2017-03-12 / Insight

Public opinion, activism leads to change following Courser scandal

810-452-2640 •

Amy Conger of Mayfield Township gathered in front of former state representative Todd Courser’s office in Lapeer to demand his resignation. Amy Conger of Mayfield Township gathered in front of former state representative Todd Courser’s office in Lapeer to demand his resignation. LAPEER COUNTY — Few incidents have shaken Lapeer County, and even Michigan, politics like the public uproar that ensued after former state 82nd House District representative Todd Courser became mired in controversy after he hatched a bizarre cover-up scheme to hide an extramarital affair with fellow lawmaker Cindy Gamrat.

The Michigan House of Representatives ousted Gamrat from office on Sept. 11, 2015 for misconduct involving her affair with Courser — one hour after he abruptly resigned.

Courser and Gamrat’s departure from the Legislature came five weeks after The Detroit News revealed the existence of audio recordings of Courser orchestrating a plot to cover up their affair by spreading a phony diversionary story that he was caught having sex with a male prostitute behind a Lansing nightclub.

The News’ story led to an internal House investigation that found evidence of Courser and Gamrat engaging in deception and dishonesty to maintain and cover-up their affair.

Before the first of several failed votes to expel Courser, he apologized to House members and asked his colleagues for mercy. It was too late. They had been embarrassed enough and sought to clean house and move on.

But for Lapeer County and Gamrat’s home district of Allegan County in West Michigan, their departure from state politics left two open seats that had to be filled.

The governor’s office called for special elections — including a primary and general election. In the process Lapeer County made history. The Michigan Bureau of Elections and the Secretary of State’s office have told The County Press that Lapeer County’s field of 14 primary candidates — 11 Republicans and three Democrats — was the most ever in recorded state history for a primary election at the county level. There were a number of other firsts connected to primary election, mostly related to the strange behavior by Courser that created the need for this special election. And the fact that Courser and Gamrat both filed to run from the seats they just resigned or were expelled from.

During the lead-up to the primary election that cost Lapeer County taxpayers an estimated $120,000 several candidate debates were held, including one co-sponsored by The County Press in an effort to shed as much light as possible on the electoral process as voters prepared to go to the polls.

The County Press published several editorials following Courser’s resignation and during the abbreviated election cycle that area voters were forced to endure.

Purpose of the editorials was to comment on the illicit and immoral behavior that became a punch line by Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show and brought a lot of negative attention to Lapeer County as a result of the Courser scandal and elections to name a replacement.

The public, through letters to the editor, Sound Off and grass-roots mobilization in support of election candidates spoke loud and clear, most expressing dismay and outrage to the honor normally bestowed on the people we elect to send to Lansing to represent our interests.

The outrage, however, wasn’t limited to Lapeer County. Hearing complaints from constituents in their home districts and within their own political caucuses, House lawmakers on Thursday approved legislation aimed to prevent another fiasco like the one the people of Lapeer and Allegan counties had to go through.

In response to Courser and Gamrat running in special elections to finish the remainder of their terms in

2015, the House passed a bill to prohibit a lawmaker who resigns or who has been expelled from office from running in the election to fill the seat. It now goes to the Senate for consideration. The call for change at the ballot box and in state law is due, in large part, because everyday citizens reading their hometown newspapers had the opportunity to become informed and take action to make a difference.

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