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There are a lot of reasons not to elect Melissa Gilbert to Congress. By all accounts she is a liberal Democrat who supports the Barack Obama/Hillary Clinton/Nancy Pelosi approach to governing the nation, and America certainly does not need any more of that.

But what Gilbert is not is what a spokesman for her Republican opponent, Congressman Mike Bishop, desperately wants her to be. She is not a “tax cheat.”

Gilbert owes the IRS $360,000 in back taxes. That is a lot of back taxes. She is going to have a hard time repaying it. But there is a difference between being behind on your taxes and being a cheat, and you’d think Republicans would recognize that a citizen in this predicament is very much a victim of a confiscatory tax code that punishes achievement. Instead, Bishop spokesman Stu Sandler said this:

“Hollywood actress and IRS tax cheat Melissa Gilbert owes hundreds of thousands to the IRS and wants to get a government paycheck. Melissa Gilbert can afford to have a stylist for her dog, but cannot pay her taxes. Her values are out of whack with the district.”

He’s wrong.

Citizens who owe more in taxes than they can pay by the due date are supposed to contact the IRS and work out a payment plan. About five years ago, I was in this predicament because my earnings were very high but I also had very high debt service to manage, and that’s not tax-deductible. So the IRS thought I was rich, but I had very little money.

I tried to avoid the issue until the day the IRS sent a gentleman my wife still refers to as Creepy Guy to knock on our front door. Now the visit from Creepy Guy did not mean we were “tax cheats” in the eyes of the IRS, but it did mean we needed to get something worked out with them and do what we committed ourselves to do.

So we did. We got caught up on our taxes over a period of time and at no point were we afoul with the law, precisely because the IRS agreed to our plan and we fulfilled the plan. We were not “tax cheats.” We were people who, for a period of time, had trouble paying our taxes. If Melissa Gilbert’s account of her own situation is accurate, she is even less of a tax cheat than me because she took the initiative to contact the IRS without waiting for Creepy Guy to show up at her house.

The last time I checked, the Republican Party claimed to have sympathy for Americans who face massive tax burdens, and that is supposed to include people who make a lot of money and can afford dog groomers. When such Americans reach out to the IRS to work out payment plans on large amounts of money they owe, you’d think their Republican congressman would if anything serve as their advocate — not publicly berate them as “tax cheats” when they are doing everything the law requires of them.

This is not to say Melissa Gilbert belongs in Congress. I am really not interested in another vote in the House to keep Obamacare, or to sustain the horrible Iran nuclear deal, or to keep funding Planned Parenthood. Bishop is better than Gilbert on all of these issues and many more. But Bishop’s mouthpiece Stu Sandler should either stick to issues like that or put a sock in it.

Dan Calabrese is a contributor to The Politics Blog. Join the discussion at blogs.detroitnews.com/politics.

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