Michigan House at standstill over expelling 2 lawmakers

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Posted: Sep 10, 2015 10:52 PM
Michigan House at standstill over expelling 2 lawmakers

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Michigan House was at a standstill Thursday night over whether to expel two social conservatives who admitted to misconduct in covering up their extramarital affair, as dozens of Democrats in the minority abstained from voting and criticized the process.

Sixty-seven members supported expelling Republican Rep. Todd Courser, six short of the two-thirds supermajority needed under the state constitution. Lawmakers, including the more than two dozen who refused to vote, were ordered to stay inside the chamber. For hours, many milled about the floor as legislative leaders occasionally huddled behind closed doors with members. Just before 11 p.m., Republicans and Democrats met separately in private caucus meetings.

Republican Rep. Cindy Gamrat also faces expulsion for her role. Just three legislators have been expelled in Michigan history.

"These two members have obliterated the public trust. They've obliterated the trust of their colleagues. And each day that they continue here they reduce the public trust in this institution," said Rep. Ed McBroom, a Republican from Vulcan in the Upper Peninsula who chaired a disciplinary panel that earlier Thursday urged the expulsions. He decried Democrats' "politicization" of the disciplinary process.

House Speaker Kevin Cotter, a Republican, added, "We are responsible for cleaning up this mess, rooting out this wrongdoing and getting the House focused once again on the people's most important work."

Democrats attacked the investigation as rushed and self-serving, and they questioned why two "whistleblower" aides to Courser and Gamrat staffers were allowed to be fired, since the speaker's office knew of problems in their combined office. They said the matter should be looked into by law enforcement and the former aides subpoenaed to testify to lawmakers.

"We cannot vote for expulsion until we have a full picture of the issue at hand," said Minority Leader Tim Greimel, who was among 27 Democrats and one Republican refusing to vote. Two other Democrats were absent.

Seven Democrats joined 60 Republicans to back expulsion. Courser, Gamrat and 10 Democrats voted against.

Courser, 43, of Lapeer, has admitted sending an "outlandish" phony email to GOP activists and others in May claiming he was caught with a male prostitute. The email was intended to make his affair with the 42-year-old Gamrat appear less believable if it were exposed by an anonymous blackmailer who had demanded his resignation.

The self-smear email called Courser a "bi-sexual porn addicted sex deviant" and "gun toting Bible thumping ... freak" and Gamrat a "tramp."

In a plea to the House Thursday, Courser said he had "fallen short" and "you have my most heartfelt apology" for the "disrepute I brought to each one of you."

A vote to expel Gamrat, of Plainwell, was on hold due to the standstill over Courser. Gamrat has said she discussed the plot with Courser but did not know the email's sexually explicit content before it was sent.

The scandal unfolded last month after a staffer the couple shared was fired in July. Ben Graham gave The Detroit News a secret audio recording of Courser demanding that he send the email to "inoculate the herd," an apparent reference to Courser's supporters. While Graham refused and the email was likely legal, the plot was unethical, according to a House Business Office probe that alleged dishonesty, misconduct and misuse of public resources.

The investigation also said while the speaker himself knew of no work-related issues regarding Graham or another staffer, Cotter's then-chief of staff did. The House "in hindsight" should have further inquired, the report found.

Courser and Gamrat asked for censure during three days of hearings this week. A censure would limit their work while letting them stay in office.

The House's top lawyer had recommended that Courser be kicked out and Gamrat censured, contending she was more of an accomplice.

Earlier Thursday, Gamrat said she was "very shocked" at the expulsion recommendation because she signed a statement last week accepting the House findings with an "understanding" that the committee would censure her.

"There were no promises, but the votes were there," Gamrat said. "It really bothered me to sign something that made it look like I did everything in that report."

A visibly angry McBroom said "there was no deal" and said he had told Gamrat there were no guarantees.

State police are investigating the alleged blackmail.

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