Commentary: Perpetrating a fraud

Jul 18, 2012

Jase Bolger, the Speaker of Michigan’s House of Representatives, secretly conspired with State Representative Roy Schmidt of Grand Rapids to perpetrate a fraud on the people.

They did that by trying to rig an election.

That’s the conclusion of Kent County Prosecutor William Forsyth, who released a stunning report yesterday. The prosecutor, like those two men, is a member of the Republican Party. Except that Forsyth indicated that as a Republican, he is embarrassed.

As shocking as this scandal is to me, there are two even more shocking things. First, none of this behavior was apparently technically illegal. In fact, the prosecutor is calling on the Legislature to change the law so it cannot happen again. But second, Roy Schmidt‘s fellow Republicans should be unanimously calling on him to resign from the house. If he doesn't go, they should expel him. And Bolger should offer to immediately step aside as Speaker.

Here‘s what these men did: Back in May, the two men conspired to have Schmidt, who was elected as a Democrat, switch to the GOP. He did so at the very last minute, so Democrats wouldn't have time to recruit a strong candidate.

Not exactly fair play, but pretty much par for the political course. But it gets far worse. They knew that if they could get a phony Democrat to put their name on the ballot, it would have been much harder for a legitimate candidate to win a write-in primary campaign.

So they set out to do just that. We know the details, because the prosecutor obtained a string of truly shocking text messages.

“Any luck finding ur (phony) Dem in ur district?” the speaker asked Schmidt. “That's the last piece we need.”

Schmidt, who later repeatedly lied to the public about all this, said “I am so nervous at this point.” The Speaker texted back, “Me too, I don‘t like leaving anything to chance, thus my anxiousness to get this last piece wrapped up.”

They got it wrapped up, though it soon came unraveled. Schmidt's son offered a guy he knew $450 to file as a Democrat. That guy, Matt Mojzak, agreed, but then got nervous when reporters started asking questions. So the Schmidts then upped the offer to a thousand if he stayed on the ballot. Schmidt's son was supposed to also get $1,000 for his part in the dirty work. Rep. Schmidt even went to see Mojzak at his job and begged him not to tell the media he knew him.  But the patsy did the right thing, declined the money and withdrew.  Which is exactly what Roy Schmidt should do.

Yet last night, incredibly, he told reporters he still felt he could effectively represent Grand Rapids. What about his lies, and what amounted to trying to bribe someone to help rig an election?

“I made a dumb political decision,” he said. My guess is that  Richard Nixon would admire his chutzpah. The Speaker, who also clearly helped mislead the public, said yesterday, “I never lied,“ which may be technically true.  But it shouldn’t be good enough for us. If we are willing to accept this, then we do not value integrity at all.

And the triumph of cynicism will at last be complete.  

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s Political Analyst.  Views expressed in the essays by Jack Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.