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Gamrat expelled after Courser chooses resignation

September 15, 2015

Todd Courser (R-Lapeer) resigned from the House at about 3:12 a.m. Friday, and about an hour later, Cindy Gamrat (R-Plainwell) was expelled 91-12, marking only the fourth time in Michigan history a state lawmaker has been kicked out of office.

The vote to expel Gamrat came after, essentially, a 16-hour House session that saw Republicans work out a deal with Democrats to gather what ended being the 72 votes needed to expel Gamrat. 

Rather than face expulsion, Courser resigned. 

The resignation and expulsion came over a month after The Detroit News released audio recordings of Courser discussing plans to try to cover up rumors of his affair with Gamrat. The plan involved sending out fake emails making more egregious allegations against Courser. 

Eventually, a House Business Office investigation found misconduct and misuse of taxpayer resources by both Courser and Gamrat. 

“I just felt like they were going to go until they got their answer,” Courser said. “That obviously says something. Whether it was the third vote, the fourth vote or the fifth vote, they were going to get the number of Democratic votes that they needed.” 

That wasn’t the case for Gamrat, who refused to resign when asked to by fellow lawmakers, including Rep. Jim Townsend (D-Royal Oak) who spoke with Gamrat on the floor shortly before the vote. 

Gamrat addressed the entire House before the expulsion vote, saying that resigning would be easier, “but sometimes, the easy roads aren’t the best roads to take.” 

“I have done everything I can to redeem this situation,” Gamrat said. “And I am sincerely sorry for what it’s caused.” 

She added, “I still believe that my actions warrant censure but not expulsion.” 

But she couldn’t convince her colleagues, including Democrats who negotiated for new language that requests a copy of the House Business Office’s investigative report on Courser and Gamrat be sent to the Michigan State Police and Attorney General. 

Gamrat declined to talk to the media after her expulsion. Her attorney, Mike Nichols told MIRS, “I’m extremely proud of her right down to the last word this morning. I stand by that person 24/7.” 

House Speaker Kevin Cotter declined to go after Democrats for staying off the voting board for Thursday afternoon, evening and the first three hours of Friday morning. The Democrats said they were concerned by the way the investigation into the two lawmakers was handled. 

They felt the “rushed” process didn’t adequately explore how much the Speaker’s office knew of the lawmaker’s transgressions until audio recordings appeared in The Detroit News. Republicans felt the Democrats were playing politics with the issue, but Cotter declined to go there in his comments after the vote. He talked about the negotiations between the two sides throughout the day gave both sides the opportunity to work together.  

On the today’s proceedings, Cotter was somber in talking with reporters. 

“It’s a sad day,” he said. “It’s nothing to celebrate, but it was a very necessary process. There was a cloud that has been hanging over us. I’m optimistic about our ability to govern going forward. We have a caucus of 61 that is tighter than it’s ever been at 63.” 

The final expulsion vote on Gamrat, HR 141, was 91-12 with five members not voting. Two of those members were absent. 

Rep. Ed McBroom (R-Vulcan), the chair of the committee that examined Courser and Gamrat’s qualifications, repeatedly argued today that expulsion was the right choice for both lawmakers. 

“Today is the day to end this,” McBroom said at one point. “The circus needs to go. And I contend . . . that it was a fair process and that the report is true and that the fact they have done these things should be sufficient for all of us to make the right decision today.” 

Earlier in the session, about 12 hours before the Gamrat expulsion vote, Democrats effectively blocked the resolution to expel Courser over concerns about the legislative process that determined the punishment. 

The House needed 73 votes for HR 139, which would have expelled Courser from the House at about 6:30 p.m. Thursday, but the yes vote tally stalled at 67 votes — six votes short. 

Of the 46 House Democrats, only seven crossed over to support expulsion for Courser. They were Reps. Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids), George Darany (D-Dearborn), Erika Geiss (D-Taylor), John Kivela (D-Marquette), Robert Kosowski (D-Westland), Leslie Love (D-Detroit) and Harvey Santana (D-Detroit) 

Meanwhile, Rep. Martin Howrylak (R-Troy) broke with the GOP caucus to vote in opposition along with Courser and Gamrat. He said he wasn’t convinced the lawmakers’ transgressions reached the level of expulsion.

