted bipartisan calls to resign, including repeated suggestions by House Speaker Lee Chatfield of Levering and other colleagues in the Republican caucus.

Inman is accused of attempting to sell his vote on a controversial 2018 initiative that repealed the state’s prevailing wage law for construction workers. The grand jury indictment against him included a series of text messages he sent to a representative and lobbyist for the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights.

Inman has not attended a House session since May 15, when the U.S. Attorneys Office for the Western District of Michigan announced the charges against him.

Hardy noted he’s missed important votes on state budgets, along with bills to ban electronic cigarette sales to minors and additional sex abuse prevention regulations inspired by the Larry Nassar scandal at Michigan State University.

Additionally, local officials are seeking legislative help to redesignate a portion of a former state mental hospital that has been redeveloped as the Grand Traverse Commons, she said. Inman isn’t in Lansing to assist the effort.

“This has been going on now since March,” Hardy said. In the private sector, “nobody would ever pay an employee who sat out everything and collected his salary.”

Hardy described herself as a “Milliken Republican” who worked under former Gov. John Engler and said the Inman recall effort is non-partisan. But the six-member board includes Democratic donors and officials, including County Commissioner Betsy Coffia.

Voters have not successfully recalled a Michigan legislator since 2011, when education unions targeted Grand Blanc Republican Rep. Paul Scott over his role in controversial teacher tenure reform legislation.

Lawmakers toughened recall rules the following year, making it harder to oust sitting officials by shrinking the window to collect signatures from 90 to 60 days. Under a 2012 law, would-be opponents must win a primary election before facing off against the incumbent legislator.

Inman had been set to stand trial in early August, but Grand Rapids Chief U.S. District Court Judge Robert J. Jonker recently agreed to delay the case while federal prosecutors seek additional medical documentation from the state lawmaker and decide whether to pursue a court-ordered mental examination.

Inman won re-election last fall by 349 votes over Democratic challenger Dan O’Neil.

Democrats are hoping to flip the seat should Inman be recalled or resign. The Brixie Blue Wave Fund associated with Meridian Township Rep. Julie Brixie, vice campaign chair for House Democrats, this month used the possibility of an Inman special election to solicit contributions, citing “a unique opportunity” in Traverse City.