Shakespearean tragedy, or phoenix rising from the ashes? At least now the voters will get the final say.
Clearly, she was serious about giving the voters in her district the final say in the matter. Just in case you’ve spent the past six days or so completely incommunicado, according to the Detroit News, WKZO-AM 590, WOOD-TV8, WXMI-TV17, the Lansing News, WWMT-TV3, the Detroit Free Press, WDIV-TV4, WXYZ-TV7, the Holland Sentinel, WZZM-TV13, and the Chicago Tribune, around 2:30 Thursday afternoon last, Cindy A. Gamrat has filed to run in the special election for the seat she was expelled from a week ago, as confirmed by the Allegan County Clerk’s Office. (Ironically, Chad Livengood got to be the one to break this story as well.) The joint opinion of the Grand Rapids Press and Kalamazoo Gazette editorial boards, whose newspaper coverage areas include the 80th District, was short and on point, but not necessarily shared by all of their readers.
From the time that the Detroit News originally published Chad Livengood’s story, breaking the Courser-Gamrat debacle, until the time that the vote was closed on House Roll Call # 296b, to adopt 2015-HR-0141 and expel Representative Cindy Gamrat, elapsed five weeks (to the day) plus roughly three hours and forty-three minutes. During those two and a half fortnights, much was said on this matter by many people in various forums, and not all of it was civil or without hypocrisy. The opiners who kept their discourse peaceable generally adopted one of three basic philosophical paradigms that, to them anyway, best explained a railroad job that would have made the Pharisees jealous. I don’t believe that any of the three basic explanations is wholly correct, nor do I necessarily agree with any of them in their entirety. I think, rather, that the truth is (or truths are) more likely to be found at the confluence of these paradigms, and that understanding that confluence best explains why Cindy Gamrat isn’t going away just yet.
“It’s sort of Shakespearean, if you look at it: My fate rests in the hands of the Democrats.”
Those were Todd Courser’s words on the floor of the Michigan House of Representatives two Thursday evenings ago, as the vote on 2015-HR-0139 dragged on for initially an hour and fifty-two minutes (the board for Roll Call # 295 was opened at 4:36 p.m. and closed at 6:28 p.m.), and then a further five hours and twenty-seven minutes (the board was opened for Roll Call # 296a at 6:30 p.m.), including an unusual “open board” caucus session, and then through the two minute recess required to officially close out Thursday’s session and open Friday’s session, and then an additional 2 hours and 48 minutes required to take attendance, and then through the 19 minutes that elapsed from the time that Courser apparently realized that he was going to lose this round, to the time that he handed in his resignation letter. It occurs to me that perhaps Courser spoke truer than he realized, because his story reads exactly like the structure of a classic Shakespearean tragedy.
- Each of the bard’s tragedies begins with an exposition, which sets the central theme and provides an anticipatory hook to engage the audience, and introduces people who are unfulfilled and want more. (This would be PowWow I in early 2012, March I think, and the subsequent efforts on behalf of Gary Glenn in the republican U. S. Senate primary.)
- Following the exposition is an “inciting force,” introducing the main conflict as well as the primary protagonists and antagonists, and giving our heroes a course of action to focus upon. (This would have been the February 2013 Michigan Republican State Convention, where Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat narrowly missed unseating Bobby Schostak and Sharon Wise by a raw total split of 69 votes, roughly 3.86% of the total votes cast.)
- Then, during the “rising action” of the play, our heroes commit to their goals and things go amazingly well for them; yet they also commit multiple hamartia, errors in judgment that would lay the foundation for their ultimate undoing. (This would be the entire 2014 campaign cycle, which included multiple missed opportunities to unite the constitutionalist insurgency in a common cause, and inadvertently alienating fully half of that same insurgency in the process.)
- In every Shakespearean tragedy is a crisis turning point which introduces a “tragic force,” triggering the irreversible downfall of our heroes, who resort to desperate and unwise actions that cannot be undone, and would pass up or respond too slowly to opportunities to extricate themselves from the steadily-tightening noose of their hamartia coming back to bite them in the keister. (Joe Gamrat’s confrontation at the Lansing Radisson was probably the first rock solid indication that things were starting to go wrong for Todd and Cindy.)
- After the reversal, the “falling action” of the play features our heroes losing control of the situation, with the opposition forces closing in on them, and the direct consequences of earlier hamartia compounding and intensifying their downfall. (The first indicator that control of the situation had shifted to the “Lansing Mafia” was the midnight-thirty breaking story of Ben Graham’s audio recordings, followed not three hours later by Speaker Cotter’s curiously-timed statement calling for an immediate and open-ended investigation.)
