Michigan Republicans — September 1, 2015 at 12:37 pm

Michigan GOP House Speaker Cotter absolves himself while Todd Courser goes deeper into BizzaroLand


One of the worst parts about my chronicling of the Gamrat/Courser fiasco is that, as much as I’m sick of it and want to stop, I’m now all but obligated to continue writing about it as things continue to unfold unravel. Today is no exception. We now have the House Business Office (HBO) “Report on the Investigation of Alleged Misconduct of Representative Todd Courser and Representative Cindy Gamrat”, Todd Courser’s typo-filled tome of over 4,000 words constituting his “response”, and another of their former aides stepping forward to dish dirt on the pair.

Starting with HBO’s report, what we have is nine pages from a group controlled by Republican House Speaker Kevin Cotter which absolve Speaker Cotter of any responsibility with only passing mention that “in hindsight”, his office should have investigated complaints by staffers earlier in the process. This allows Cotter to appear like he’s had his hand slapped without actually facing any specific consequences for his lack of action. What we don’t have are any transcripts from interviews or other detailed information on which the HBO’s accusations or suggestions are based. It’s this whitewashing that has Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon Dillon calling the whole process “Nixonian” and has everyone from the MDP to Courser himself calling foul on it.

The report is clear in saying that Courser’s claims that he was being “blackmailed” are completely separate from any of the actions he took to cover up the sordid affair or of any of the many other transgressions named in the report like illegally using his office for political purposes or misusing data he received from constituents to populate the Nation Builder database used for political efforts like non-dead future run for Congress.

Courser’s 4,130-word “response” is a rambling, often repetitive effort to deflect away any efforts to ascribe criminal behavior to his actions. He spends an enormous amount of words blaming his staffers, Republican leadership, and his still-unknown “blackmailer” for the mess he finds himself in.

As is typical of Courser (and a complete embarrassment for someone elected to the legislature), the “response” is full of grammatical errors and typos. For example, he talks about “voracity of the accusations that are being leveled by these former staffers” when he clearly meant “veracity”. Given his own lack of veracity, perhaps it’s not surprising he wouldn’t know the word’s proper spelling.

Courser also blames “extortion” as the reason his Republican colleagues have become such terrific “progressives”:

To me the reason the extortion issue is important is because if this is the type of pressure that is and can be asserted in the background to require a rep to resign, then it can to a much lesser degree be applied to force a vote in a direction, or force a pledge of support, in a critical moment for anything that those who hold such power desire – if knowledge about a person or their family is known that would destroy the rep or their loved ones then it can turn into undue influence on the whole representative process. People always ask me, “Why do people turn to being progressive champions once elected?” Well, don’t wonder “why” anymore, because this is why.

Anyone who describes the current cohort of Republicans as “progressive” is clearly so far out of touch as to warrant deep concern. Those of us who are true progressives openly scoff at such a characterization of our state’s Republican caucus. The notion that there is a cadre of extortionists out there forcing Republicans to vote like progressives is not only absurd given what Michigan Republicans have done since 2010, it’s a paranoid delusion that shows just how far off the edge Courser has gone.

Courser also blames a heart condition for some of his aberrant behavior (like “lying down on the floor during a staff meeting” and “sitting down in the hallway outside the committee hearing room and…lying down up in the corner of the gallery during a long session”), saying that, though he looks normal to everyone around him, he actually feels as though he’s suffering from “cardiac arrest”.

Courser’s demonizing of the staff members he and Gamrat fired in July is undermined significantly by the fact that they gave these same staffers raises in June. Those raises are an odd response given how epically bad they were at their jobs if Courser is to be believed.

One of those staffers, Keith Allard, made statements to MLive yesterday that reveal things that surprise none of us who have been following this story. For example:

We were instructed, in early January, never to give their whereabouts or scheduling information to their spouses. […]

They seemed to lack a basic understanding of the clear line between government taxpayer resources and personal or political work. […]

My take, my opinion, is that their focus was entirely consumed by their personal relationship.

Allard goes on to talk about how he and other staffers tried in vain to get Courser and Gamrat to do the right thing but were constantly rebuffed, even suggesting that Courser felt he and Gamrat didn’t need to know how to do things like file amendments to bills, maintain constituent services, or be informed about legislation they would be voting on.

Allard noted another instance where Gamrat failed to follow proper procedure on the House floor and was required to verbally withdraw more than 20 amendments she had proposed to a budget bill.

“I would receive panicked texts from them on the House floor asking how to vote on bills that were brought up for consideration,” Allard said. “They had no idea, up until very later in their careers, how to pull up and analyze bills (in the House). Their voting record was essentially the Allard voting record on many issues.”

Now that the HBO report is out, a bipartisan panel called the “Select Committee to Examine the Qualifications of Representatives Cindy Gamrat and Todd Courser” has been put together and is meeting this week to figure what to do about the philandering pair. Unlike the HBO, this select committee will have subpoena power and has a couple of Democrats on it to provide some much-needed oversight into the process.

Gamrat actually showed up at the meeting this morning and afterwards told reporters that, rather than have the select committee take action, she thinks it’s something her voters should decide:

“I think that’s for my voters to decide,” Gamrat told a crowd of reporters after the hearing, cameras circling her, an attorney at her side. “I still get support letters every day asking me not to resign, from my constituents, and I’m weighing everything out. There’s a lot to consider in all this. It’s a big decision.”

That, of course, means a recall election, something that is a far better path for Democrats than expulsion or resignation. It’s worth noting that the people heading up recall efforts at this point are not Lapeer and Allegan Democrats but, rather, tea partiers and other Republicans from their districts. I would suggest that if Gamrat thinks “her voters” (i.e., “the herd”) will save her job, she’s woefully mistaken.

In the meantime, Kevin Cotter appears to be avoiding any scrutiny, particularly from the media who were rebuffed in their efforts to see the entire, unsanitized HBO report since the legislature has made itself immune from FOIA requests.

It is, as they say, good to be the king.