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To expel Courser but not Gamrat would clearly be paternalistic sexism

Sep 9, 2015

I had hoped I was done talking about Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat, the two state legislators whose bizarre and outrageous behavior has consumed their house of the Legislature for the past month. 

I thought, at first, both would resign once their hypocrisy, bad behavior, misuse of state resources, and clumsy attempt at a cover-up was exposed.

But then I remembered what you might call the "Bill Clinton Rule," which is that one primary secret to survival in politics is to have no capacity for embarrassment.

Once it was clear they would attempt to cling to their state paychecks as long as possible, I expected they would both be speedily expelled from the Legislature.

However, yesterday Brock Swartzle, an attorney who is both general counsel to state House Republicans and chief of staff to the Speaker of the House, made a different recommendation: He wants Courser to be expelled immediately, but said Gamrat should be allowed to keep her seat, though after receiving a severe censure and other punishments.

Presumably he is also speaking for his employer, Speaker of the House Kevin Cotter, who I expect is sending a signal that this is how he wants it done. The attorney said that he saw Courser as the principal in the wrongdoing, and Gamrat as merely his accomplice.

In fact, this goes along with a narrative I’ve been hearing from some people about the scandal. They depict Todd Courser as sort of a Tea Party Svengali, who seduced poor little Cindy Gamrat, a small-town nurse, and bewitched her into doing his evil will.

That’s essentially what the chief of staff is saying, apparently unconscious as to how sexist a proposition this is. Cindy Gamrat is not a teenager. She has kids in college. Both she and Courser are in their mid-forties, on the brink of middle age.

If women are seen as fully equal to men, which of course they are, they bear equal responsibilities. To expel Courser but not Gamrat would clearly be paternalistic sexism.

The notion of Gamrat as a poor dazzled deer in the headlights simply doesn’t square with reality, or with the House Business Office report on the scandal, which flatly says she is not a credible witness. Gamrat lied and kept on lying even after the affair was exposed, only coming clean and confessing, if that’s what she’s done, right now when she’s on the point of losing her job.

Gamrat lied to the press and the public in an August 14 press conference. She said she never asked her staff members to keep quiet about their affair, and had no knowledge of the now infamous “gay male prostitute” email Courser wanted sent to try to cover their tracks and, as he said “inoculate the herd.” She now admits those were lies.

Keith Allard, a former staff member in Gamrat and Courser’s bizarrely merged offices, sharply disagreed with the characterization of Gamrat as a mere accomplice.

He told a news service yesterday “At no point … did I ever witness her question or object to Mr. Courser, rather, she willingly aided and abetted his behavior and actions. In my opinion, she was a principal actor in the charges against them.”

If women are seen as fully equal to men, which of course they are, they bear equal responsibilities. To expel Courser but not Gamrat would clearly be paternalistic sexism.

It will be interesting to see if their colleagues realize that.

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.