- Shakespeare’s tragedies always had an edge-of-your-seat final act, featuring a “moment of final suspense” in which there is the potential for the protagonists to actually escape ultimate ruin, followed by a “catastrophic resolution” in which our heroes are ultimately undone and tragically destroyed, and concluding with a denouement and glimpse of a harmonious restored social order prompted by the protagonists’ removal. (This is absolutely a reference to the committee hearings on September 8th & 9th, followed by the marathon expulsion debate and vote on the 10th and 11th, as well as the discussions in the immediate aftermath regarding the House now being able to get back to the business of passing a road-funding bills, which might be easier with T&C’s two votes gone.)
However, unlike the theatre, life doesn’t end with the final curtain, as the past six days have shown. While the Serotkin Precedent may be credibly invoked to keep Courser off the ballot in the 82nd District (and the AG hasn’t yet ruled on that), there is exactly zero legal leverage to keep Gamrat off the ballot in the 80th District. Given what I’ve learned in the intervening week, I’m actually glad that Cindy is forcing a vox populi referendum on her expulsion, and because of that, I suspect that some interesting stuff isn’t going to stay buried.
Let’s be really clear about something, just in case no one’s noticed: The partisan culture in the Lansing Capitol Complex is very much a “go along to get along” environment. (If you don’t believe me, then check out the House Republican Caucus Member Pledge that Speaker Cotter tried to compel Cindy Gamrat to sign for the 2015-2016 Session – without even bothering to update the title – and the changes she insisted on before even considering signing it.) There is a toxic side effect to this culture, in that those who have the spine to reject knuckling under to the political nobility quickly find themselves ostracized and targeted by the ruling barons and lords, and in the midst of that profound isolation, people have been known to do stupid things (that they ordinarily wouldn’t do, but that the establishment is absolutely relying upon them to commit). Contrast, as an example, the absolute quiescence of the professional political establishment regarding Representative Brian Banks, who is facing a lawsuit (with ample supporting evidence) in a sexual blackmail scandal involving a subordinate, which allegations the MSP don’t appear to be even trying to investigate.
As John Lindstrom (Gongwer Michigan and Detroit Free Press) and Jim Fouts (Detroit News) point out, the “capitol bubble” culture in Lansing is exacerbated by the most restrictive state-level term limits in the country. Lidstrom notes that all of the pre-limit legislators were gone by [December 31st, 2006], and that before the Courser-Gamrat situation, every other expulsion proceeding, regardless of how it ended, was under the control of legislators who had served before the advent of term limits. This go around, the only member of the House who had first-hand experience with the expulsion process was Sam Singh (as a legislative staffer during the Jaye proceedings), which may explain why Singh introduced 2015-HR-0138, attempted to recommit 2015-HR-0139 after the first vote failed, and ultimately voted “nay” on 2015-HR-0141. Fast-tracking the expulsion process is a bad idea, and Singh knew why, but too few seemed to be interested in actually listening.
I wholeheartedly agree that there’s something to be said for forcing fresh blood into the system every so often, and periodically forcing legislators out before they become deadwood. But I also hold that a proper solution will keep the mandatory turnover to a minimum, because under the current system, too much power that We the People delegated to the legislature has been ceded to the Executive Branch, and with power goes control. Now, what passes for seniority in the State House are legislators on their third and final term (four years accumulated tenure), who themselves have only just mastered the nuances of legislative effectiveness, and who are also likely looking for their next job, which often means either pleasing the executive nobility, or engaging in some quid pro quo with industry lobbyists. Fouts cites the state fireworks law of 2011, Proposal 14-1, and Proposal 15-1 as perfect examples of the amateur-hour stupidity that germinates in a legislative body with constitutionally-mandated high turnover (to which I’ll readily add the Bolger-Schmidt Fiasco and the short-sighted changes to recall law in 2012).
A little-known fact is that, in the orientation process for the 96th Legislature back in 2010, Senate staffers had to brief incoming republican House leadership on majority protocols and processes, because all of the previous leadership from the last time that the republicans controlled the House had already been lost to term limits. Perhaps this might explain why we’ve had five years of “republicans” who’re behaving more and more like democrats, happily rubber-stamping the Nerd King’s progressive agenda, contentedly screwing we the proletariat, and openly ostracizing any who dare oppose them. According to Bill Sage – one of the trustees for the Michigan Part-Time Legislature’s 2016 campaign (chaired again by Norm Kamerraad), who is a challenger for the republican nomination to the Gamrat vacancy – the MI-PTL committee is considering a wording change for the 2016 campaign that will allow for more time in office, so as to substantively increase legislative experience (correcting a structural defect under the current metric), but without completely eliminating term limits, and in fact actually tightening the restrictions overall.
