Nichols: The real tragedy of Courser-Gamrat

Michael J. Nichols

The recent resignation of Republican State Representative Todd Courser and the expulsion of Republican State Representative Cindy Gamrat leave a bad taste for me

Ultimately, the fate of Cindy Gamrat was made by her fellow representatives of the Michigan House. There were 103 votes tallied and at least 97 of those votes read not one word of the 833 page report. That, as identified by Democrat Representative Samir (Sam) Singh on the House floor, was the biggest flaw in this rushed process.

It was not until the leaders of the two caucuses agreed to pass a resolution that referred the investigation to the Michigan State Police and the Republican attorney general that the two-thirds votes required under Rule 52 of the House of Representatives were mustered. Was this more a need by the Republican caucus to purge itself of two members of the tea party wing who were abrasive and secured no friends in the state House?

I have a bias that is important to disclose: I am Cindy Gamrat’s attorney. I have spent the better part of every waking hour trying to devour the report and roughly six hours of audio records with a team of lawyers and Gamrat herself. I then spent significant time engaged in negotiating a censure agreement and convincing Gamrat to read a relatively brief statement of contrition that was pretty straightforward but for one significant paragraph. It was no easy task to convince her to swallow this pill. The statement followed a three-hour negotiating session with the House Majority Counsel.

I have no doubt that this censure agreement would have been the resolution voted on by the House but for its undoing during critical hours of infighting among the Republican caucus against the background of a relatively young speaker.

Let us all face it: Gamrat was essentially stoned. She made no friends; was a lightning rod and stood as an independent. Those facts differentiated this sinner from the other 134 elected representative currently serving under the Capitol dome.

Here the question was consistently defined by the public attention brought about by Courser’s lurid and ridiculous email that he sent through the help of some intermediary henchmen. No one has disputed, nor can anyone dispute that Gamrat knew only that he intended to ask a staff person to send an email that was over the top. The details of this email were for Courser alone to devise, and he did. She never had a chance to read it before its distribution and never would have approved its despicable content, she tells me. From what I know of her I believe that claim.

Gamrat was very nervous and concerned when we hammered out the details of the censure request that she would be painted as having agreed with every word of the evidence. We agreed only that the emails and audio were accurate. Gamrat felt somewhat comfortable after reviewing the evidence and consulting with me that there were four things that she committed: An affair with another member; a meeting in the House Office on May 20, after the other member had asked a staffer to help devise and send the so-called “over-the-top” email; because this meeting occurred in the House Office Building and personal issues were discussed it violated House Rule 74 of using state resources for personal reasons; that she knew of the general plan but not the contents for the over-the-top email, and finally, there was an unhealthy attempt to combine offices of the two representatives and a blur of personal, state and political business.

Blending the personal, political and state business is a fact of life around Lansing. Lansing is a great community. It is recovering now from an ugly chapter in which the ultimate conclusion was an embarrassing public stoning of the female side of an act that occurs far too often in American society and Michigan politics. Gamrat sat head down as the clock struck 4 a.m. and members were telling her and I that the votes were there to expel her and she was better off resigning. She decided not to do so because as she told reporters later there “is honor in resigning ... but there is also honor in staying and accepting the consequences of your actions.”

I kept thinking to myself “please do not vote on this until you go through the evidence.” It is now too late for that, at least for Cindy Gamrat. Perhaps it is too late for Michigan history when we look back and contemplate the use by this legislature of the awesome power granted it in the state constitution to undo a local election.

Michael J. Nichols is an attorney who represents Rep. Cindy Gamrat.