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Howell, Whiteford advance by knocking off Courser, Gamrat

November 10, 2015

The curtain closed on former Reps. Todd COURSER and Cindy GAMRAT’s strange melodrama Tuesday night when both former state representatives failed in their individual bids to return to a state House that chased them away two months ago.

Courser was blown out in an 11-person Republican primary, garnering just 3.5 percent and coming in sixth behind the winner, Lapeer County Intermediate School Board President Gary HOWELL, who took 27 percent of the vote. Lapeer County Republican Party Chair Jan PEABODY (20.9 percent), engineer Chris TUSKI (20.7 percent), County Commissioner Ian KEMPF (19 percent) and Arcadia Township Clerk Sharna Cramer SMITH (4.7 percent) all polled better than Courser. 

“I think people had had enough,” said Howell, who attributed his victory to his 40 years in public service. “They’re ready to move on. The fact that I’m known as a mature, responsible, competent leader is a contrast they were looking for. 

“I think we’ve had enough of the bomb throwers.” 

Gamrat did better, finishing third in an eight-candidate field and taking 9 percent of the vote, but it will be Allegan County GOP Vice Chair Mary WHITEFORD representing the Republicans on the March 8 general election ballot. 

“I’m humbled,” Whiteford said after receiving slightly more than 50 percent of the primary vote. “I’m just really honored that the voters of Allegan County have come behind me they way they did. There’s a big job ahead of us and I’m ready and willing to do the work to represent this county.” 

Whiteford said she’s been working on her campaign 12 hours a day, seven days a week since the special election was called. That’s meant reaching out and listening to the voters. Asked if the message she heard was that voters were ready for change, she responded simply, “Yes.” 

Whiteford edged out former Republican staffer Jim STOREY, 49 to 26 percent to face Democrat David GERNANT, a retired Oregon judge, who ran unopposed. 

Gamrat said the reason she ran was to give a voice to the voters after government had given away their representation. 

“The people spoke tonight and my biggest concern was about what happened and that Lansing politicians over reached,” she said after about 10 reporters, including a crew from 20/20 left her living room.

After Gamrat, the Republicans running in the Allegan County-based 80th District finished in the following order — Tea Party activist and former county commissioner Bill SAGE (8.5 percent), law clerk Kevin TRAVIS (4 percent), retired Lifesavers employee Eric DeWITT (1 percent), attorney James SIVER (1 percent), and Iraqi War vet Shannon SZUKALA (.5 percent). 

In the Lapeer County-based 82nd District, those Republicans finishing behind Courser included political consultant Jake DAVISON (1.7 percent), Rick GURRERO Jr. (1.1 percent), firefighter Russell ADAMS (1.1 percent), General Motors retiree Allan LANDOSKY (.4 percent) and retired Davenport University professor James DEWILDE (.3 percent). 

On the Democratic side, Margaret Guerrero DeLUCA, the Dems’ 2014 nominee, defeated Eric JOHNSON and R.D. BOHM 85 percent to 11 and 4 percent, respectfully. 

Howell, who lost the GOP primary in the 82nd District in 2008 to former Rep. Kevin DALEY by 450 votes, will be favored over DeLuca for the March 8 General Election in this 58 percent Republican district. DeLuca lost in 2014 to Courser, 55 to 45 percent. 

The special election became necessary after Courser resigned from office in the early morning hours of Sept. 11, moments before the House was prepared to expel him for using state resources for personal and political purposes. 

Gamrat opted not to resign, and made the House expel her, 91-12, for the same alleged offense. 

The resignation and expulsion came over a month after The Detroit News released audio recordings Aug. 7 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. 

The story was based on Courser and Gamrat’s combined House staffer, Ben GRAHAM, who taped Courser’s ravings about the salacious email and his affair, initially as audio evidence in case Courser tried to harm the staffer or himself. 

Speaker Kevin COTTER (R-Mt. Pleasant) launched an immediate investigation into the matter and had House Business Office Manager Tim BOWLIN author a report based on what he found out. 

Based on the interviews of Graham, former staffer Keith ALLARD and others, the House Business Office report essentially concluded that Gamrat and Courser blurred lines of their personal, political and professional efforts to such an extent both lawmakers were misusing taxpayer resources. 

Meanwhile, Courser released text messages from an unknown sender that showed he was being pressured to resign or else details about his extra-martial affair would be released. He ultimately got the Michigan State Police involved, who just wrapped up their investigation into the matter and is awaiting the Lapeer County prosecutor’s decision on what to do with it. 

Former staffer Josh CLINE held a press conference in a law firm to detail the touching he saw between Courser and Gamrat and validate a tale about a tryst the two had at the downtown Lansing Radisson that Gamrat’s husband, Joe GAMRAT, tried to break up by pounding on hotel room doors. 

The House convened a special committee to look the whole affair and after two days of testimony voted out an expulsion recommendation that caught Gamrat off guard. Gamrat had signed paperwork agreeing to the House Office Report findings in exchange for a censure recommendation from the Speaker’s staff. 

Instead of following that recommendation, Chair Ed McBROOM (R-Vulcan) successfully lobbied his Republican colleagues to vote her out of office after an all-night affair on the morning of Sept. 11 that concluded with Democrats winning an amendment to the expulsion resolution that called on an Attorney General Bill SCHUETTE investigation. 

Schuette and the MSP have not completed its investigation into the matter. 

With both Courser and Gamrat’s seats opened, Lt. Gov. Brian CALLEY quickly called a special election to fill the 82nd and 80th District. 

LaGrand Advances In 75th House District 

Grand Rapids School Board member David LaGRAND advanced past the Democratic primary in the Grand Rapids-based 75th House District, defeating Michael SCRUGGS, the former chair of the Kent County Black Caucus, 81 to 19 percent. 

The victory moves LaGrand a step closer to replacing Michigan Democratic Party Chair Brandon DILLON, who resigned from the Legislature in July to concentrate his efforts on his new full-time job. 

LaGrand is a Grand Rapids-based attorney whose candidacy was endorsed quickly by Rep. Winnie BRINKS (D-Grand Rapids), Grand Rapids Mayor George HEARTWELL, former Judge Steve PESTKA and several other local and county officials. 

He previously served on the Grand Rapids City Commission. He ran a competitive race for the state Senate in 2010. Although it was a GOP year that year, LaGrand got 46 percent of the vote against Sen. Dave HILDENBRAND (R-Lowell), who got 51 percent to win the 29th Senate District seat. 

Scruggs ran in that Senate district last year, losing by fewer than 220 votes in the Democratic primary against Lance PENNY. 

The 75th District has a 73.2 percent Democratic voting base, according to Target Insyght, meaning LaGrand is the heavy favorite to win the March 8 General Election against Blake EDMONDS, the former youth vice chair for the Michigan Republican Party, who ran unopposed.

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