Let’s add some context to all of this “scarlet letter” tarring and feathering, shall we? There are somewhere in the immediate vicinity of a dozen and a half House members, currently serving in the 98th Legislature, who would have been quite hypocritical to cast votes in favor of either Todd’s or Cindy’s expulsion resolution. I say this because, according to reliable backchannel intel, 6 or 7 current members of the House are known to be actively engaged in “affairs of the flesh” within the influence of the capitol bubble, whilst the affairs of another 10 to 15 current members are currently inactive. (The numbers cut across party lines, and there is at least one instance of bipartisan bedfellowship.) And let’s not forget the HBO internal memo from earlier this year, advising House staffers to exercise caution in their sexual activity, prompted by an outbreak of genital herpes within the building. And the reason that none of this is on-the-record public knowledge is because all of the players involved are properly connected to the capitol nobility, and so all things embarrassing are kept quite hush-hush.
Now, let me at this point be very clear about what I am not saying. I am not – in any way, shape, fashion, or form – excusing even the least of Cindy’s actual infractions. Whether we’re talking about the affair itself, or a few minor incidents of misconduct (because those are the only things that the House Business Office Report actually has on her), or anything else; it is what it is, and shame on her for crossing those lines.
But keep in mind that Cindy went from being a celebrated rising star in Plainwell, to being a pariah in Lansing. Promising to fight for life, for liberty, and against bigger and more intrusive government was all well and good on the campaign trail, but actually standing firm on her promises rankled the MRP/MIGOPe professional political establishment. By refusing to relinquish her constituents’ representation, co-authoring the Contract for Liberty, co-authoring the Liberty Response, exposing the dirty secrets of just how much in Lansing is orchestrated, of just how screwed up the state’s financial situation is, of at least twenty-two places the state could actually cut spending (with the actual savings redirected to roads and bridges), along with advancing a decidedly pro-liberty legislative agenda, effectively guaranteed her political exile at the hands of the Speaker who owed his position to her tie-breaking vote. Dave Agema’s experience in 2014 should have served as an example of the dangers of crossing the Nerd King . . . when plainly speaking the truth to power, be prepared for backlash (and always make damn sure that your six is covered).
As a direct result of her marginalization, similar to that endured by Ted Cruz toward the end of 2013, and in an attempt to avert banishment, Cindy entered into at least three questionable alliances, leaving even many of her heretofore staunchest supporters scratching their heads in puzzlement. However, by likely failing to comprehend the true nature of what she was walking into – how well the trap had been set and baited – she wound up betrayed, abandoned, exposed, and without a useful exfil option during the 16½ hour final act. The degree to which that was so was evident, in that the elapsed time from the floor being opened for discussion on House Resolution 0141 to the board being closed on Roll Call Vote # 296b was a mere 14 minutes.
Amid the predictable flurry of public calls for resignation came the openly-circulated rumor that the nobility within the MRP/MIGOPe professional political establishment had issued marching orders to ensure the ouster of Courser and Gamrat before the 31st Biennial Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference (because, apparently, the media narrative needed to be focused on the other circus). We can speculate all day long as to why that particular deadline was so important, but the reality is that we may never actually get that answer. The reality is that, in order to achieve that short-fuse deadline, the investigatory process would have to be fast-tracked and include coordinated pressure to resign . . . or else.
Mary Whiteford’s announcement of her candidacy for “the following election” to the 80th district seat – whenever that might be – promptly followed the next day by the adoption of House Resolution 0129, played up in the media as potentially triggering the expulsion process, coupled with Cotter refusing to entertain Gamrat’s apology, was pretty much a big red flag as to how this was going to be played by the lesser nobles of the House. Eleven days later, the pressure was ratcheted up a notch, with the release of the HBO redacted, abridged, and sanitized “summary report” which contained no witness testimony, and no actual evidence, yet drew four conclusions alleging “deceptive, deceitful, and outright dishonest conduct.” Go figure, the report was promptly hyped by the MRP/MIGOPe professional political establishment as sufficient justification to warrant further demands for resignation and/or an Article IV § 16 expulsion resolution and/or a two-pronged recall campaign. However, because of the way that Michigan’s FOIA laws are written, as the Detroit News found out that same day, the House Business Office isn’t subject to the Freedom of Information Act, so the full report was exempt from public records laws, in spite of the demands from democrat leadership that the full report be made public immediately. The disturbing part was that, as the News’ Op-Ed the next day pointed out:
“This process is very likely to set precedent for future expulsion actions. If the House is not completely forthcoming with the evidence to support removal of the lawmakers, it will call into question the fairness of the process.”
