Editor's Note: Detroit lawmaker ditches her constituents

Ingrid Jacques
The Detroit News

If you or I decided to skip work repeatedly and without excuse, there’s little doubt what would happen. 

We wouldn’t have a paycheck anymore.  

"Even before Cook Scott stopped coming to work, she wasn’t doing a stellar job."

But Michigan lawmakers get to play by different rules. Thankfully, most take their role seriously, and show up for work and fulfill their elected duty of representing the citizens who elected them.

Rep. Bettie Cook Scott isn’t one of those.

The term-limited state representative from Detroit made headlines recently, when local station Fox 2 brought her misdeeds to light. Since Cook Scott lost in the August primary for state Senate, she’s reportedly not been in Lansing doing her job at all. And she doesn’t have a good reason for skipping work. She’s clearly a sore loser. That was obvious this summer, when she went around to primary polling locations, telling voters not to support the “ching chong” -- a racial slur in reference to her opponent Rep. Stephanie Chang, also of Detroit. Chang, who is Asian American, handily beat Cook Scott.

Despite her negligence, Cook Scott’s still making her taxpayer-paid salary of nearly $72,000 -- not to mention thousands in other perks.

What’s frustrating is that there’s little House leadership can do.

Gideon D’Assandro, spokesman for House Speaker Tom Leonard, R-DeWitt, says the speaker has stepped in to ensure there’s oversight of Cook Scott’s staff -- since she wasn’t doing it. The House Business Office will make sure the staff comes in “to provide services to the people of Detroit.”

D’Assandro says one member of Cook Scott’s staff hadn’t been coming in since September, so he hasn’t been getting paid. Another part-time staffer was still coming to work.

But Leonard can’t do anything on his own to punish misbehaving lawmakers.

“The only repercussion comes from either the voters, like her [Cook Scott] not making it to the Senate, or from a formal censure/expulsion on behalf of the entire House,” says D’Assandro.

Yet that is a lengthy process, and takes an investigation, special committee, hearings and a final vote. The last time that happened was when the House in 2015 voted to expel Plainwell Republican Rep. Cindy Gamrat for using taxpayer resources to cover up her affair with a fellow lawmaker.

Even before Cook Scott stopped coming to work, she wasn’t doing a stellar job. The Mackinac Center for Public Policy tracks the votes of all lawmakers, and found that over her three terms in the House, Cook Scott missed 584 votes -- and 197 votes this session alone.

This is another reason voters must choose their elected leaders carefully.

It’s to their detriment when their concerns aren’t being heard or represented in state government.