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Courser files to run as a crowded field of challengers fumes

September 22, 2015

Former Rep. Todd COURSER (R-Lapeer), who resigned from the House just one week ago so he wouldn’t be forcibly expelled, filed Friday to run in the crowded special election to fill his old seat.

Courser announced his new campaign during an appearance on CNN this morning, just hours before the 4 p.m. filing deadline. The news infuriated many of the 10 other Republican candidates who’ve also filed to run for the 82nd House District seat in a special Nov. 3 primary. 

And they didn’t hold back their feelings in interviews today. 

“In my opinion, Todd seeks the biggest stage because it’s all about Todd,” said Lapeer County Commissioner Ian KEMPF, of Imlay City. “That’s what he’s done all throughout the last eight months. The people of Lapeer County take a second seat.”

He continued, focusing on Courser’s CNN announcement, “There’s nothing that surprises me about that. Other than that CNN found it that interesting.”

Gary HOWELL, president of the Lapeer County Intermediate School District (ISD), called Courser’s filing “a travesty.” And Jan PEABODY, Lapeer County GOP chair, said Courser’s decision to run was “sad.”

GOP consultant Jake DAVISON, who’s also filed to run, responded, “I’m appalled not just that he would have the nerve to file for office again but that he would embarrass the entire county on national television by letting a national television audience know he’s from our county.”

And former Rep. Kevin DALEY, a mild-mannered former lawmaker who held the 82nd District seat up until 2014, called Courser’s filing “absolutely ludicrous.”

“This gentleman has cost this community a lot of heartache,” Daley said. 

“It just adds to the turmoil in the community,” he added of the filing. “It’s time for this man to back off.”

By the 4 p.m. deadline, 11 Republicans and three Democrats had filed to run for the GOP-leaning 82nd District seat. Courser himself filed this afternoon after his interview with CNN. 

During that interview, Courser said regardless of his political and moral failings, the House report that found he misused public funds and committed misconduct “was filled with a lot of accusations and very little evidence in regards to wrongdoing.”

That report and the resulting effort to expel Courser from the House came after Courser orchestrated a scheme to send out fake emails making bizarre allegations against himself in order to cloud real allegations about his affair with former Rep. Cindy GAMRAT (R-Plainwell). 

Gamrat was expelled last week, but Courser decided to resign early last Friday morning instead of face an expulsion vote by colleagues, who would have certainly not come down on his side.

Courser told CNN that the voters should be able to have their say in the matter and get a chance to hear about his record before the drama that played out in the media on such a large scale. 

“Nobody has failed really politically as large as I have,” he said. “And yet I do think the voters need to take that into consideration and look at the record that I have.”

In an email blast today, Courser added that his wife encouraged him on Thursday to get in the special election. 

“The voters didn’t have a chance to decide. The decision was taken from them,” Courser said in the email quoting his wife. 

After his filing this afternoon, Courser was seen doing media interviews outside the Lapeer County clerk’s office. 

Arcadia Twp. Clerk Sharna SMITH, who also filed for the 82nd District seat, said she stuck around after her filing to see if Courser “was really going to put Lapeer County through this again.”

Smith, like others, noted that there will be a cost to put on the countywide special election. Only about two Lapeer County municipalities were already planning to have elections on Nov. 3. 

“I just can’t help but think he does it for promotional purposes for himself,” Smith said. 

Both Smith, an elected official herself, and Peabody, the local GOP chair, ran in the 2014 GOP primary against Courser. 

In that four-way race, Courser got 36 percent of the vote. Peabody came in second with 33 percent. Smith got fourth with 13 percent. 

This time around, however, the race will also feature Howell, a long-time ISD board member who came in second in a House race in 2008 — Courser came in third that same 2008 race — and Kempf, who’s been elected to the county commission seven times. 

On top of those names are Davison, a Republican political consultant from Lapeer, and Chris TUSKI, an engineer from Lapeer who’s already won Daley’s endorsement. 

Daley represented the 82nd District for three terms and is serving as Tuski’s campaign chair for the special election. 

Tuski described himself as a political outsider who could capitalize on an anti-government insider mood that’s pushed Donald TRUMP and Ben CARSON to the top of GOP presidential polling. Tuski has never run for public office before. 

“If people are interested in somebody taking a fresh look at government, I’m their candidate,” Tuski said. 

The other GOP candidates in the race are: James DEWILDE, a retired Lapeer resident who worked as an adjunct professor at Davenport University; Allan LANDOSKY, a General Motors retiree who said he was once active in Oakland County politics; Russ ADAMS, a father of six who works as a firefighter in Southfield; and Rick GUERRERO Jr., of Imlay City. 

With a field of 11, the candidates voiced varying degrees of concern over whether the crowded ballot could divide up voters and help Courser win back the seat. 

Howell said the large field was suspicious. And Daley said it was “very unusual to have that many names thrown in the ring.”

Both Howell and Peabody, who’ve been heavily involved in Republican politics in Lapeer County, said this afternoon they had never heard of at least three of the other candidates. 

MIRS talked to nine of the 10 GOP candidates that will be running against Courser and the wide majority of them said they had no relationship with the former lawmaker. 

Landosky said he knew Courser “in passing” but had previously donated money to Courser. But Landosky said he was shocked and disappointed by Courser’s behavior in Lansing. 

“The individuals I’ve talk to inside of Lapeer, basically don’t give him any chance,” Landosky said of Courser’s electoral prospects this year. 

Dewilde said Courser has “the right to do whatever he wishes” when it comes to his re-election campaign. 

As for his own campaign, Dewilde said he wants to give back to the community. 

“I retired a couple years back,” he said. “I figured I’ve taken a lot from the community, it was time to give a little back.”

Adams said he moved to Lapeer County at the beginning of the year. In the 1990s he was a village trustee in Oakland County. 

As a state lawmaker, Adams said he wants to increase the number of jobs, support schools and put families first. 

On the number of candidates in the 82nd House District race, Adams responded, “It absolutely concerns me.” However, he continued, “I would hope that we could count on the community to recognize the fraud that he is.”

Davison, Kempf and Smith all said today that they weren’t concerned about Courser having a better chance in a crowded field. 

“It wouldn’t matter if 100 candidates got in. I don’t think it’s possible,” Davison said of Courser winning. 

“You are hard pressed to find a Courser supporter anywhere in Lapeer County,” Kempf added, “regardless of what Mr. Courser portrays in the media.” 

But Howell and Peabody, who could be two of the early favorites in the race, both voiced some level of concern about the size of the field. 

“Yes, it’s a danger,” Howell said. “We really should have coalesced around one strong candidate.” 

Howell said his message to voters is going to be that he’s the most experienced candidate on the ballot. That experience will allow him to be effective in Lansing, he argued. 

Peabody said the size of the field was a “concern.” But it’s possible, she said, that some candidates could drop out over the weekend. 

“I am in the race to create jobs,” Peabody said of her own campaign. “I am not content with the unemployment rate in Lapeer County being 8 percent.” 

As for Daley, he said there are a couple of good candidates in the crowded race. And he said the voters of Lapeer County are too smart to allow Courser to get back in office. 

“I would certainly have enough faith that we are smart enough in Lapeer County to not make that huge of a mistake to put him back in,” as Daley put it. 

Courser has made the county look bad, Daley said. And Daley emphasized that it’s a county that’s home to many great people. 

“It’s just tearing our community apart,” Daley said. “And we don’t deserve that.”

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