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4 things to watch as Courser and Gamrat hearings get underway

The special state House committee set up to look into the conduct of Republican state Representatives Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat is scheduled to meet tomorrow and Wednesday.

Reps. Courser and Gamrat are accused of using state resources to, among other things, cover up an extramarital affair.

 A report released last week by the House Business Office called the lawmakers’ actions, “deceptive,” “deceitful,” and “dishonest.”

So, as the hearings get under way, here are a few things to keep in mind:

1. This is not an actual trial. This is about votes to possible censure or expel the two Republicans. It is a political process with the veneer of legal due process. Every lawmaker in the state House will have to decide for themselves what standard to apply to the exiled Republicans: whether or not Courser and Gamrat broke laws, engaged in misfeasance, or that they’re simply unlikable (Courser and Gamrat are essentially friendless in the Republican caucus. They’ve been uncooperative, combative even, and tossed from internal Republican meetings).

2. The conduct is not all that unusual. Some of the actions that Courser and Gamrat are accused of are things that happen in the state House all the time (deceit and the use of public resources for political purposes are not a rarity in Lansing). But in most cases, lawmakers get off with a warning or a fine, not expulsion. So, House leaders will argue that it’s everything taken together, the full weight of all of the conduct, that justifies disciplinary action.

3. It will take place quickly. Republican leaders want this process to take place quickly. Republicans want the hearings done before the big GOP leadership conference taking place on Mackinac Island in two weeks. The last thing Republicans want is to have Courser and Gamrat taking up headlines as half a dozen Republican presidential candidates show up in the state - along with a whole lot of national media

4. Defense strategies. We’ll be keeping an eye on the way Gamrat and Courser conduct themselves this week as both Representatives seem to be taking different paths in their defense strategies. Gamrat, in public at least, is trying to stay cooperative, dignified and contrite. She’s been separating herself from Courser (not even saying his name in public). Her goal is to convince her fellow lawmakers that something short of expulsion is sufficient punishment

Courser, however, has remained defiant. On Facebook he said that even now he’s continuing to serve the Tea Party because the attention focused on this controversy has commanded so much time that fellow lawmakers have unable to focus on getting a road deal that could include raising taxes. He is, of course, inflating his own importance. Legislative leaders have already proven they are very capable of not reaching a road funding deal without Todd Courser.

Zoe Clark is Michigan Radio’s Political Director. In this role, Clark guides coverage of the state Capitol, elections, and policy debates.
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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