State Rep. Cindy Gamrat, R-Plainwell, sat in a sprawling hearing room at the state Capitol Tuesday as a special select committee convened for the first time to decide her fate, along with that of Rep. Todd Courser, R-Lapeer.
The committee met, set their rules and adjourned within minutes, setting up a process that could lead to the expulsion, censure or no action at all against Courser and Gamrat, who have been caught up in a sex scandal and attempt to cover it up.
“I’m here because I want my colleagues to know that I want to be part of the solution moving forward so we can get this taken care of and get back to the business of the people of Michigan,” Gamrat told a gaggle of reporters after the committee adjourned. “It’s not easy, trying to understand the process letter and the allegations that have been brought against me better so I can help be part of the solution.”
Her East Lansing attorney, Mike Nichols, said Gamrat wants to resolve the issue short of expulsion.
“She’s thinking about all of her options. We’re exploring all the options, short of an expulsion, to resolve this,” Nichols said.
The committee got hefty black binders that contained the full report, which includes hundreds of pages and is expected to include five hours of the transcripts of audio recordings a former Courser staffer taped as evidence that the two lawmakers were scheming to cover up their extra marital affair.
The House Business Office report concluded that Courser and Gamrat, are guilty of misconduct in office through “deceptive, deceitful and outright dishonest” actions.
The scathing report says Courser and Gamrat misused public resources in attempting to cover up their affair and lied to the House Business Office during the investigation. They also said that the pair used taxpayer resources to bolster their political operations, which is a violation of House rules.
Neither representative is a credible witness and both “misrepresented themselves on several occasions during their testimony to the business office,” the report said. The report said Gamrat wasn’t telling the truth when she called a news conference and said she had no role in the bogus e-mail Courser sent out.
“From what I’ve read, I don’t know if the characterizations are the same that I would make,” Nichols said.
State Rep. Ed McBroom, a Republican and dairy farmer from the Upper Peninsula town of Vulcan, is chairing the special committee and said he expects to schedule more hearings next week and for the panel to wrap up their work with a recommendation to the full House of Representatives in the next two weeks. After their work is complete, the entire report will be released to the public, he said.
“This is a really solemn, sober occasion that has to be dealt with. The people of the state have explicitly given us, the House of Representatives, the authority to police ourselves,” he said. “In order to maintain faith with the people of Michigan, we have this serious obligation. This isn’t about politics. It’s about the integrity of the institution.”
But Gamrat said she thinks it’s up to the voters in her southwest Michigan district to decide if she’s fit to continue serving in the Legislature.
“I still believe that it’s important to take responsibility for your actions and not be held responsible for the actions of others. And I think that’s for my voters to decide,” she said. “I still get support letters every day in the mail telling me not to resign. I’m weighing everything out and there’s a lot to consider. It’s a big decision. I’m here to weigh it all out and take it day by day, but ultimately, I think it’s for my voters to decide.”
Courser was not at the hearing Tuesday, but he responded to the report in an e-mail and questioned whether he would be able to get a fair hearing by the Republican leadership, which he feels has been poised to get him out of office because of his conservative voting record.
“As far as fairness, it’s really unfortunate for him to make those statements before we’ve even convened,” McBroom said. “We will operate in the utmost of fairness. I won’t tolerate anything less.”
The scandal swirling around Courser and Gamrat had been rumored for months, but burst onto the public scene in early August when audio recordings revealed that Courser had asked his staff to send an anonymous fake e-mail that he had written, saying he was addicted to drugs and pornography and paid for sex with men outside a Lansing bar. His staff refused to participate in the attempt to make it appear that Courser was the victim of a smear campaign and to downplay the affair he was having with Gamrat. But the e-mail still was widely circulated around Lansing.
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