Democracy Tree: Lansing must tell Gamrat, Courser no means no!


imagesCAZ6MLB5by Amy Kerr Hardin

Now that disgraced former lawmakers Cindy Gamrat and Todd Courser have declared their intent to run for the House seats they forfeited over gross misconduct — Courser resigned, and Gamrat was expelled — their former colleagues now are in the proverbial political pickle in the event the two miscreants should win their districts again.

While the House is considering potential legislation that would prevent expelled and resigned lawmakers from running for the same seat, even if enacted, it apparently would not apply to Courser and Gamrat.

Legislators currently haveAmy Kerr Hardin two options before them: refuse to seat the fallen officials, thereby depriving both the 80th and 82nd districts of representation, or seat them, but ostracize them, also denying both districts due representation. It’s a political lose-lose for Republican lawmakers, but yet still more of a loss to those constituents affected.

The special primary election is slated for Nov. 3rd, with the general on March 8th of next year. A crowded primary field may give them the edge, as it brought the two to power in 2014. The next regular election for the Michigan House is the August 2016 primary, followed by the November general — meaning there’s no time for another go-round if the House rejects the two.

The House does not have the option of a second expulsion for Gamrat, at least over the same offense. Article IV, § 16 of Michigan’s Constitution prohibits double jeopardy acts of that variety. They certainly could expel Courser though.

Is there another option available? Maybe.

Democracy Tree does not typically dabble in the dark art of composing “model legislation”, leaving that nefarious task to groups like ALEC. Yet, here’s a suggestion of sorts, one which should certainly require appropriate vetting to check its constitutionality — but little snags like that have rarely hampered recent GOP-led Michigan legislatures, who have a storied history of ignoring that document. All that’s required is a little political gumption.

The notion is to pass a pre-emptive non-binding resolution in the House vowing not to seat either Courser or Gamrat in the event they win re-election. The beauty of this idea, if legal, is to send an unmistakable message to voters in both Gamrats’s and Courser’s districts: a vote for them is a complete waste of their time, and their taxpayer dollars — especially now knowing that Courser made it clear from the beginning that he and Gamrat weren’t there to serve the people, telling their shared staffers: “Let’s get it straight boys, we’re not here to pass legislation, we’re here for messaging moments in media.”

Alrighty then, here goes my experiment with model legislation — borrowed heavily from the legislative expulsion resolutions. (Expeditious readers may wish to cut to the chase by reading only the first and last paragraphs in italics, scrolling through the laborious “whereases” enumerating the high crimes committed by the two naughty former lawmakers.)

A resolution to declare this legislature’s intent to refuse to seat (insert name here) if re-elected by the voters of the (insert number here) District, State of Michigan, in the special election following their (expulsion/resignation).

Whereas, Article IV, Section 16 of the Constitution of the State of Michigan of 1963 provides, in relevant part: Each house, except as otherwise provided in this constitution, shall choose its own officers and determine the rules of its proceedings… Each house shall be the sole judge of the qualifications, elections and returns of its members; and

Whereas, Each Representative has a duty to conduct himself or herself in such a manner as to justify the confidence placed in him or her by the people and must, by personal example and admonition to colleagues, maintain the integrity and responsibility of his or her office; and

Whereas, Representative (Courser resigned pending imminent expulsion/Gamrat was expelled) from this distinguished body; and

Whereas, The House Business Office conducted an investigation into the conduct of Representative (Courser/Gamrat) and found that (he/she) committed misconduct in office and misused state resources, as discussed below, in violation of the Standing Rules of the House of Representatives and state statute; and

Whereas, Representative (Courser/Gamrat) engaged in an extramarital affair with another sitting representative; and

Whereas, An investigation by the House Business Office found that Representative (Courser/Gamrat) engaged in deceptive, deceitful, and dishonest conduct to misdirect people away from her extramarital affair; and

Whereas, Representative (Courser/Gamrat) admitted to an attempt to recruit a state employee to send a false email from an unidentified source in order to provide cover for (his/her) personal misconduct and deceive and distract the people of the state of Michigan; and

Whereas, Representative (Courser/Gamrat) repeatedly discussed the affair and cover-up with (his/her) staff on state property during office hours, to the dereliction of (his/her) legislative duties; and

Whereas, Representative (Courser/Gamrat) continually demonstrated a cynical view and disdain for the process and procedures of the Legislature; and

Whereas, Representative (Courser/Gamrat) combined offices with another sitting Representative with whom (he/she) engaged in an extramarital affair and failed to stop (his/her) staff from being bullied, berated, and threatened to perform, as state employees, inappropriate tasks by that Representative; and

Whereas, Representative (Courser/Gamrat) misused state resources by impermissibly mixing the work of the people with personal, political, and campaign matters; and

Whereas, Representative (Courser’s/Gamrat’s) pattern of conduct has drawn national attention and disgrace to the state of Michigan and the Michigan House of Representatives, shaking the public trust and confidence in this legislative body, staining the honor, dignity, and integrity of this body, and distracting from the serious policy issues and debates in front of this body; and

Whereas, Representative (Courser/Gamrat) has abused the office of state Representative, as evidenced by the specific behavior and actions cited in this resolution, and has damaged the institution to which (he/she) was previously elected; and

Whereas, Public trust and confidence in government are prerequisites to the functioning of a democratic society; and

Whereas, Representative (Courser/Gamrat) of the (insert number here) District, State of Michigan, has conducted acts inconsistent with the trust and duties of a state representative. (He/She) failed to maintain the integrity and responsibility of this office and to meet (his/her) solemn obligation to the people of the state of Michigan; and

Whereas, Representative (Courser’s/Gamrat’s) acts were so egregious and atypical that they undermined the confidence of the citizenry in (his/her) truthfulness and judgment and brought disrepute and ridicule to this institution, and resulted in Representative (Coursers/Gamrat’s) (disgraced resignation/expulsion) from this esteemed body. Representative (Courser’s/Gamrat’s) (resignation/expulsion) has restored the integrity and public trust to this legislature; now, therefore, be it

Resolved, That in accordance with the above-cited provisions of the Constitution of the State of Michigan, the Michigan House of Representatives hereby determines and proclaims that, if re-elected by special election, former Representative (Courser/Gamrat) of the (insert number) District, State of Michigan, will not be seated as a member of this esteemed legislative body to the office of Michigan State Representative.

Is this doable? That’s for the experts to determine. Is it a good idea? Yes. Voters in both districts deserve to be made aware that attempting to reseat Courser and Gamrat would likely be in vain, resulting in the reopening of a rather nasty wound, just now beginning to heal. They must find a fresh face to send to Lansing.

It may be a trite maxim, but the “definition of insanity” certainly applies here.

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