Democrats slammed the legislative process that led to the expulsion resolution, calling it incomplete and unfair. 

“How can I in good conscience make this decision today? I can’t,” Rep. Sarah Roberts (D-St. Clair Shores) said. “And for the first time in five years, I will be refusing to vote today.” 

In total, 28 House Democrats — about half of the caucus — didn’t vote on the initial measure to expel Courser. 

Republicans, like Rep. Kurt Heise (R-Plymouth), slammed the minority party for playing politics. 

“This process has been more fair and more transparent than any investigation of wrongdoing by any other sitting official,” Heise said in a speech on the House floor. “If you think you can do it better, then go for it.” 

He continued, “Any vote less than expulsion today, you own it. You own it. I’m just telling you folks the work has been done. The process has been fair.” 

After hours of negotiations, Republicans and Democrats eventually agreed to language to request an investigation by the Michigan State Police and Attorney General. That language is embedded in HR 145, which the House also approved Friday morning. 

“House Democrats have called for weeks for an independent law enforcement agency investigation of these very serious allegations related to Reps. Courser and Gamrat,” House Minority Leader Tim Greimel (D-Auburn Hills) said. 

Because of the deal, Greimel said, “We are confident that an independent law enforcement agency investigation will take place and we think that’s critically important to get the full truth of what happened here.” 

The Michigan State Police issued a statement shortly after the vote that confirmed it would honor the legislature’s request to look into any potential criminal wrongdoings by Courser or Gamrat. 

“This matter needs to be resolved and an investigation by MSP will provide even further clarity,” said Gov. Rick Snyder in a statement. “I hope this investigation helps bring closure to the issue for all involved.” 

When it became clear that Democrats and Republicans had a deal, Courser walked to the front of the House chamber, to inform members of leadership that he would resign. 

He was then escorted off the floor. 

Outside the chamber, Courser said he felt like “it was time to turn the page” and “time to heal.” After months, weeks, and a 15-hour day Courser said he thought it was “time to take that step.” 

Asked if he felt the end result was just, Courser said he felt the “process was rushed” and there were some connections with his former staff and House leadership that could have been fleshed out with a subpoena but “somebody else will deal with that. It’s time to turn the corner.” You can hear his comments here. 

About an hour later, the vote took place on Gamrat’s expulsion. After that vote, she was escorted off the floor. 

Of the 12 no votes on expelling Gamrat, 10 came from Democrats, one came from Rep. Martin Howrylak (R-Troy) and one came from Gamrat. Those voting no were Reps. Brian Banks (D-Detroit), Wendell Byrd (D-Detroit), Gretchen Driskell (D-Saline), LaTanya Garrett (D-Detroit), Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor), Rose Mary Robinson (D-Detroit), Sam Singh (D-East Lansing), Alberta Tinsley Talabi (D-Detroit) and Townsend. 

The three Democrats who abstained were Roberts, Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo (D-Detroit) and Robert Wittenberg (D-Oak Park). 

McBroom emphasized today that both Courser and Gamrat had admitted their guilt and had “obliterated public trust.” Voting for expulsion would be a stand against “deception, disrespect and lies,” McBroom said. 

“Stand with me in voting to restore the glory and honor of this body,” McBroom said. 

Still, Democrats criticized the process on Thursday, before the vote on Friday. 

They alleged that the votes to expel Courser and Gamrat were coming too quickly, and they argued that lawmakers haven’t been given enough time to read the 833-page House Business Office investigative report, which was released publicly earlier this week. 

Democrats also said former staff members should have been subpoenaed and more investigation work should have been done. 

Rep. Frank Liberati (D-Allen Park), who served on the select committee, said more witnesses needed to be called. 

“I am in no way prepared to make a decision on kicking out two of my colleagues for the fourth time in this great state of Michigan,” Liberati said. 

Courser also spoke on the floor on Thursday, once again apologizing for his actions. 

“I am simply falling on the grace and mercy of the fellow members who are here today,” Courser said. 

He eventually asked his fellow members to pray with him. When he began to pray, he was gaveled down for not keeping his comments to the resolution before the House. 

The votes today came at the end of a day of drama that saw Gamrat allege that she had a deal with House leadership for a censure and a select committee advance resolutions to expel Courser and Gamrat. 

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