Michigan House panel mulls 2 lawmakers' fitness for office

AP News
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Posted: Sep 01, 2015 11:48 AM
Michigan House panel mulls 2 lawmakers' fitness for office

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — A Michigan legislative committee on Tuesday held a disciplinary hearing for two conservative lawmakers accused of misusing public resources to hide an affair, including by sending a false, sexually explicit email claiming one of them had sex with a male prostitute.

A House Business Office report released Monday alleges that Republican Reps. Todd Courser of Lapeer and Cindy Gamrat of Plainwell were dishonest and violated House rules and campaign-finance laws.

The special six-member panel convened briefly Tuesday to adopt rules and more hearings are planned. It could recommend discipline including censure or expulsion from the House.

Gamrat, who attending the hearing with a lawyer, told reporters she came to let her colleagues know she wants "to be part of the solution moving forward ... and get back to the business of the people of Michigan."

Asked if she should still represent her district, she said: "I still believe it's important to take responsibility for your actions, not to be held responsible for the actions of others, but for yours. ... That's for my voters to decide."

Courser, 43, has admitted to orchestrating a fictional email sent to GOP activists and others in May that said he was caught with a male prostitute behind a Lansing nightclub. The aim of the email, he said, was to make his affair with Gamrat less believable if it was exposed. He said he concocted the scheme after a "blackmailer" sent anonymous text messages demanding that he resign or the relationship would be revealed.

Gamrat, 42, denies she knew about the email before it was sent, but the House Business Office investigation said recordings secretly made by an aide to Courser and Gamrat and staffers' testimony show she did.

Both will be given the opportunity to appear before the committee with legal representation.

In a statement Monday, Courser complained that "hand-picked" evidence he has not been allowed to see would be presented to a "hand-picked" committee. He said the email was not sent with state resources and that any misconduct could warrant a fine or censure, but not expulsion.

Rep. Ed McBroom, a Republican farmer from Vulcan who is chairing the panel, said he hopes to conclude hearings within a week or two. The state constitution gives the House broad discretion to decide grounds for expulsion, which would require a two-thirds vote.

"This is a really, really solemn, sober occasion," McBroom said. "In order to maintain faith with the citizens of Michigan, we have this obligation. This isn't about politics. It's not supposed to be a celebrity show here. This is about the integrity of the institution."

The probe found that Courser and Gamrat "improperly and inextricably entwined political, personal, business, and official state matters." They had an office policy of entering constituent contact information into a private political database for Courser's potential congressional bid and Gamrat's failed campaign for Republican National Committeewoman, according to the report.

The investigation also said aides were told to prioritize political over legislative work and were instructed to help develop or place Internet ads for Courser's law firm. Courser, who was not at the hearing, has denied the allegations.

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