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Courser, Gamrat re-election bids spurring bill to stop similar ones

September 29, 2015

The chair of the House Elections Committee is working on a bill that would prevent future lawmakers who resign or are expelled from immediately being able to run for their old seats.

The re-election campaigns of former Reps. Todd COURSER and Cindy GAMRAT helped inspire the soon-to-be introduced legislation from Rep. Lisa Posthumus LYONS (R-Alto). 

The House expelled Gamrat on Sept. 11 in part because of her involvement in a scheme to cover up her affair with Courser. Courser resigned just before he was going to be expelled. 

However, in less than a week after they left the House, both Courser and Gamrat filed to run in the special elections to fill their old seats. 

While current law clearly allows Courser to run again because he resigned, some lawyers have questioned whether Gamrat is eligible because she was expelled from the Legislature. 

Lyons said she thinks the Bureau of Elections, which found no legal reason that Gamrat couldn’t run again, made the right call because current law is silent on the matter. 

“Do I think it’s the right thing to do? Absolutely not,” Lyons added, however, of Gamrat’s decision to run again. “I think we’ll be taking a look at how to prevent this kind of action in the future.” 

Asked if there could be a bill in the works, Lyons responded, “I won’t say could be. There is a bill in the works.” 

The legislation won’t impact the current situations in Courser and Gamrat’s districts, but going forward, the legislation will aim to prevent lawmakers whose own actions create vacancies from being able to run for their old seats. 

So under the legislation, a future lawmaker who resigns, like Courser did, wouldn’t be able to turn around and immediately run for his or her old seat. 

Monday was the deadline for candidates to withdraw from the Nov. 3 special primary election to begin the process of filling the Courser and Gamrat seats. 

Also Monday, Chris THOMAS, state elections director, announced that he could find no law or Attorney General opinion that would bar Gamrat from being able to run again. And Allegan County Clerk Joyce WATTS, who has worked with Thomas, said Gamrat will indeed be on the ballot in the 80th. 

But that hasn’t stopped the legal questions. 

Rep. Kurt HEISE (R-Plymouth), who served on the committee that recommended that Courser and Gamrat be expelled, noted today that the Secretary of State’s decision wasn’t binding. 

“If I were a candidate in that race right now I would be on the road to Lansing,” Heise said. “I would hire a election law expert, there are several good ones in this town, and I would be filing a lawsuit right now.” 

Heise, a lawyer by trade, said the argument should be that Gamrat’s re-election campaign goes against the Constitution and legislative intent. 

“My argument would be that the intent of the Legislature is to exclude Gamrat from this entire legislative session until the end of 2016,” Heise said. “And she does not have the legal right to put her name back on the ballot.” 

But with ballots in the process of being finalized and printed, even Heise noted that a court would likely have to intervene quickly, perhaps some time this week. 

In response to the legal questions, Gamrat has alleged that “wealthy lawyers from Lansing are working on a plan to limit the choices on the ballot.”

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