In what can only be described as a dramatic day in Michigan politics, House legislators convened for over 14 hours yesterday to consider the matter of expelling philandering liars Cindy Gamrat and Todd Courser from their institution. The first two rounds of votes failed to oust the two as Democrats held their position, many refusing to cast a vote, in order to ensure that a full investigation by an independent agency with under-oath testimony from everyone involved. During that time Courser belligerently held his own ground, refusing to resign and posting to Facebook asking for his supporters’ prayers. Gamrat went to the press to complain that she had been tricked into signing off on the process and findings of the “Select Committee to Examine the Qualifications of Representatives Cindy Gamrat and Todd Courser” which ended up recommending expulsion instead of censure for her anyway. “It was understood to me [sic] that this is what the committee needed for censure and, if I didn’t sign it, it would get very ugly. I was promised that … that both barrels would be opened against me,” Gamrat whined to reporters.
As the day unfolded, Republicans fanned out across the media to accuse Democrats of “playing politics”, expressing “concern”, and finding their actions “troubling.” On social media, self-described liberals attacked their own. Even Margaret Guerrero-Deluca, the Democrat who ran against Courser in 2014, wrote, “It should not be about politics but about ethics or lack of. I am afraid that this ‘Republican’ scandal will somehow become mud on Democrats face by not doing the right thing when given the chance. And we all know the Republicans will jump at the chance to say this proves their case that the Dems are not willing to work together.”
My response to Guerrero-Deluca and many others last evening was that Michigan Democrats are routinely accused of being “spineless” for not standing up to Republicans. Then, when they actually do that, they are berated for “playing politics”. Here’s the thing: Republicans learned long ago that voters have short memories so they do whatever the hell they want until about six months before an election. Democrats, on the other hand, too often wring their hands and worry if they’re gonna get mud on their face for standing up for what’s right.
If you've been complaining that @MIHouseDems haven't been standing up 2 Republicans, support them now b/c that's exactly what they're doing
— Chris Savage (@Eclectablog) September 11, 2015
Throughout the evening Democrats sent out press releases explaining why they were refusing to support the expulsion votes.
Ann Arbor Rep. Adam Zemke:
It is essential in every circumstance in which the Legislature needs to police itself that the citizens of Michigan can believe without a doubt that it does so in a fair and just fashion. The politics and hypocrisy of Representatives Courser and Gamrat aside, what is ultimately at stake here is the restoration of trust in our Legislature.
52nd District Rep. Gretchen Driskell:
While we, like many of our fellow Democrats, want to get back to work on serious issues for the people of Michigan, it is obvious that due process was not appropriately followed here. Representatives Courser and Gamrat should absolutely be held accountable for their actions, but rushing to an expulsion vote does nothing to help increase the integrity of our Legislature.
Ypsilanti-area Rep. David Rutledge:
Why did the Speaker’s office permit the whistleblowing staff to be fired? Why were the whistleblowers not subpoenaed and questioned under oath? And why bring the resolution to expel before House members had a reasonable time to review the 800 page report? In a situation like this, the only thing we can trust as members of the House is that the process is fair. If we can’t trust the process, then we have chaos.
Democratic House Leader Tim Greimel:
My fellow Democrats are simply asking for a full, accountable and transparent investigation before we take an action that has only occurred a few times in the history of this state. We believe it is not too much to ask for the select committee to exercise due diligence, follow due process and have a complete picture of what happened, and who knew about it and when, before taking such an extreme step as expulsion. The actions of the two representatives were indeed egregious, and removing them from office may be warranted. However, the purpose of the investigation, and whatever action the committee deemed appropriate, was supposed to restore the faith and trust of the public to this body. When the committee members struck relevant testimony from the record, disallowed the subpoena of material witnesses and refused to initiate an independent investigation, they are leaving questions unanswered raising doubt in the outcome. We cannot vote for expulsion until we have a full picture of the issue at hand.
As the clock ticked past midnight with two failed votes behind them and Democrats standing firm, a new session was rung in and deal-making got intense. Republicans approached Democrats to find what they needed to do to get their votes. Their demand was simple: promise an independent investigation where testimony is taken under oath so that the full story is told. If Republican House Speaker Kevin Cotter didn’t act appropriately, that needs to be revealed. Because if he HAD acted appropriately and early, this entire drama could have been averted. If his lack of action extended that, the citizens of Michigan deserve to know and he and his staff should be held accountable. The fact that the Select Committee decided to scrub his former Chief of Staff’s testimony from the public record tells us that there may well be a second cover-up going on beyond the one Courser and Gamrat engaged in.
And then it happened. Republicans agreed to call for investigations by the Michigan State Police and Attorney General Bill Schuette to ensure that all the facts are known and that anyone who acted inappropriately – including Cotter himself – is held accountable.
With the handwriting now on the wall, at around 3 a.m., Courser courageously penned a quick resignation note, handed it in, collected his personal belongings, and was escorted from the House floor by three red-coated Sergeants at Arms who confiscated his keycard and sent him home in disgrace to a wife who he says hates him and former constituents who are disgusted at his shameful actions.
Gamrat, however, didn’t go so gracefully. She took to the podium to once again beg for censure. However, at just after 4 a.m., over 14 hours after the House floor debate began, the House voted 91-12 to expel her. She, too, was escorted out in disgrace. She returns to a husband who reportedly has tracked her and secretly recorded her over the past months as she cheated on him with Courser.
This morning I spoke with Leader Greimel and asked him if there was any difficulty holding together his caucus as the drama unfolded in the legislature. “Like on any issue there were diverse views on how to proceed,” he told me. “But we were able to find common ground in calling for a full criminal investigation by the Michigan State Police and the Attorney General’s office which paved the way for us joining the Republicans in ousting these two scoundrels from the legislature.”
I asked Speaker Greimel how confident he was that the investigations will proceed. “I was pleased to see Governor Rick Snyder come out this morning in support of the Michigan State Police investigation as called for in the resolution,” he said, indicating that Snyder’s statement should help considerably. “It remains to be seen whether or not Attorney General Bill Schuette will actually report for duty and conduct the investigation that we’ve been calling on for two weeks now. I think it will be difficult for him NOT to, given the Michigan State Police investigation and the resolution that we passed this morning.”
In terms of what’s next, Speaker Greimel told me that Democrats are looking forward to getting back to the business of the State Legislature. “Now we can focus on more substantive issues facing our state like fixing the roads,” he said. “Republicans have been in control for four years and have been unable to come up with a plan. We look forward to being part of a solution that’s fair, that lowers the weight limits on our roads, and that asks corporations to pay their fair share in fixing our roads and bridges. We need to get on with dealing with this and other important issues in Michigan.”
Moving forward, Governor Rick Snyder will now decide when the elections to replace Courser and Gamrat will take place.
This was a win for transparency, integrity, and accountability in the Michigan State Legislature and we have the Michigan Democrats who bravely stood up to a Republican effort to “sweep things under the rug” to use Tim Greimel’s phrasing in order to protect Speaker Cotter and his staff from any scrutiny to thank for it.
For those who are accusing the Democrats of “playing politics”, I’ll say this: the ones playing politics in this whole situation were the Republicans. They are the ones who tried to make this go away quickly without the necessary full investigation. They are the ones who tried to portray Democrats as being obstructionists when Democrats were simply arguing for good government over “good politics”. They did the right thing and they should be thanked and lauded for their actions, not derided for not going along with the Republican charade.
Kudos to the Michigan House Democrats. You did us proud.