Two Republicans, one Dem win special House elections

Jim Lynch
The Detroit News

Republicans cruised to victory Tuesday in special elections to fill two state House of Representatives seats vacated because of a sex scandal, while Democrats kept control of a vacated seat in Kent County.

The elections filled vacancies created by former Reps. Todd Courser of the Lapeer area and Cindy Gamrat of west Michigan’s Plainwell, who were defeated in special November Republican primaries triggered by their scandal-plagued departures, and Rep. Brandon Dillon of Grand Rapids, who left in August to become chairman of the Michigan Democratic Party.

For Courser’s seat in Lapeer County, county Road Commission Chairman Gary Howell won big over Democrat Margaret Guerrero DeLuca, a former Imlay City mayor who lost the 2014 general election to Courser. Howell is a 68-year-old farmer and retired lawyer from North Branch who is a member of the county’s intermediate school board.

For Gamrat’s seat in Allegan County, Mary Whiteford of South Haven trounced Democrat David Gernant, a retired judge. Whiteford is a 50-year-old former emergency room nurse who co-owns a wealth management firm with her husband in South Haven. She had lost the August 2014 primary to Gamrat before besting her in the November special primary.

Michigan Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel released a statement calling Howell and Whiteford “exceptional public servants” who will put “Michigan on the comeback trail.”

Incomplete returns had Howell leading DeLuca, 60 percent to 35 percent, and Whiteford over Gernant, 64 percent to 29 percent.

In the Kent County race, Democrat Grand Rapids school board member David LaGrand easily beat Republican Blake Edmonds of Grand Rapids. With all but one precinct reporting, LaGrand had 77 percent of the votes.

“Obviously I want to do a good job representing constituents in the district,” LaGrand said following a victory speech, adding that he intends to focus on criminal justice reform, environmental issues and schools.

The Courser-Gamrat situation came to a boil in September when their extramarital affair became public knowledge. The Republican-controlled House voted to oust Gamrat, while Course opted to resign. Both faced charges of misconduct and misuse of taxpayer resources.

Both are facing misconduct in office charges from Attorney General Bill Schuette.