The state House of Representatives remained in session into the wee hours today, with Democrats defiantly refusing for a long time to provide the votes to expel Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, because they thought Republicans cut off the investigation into their activities too soon.
Finally, when it was clear that some kind of deal had been cut, Courser suddenly resigned, after vowing he never would. But Gamrat, who had repeatedly said she might resign, refused in the end.
She apparently believed she’d been double-crossed, that confessing to her lies and inappropriate behavior amounted to striking a deal that allowed her to stay, though that was clearly not true.
In a sadly poignant little moment, State Rep. Jim Townsend, a liberal Democrat from Royal Oak, went to sit with her near the end.
He begged her to resign and spare herself one final humiliation, but she would not, and was thrown out. Moments later, Governor Rick Snyder announced he supported a request for the Michigan State Police to launch a criminal investigation into Courser and Gamrat’s activities.
It wasn’t clear whether this was how the impasse was broken and Democrats were persuaded to expel the two, but it seemed likely. Democrats didn’t block the vote because of any sympathy for Courser and Gamrat. They just wanted to prolong the investigation and embarrass the Republican leadership. They were hoping that maybe, just maybe, evidence would surface that Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter knew more earlier than he admitted.
Obviously, the Republicans had no interest in prolonging any investigation, justified or not. But had Democrats continued to block Courser and Gamrat’s expulsion, they risked severely damaging themselves. Take a trip back in time forty years, to the moment when the House Judiciary Committee voted articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon, setting in motion the process under which he eventually resigned before he could be removed from the Presidency.
What if Democrats back then had said, “Sorry, but we won’t support expelling Nixon unless we first get to hear all the tapes to see who else may have been involved.” Had Democrats prevented Courser and Gamrat from being expelled, they would have looked ridiculous.
So this is finally over, at least for now. But there are two important things that have been overlooked which we need to remember. One is that this was not about sex. There are plenty of other legislators, as well as journalists who cover them, who’ve been involved in questionable relationships. This wasn’t even about hypocrisy. It was about abuse of state resources.
But it was about something else, too. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat didn’t have a clue as to what their duties and responsibilities were as state representatives, and didn’t make any effort to learn. He famously said, “I do not know the amendment process, nor should I have to.”
Gamrat appeared not to understand much of anything, including that she needed to keep what went on in her caucus meetings confidential. They’d expelled her for violating the rules months before. To some extent, they were the product of term limits. We prevent people from serving once they’ve acquired the expertise to do so, and prevent long-term legislative careers. Is this really how we want to run our state?
Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.