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Courser asks for forgiveness, censure

Former lawmaker Todd Courser
Rick Pluta

  A special state House disciplinary panel will begin deliberating on a punishment for state Representatives Todd Courser, R-Lapeer, and Cindy Gamrat, R-Plainwell, after wrapping up two days of hearings and testimony.

Courser was the last to appear and face questions on his treatment of office staff, use of state resources for personal and political purposes, and a seemingly bizarre effort to cover up an extra-marital affair with Gamrat using a salacious e-mail blast meant to make the truth seem tame by comparison. The scheme was revealed in conversations recorded by a disgruntled staffer.

Courser, a tea party Republican whose made his conservative Christian faith central to his career, portrayed himself as a man who made poor decisions under a great deal of stress as it appeared the affair was about to be made public.

“I have no excuse nor can I explain the ridiculous e-mail or the voice recordings except to say they were the actions of a desperate person,” he said, later adding that he understood why some lawmakers would want him expelled.

“In my heart of hearts, I’m falling on the grace and mercy of the court in asking for a lesser penalty than expulsion.”

But, mercy appeared in short supply for Courser, who often gave long, rambling answers to questions as he was grilled on the details of his acknowledged misdeeds.

Committee Chair Ed McBroom, R-Vulcan, said he was not satisfied with what he heard.  

“It’s hard for me to accept that now is suddenly the moment when the light shines in, and I can believe this is not another attempt at misdirection, this is not another attempt at manipulation.”

Much of that skepticism was rooted in Courser’s defiance even as the disciplinary process was underway, suggesting at one point the committee was a “kangaroo court” in one of his many postings on Facebook.

McBroom said after the meeting he is leaning toward expelling both Courser and Gamrat, who appeared before the committee a day earlier.

Gamrat’s tearful apology and early contrition seemed to earn her points with the committee and the offices of House Speaker Kevin Cotter, R-Mt. Pleasant. Legal Counsel and Chief of Staff Brock Swartzle recommended “immediate expulsion” for Courser, but censure and sanctions for Gamrat.

But Courser’s testimony raised new questions about how much Gamrat knew about the infamous “controlled burn” e-mail blast that was supposed to becloud their affair with rumors and accusations that were more salacious than the truth. Gamrat said she had no idea what was going on. Courser said she was unaware of key details, but had a broad sense of the plot.  

The committee has resolutions recommending both censure and removal before it. The recommendations will then go the full House. The final decision may come down to numbers. A censure vote would require a simple majority of 55 votes, while a vote to expel would require a two-thirds super-majority of 73 votes. 

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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