The expulsion process for Sen. David Jaye in 2001 was cited by a Detroit News article as a precedent for Rep. McBroom to have some procedural leeway, in that though it required a six week investigation, it also lowered the unofficial bar for expulsion from at least one felony conviction to merely multiple misdemeanor arrests. However, the article also cites former Sen. Donald Koivisto (D-Ironwood) raising the question of deplorable personal behavior versus actual lawbreaking as grounds for expulsion. (Koivisto cast the lone committee vote against Jaye’s ouster and one of the two Senate floor votes opposing it.) Koivisto is quoted by the Senate’s journal as saying, “… the next time there are proceedings to take place, I hope whoever’s in charge will say we’re going to wait until convictions take place so people like us don’t have to sit there and try to digest whether or not criminal acts took place. …” This stands in stark and ironic contrast to the House floor remarks of Gary Glenn (R-Midland), who said, “… I can honestly tell you I have no concern whatsoever [regarding setting a new precedent and lowered threshold]. I trust some future 2/3 majority of this body to judge some future set of circumstances. …”
Representatives Driskell, Durhal, Howrylak, Roberts, and Singh all spoke in their floor remarks against the lack of due diligence, as well the lack of due process and fair treatment protections required by Article I § 17 of the Michigan Constitution, and backed that position up with their votes each of the three times that the roll was called on the expulsion question. One key concern mentioned regularly (even by Reps. Chirkun, Dianda, Liberati, Schor, and Smiley) was that of striking Norm Saari’s testimony from the record, and rejecting a motion to subpoena Ben Graham and Keith Allard, as these actions now raise questions as to what the Speaker’s Office knew and when they knew it. Another concern voiced by Driskell, Durhal, Howrylak, Roberts, and Singh was that the Full Report on the Investigation of Alleged Misconduct wasn’t released until two days prior to the floor vote, and that wasn’t nearly enough time to process the entire report (especially given that twenty-one takeaways identified by the Lansing News didn’t make a convincing case for ouster). What surprises me a bit is that it seemed to occur to no one that, by requesting a reconsideration of the vote on 2015-HR-139 (and apparently willing to do so ad nauseam), the republican leadership violated the “double jeopardy” protections in Article I § 15 of the Michigan Constitution that should have attached the instant that the board was closed on Roll Call # 295 . . . someone should have advanced an objection on constitutional grounds to reconsidering the vote on 2015-HR-139 that was already on the record as a failure.
That the full report contained no evidence to justify expelling Gamrat was problematic for those demanding her ouster. This may have been what prompted Gamrat’s East Lansing lawyer, Mike Nichols, to sit down with Hassan Beydoun, Majority Legal Counsel for House Republicans, and spend three hours negotiating a censure agreement, resulting in House Legal Counsel Brock Swartzle repeatedly recommending expulsion for Courser but only censure for Gamrat in his testimony before the committee proceedings, and in Gamrat reading a brief statement agreeing with the contents of the report. The problem, from Nichols’ perspective, is that during critical hours of caucus infighting – which Speaker Cotter was unable or unwilling to prevent – the censure agreement was immolated in the crossfire, only the expulsion resolution was reported out of committee, and Cindy’s good-faith agreement to the contents of the report was used as the final nail to justify expulsion to the floor of a legislative body who had not had time to properly process 833 pages of information, and thus comprehend that Cindy was copping to no more than five minor infractions that even collectively didn’t warrant expulsion.
So now the Jaye Threshold has been further lowered to not even requiring that criminal proceedings be underway, only that the target of the expulsion process somehow have become a disreputable embarrassment to the institution. Who now defines that threshold, by what standard is it now defined, and do we really think it wise to set the bar that low? As Jason opined elsewhere, what the Speaker and many representatives have forgotten, is the razor thin patience level many of us have with the GOP at this point. The current power-brokering, influence-peddling, and conscience-binding by the party leadership is far more heinous to most of us than the personal failings of a couple of representatives . . . certainly when the evidence supporting at least one of the ousters is, upon reasonable further review, questionable.
According to Daniel Howes, Democrats, despite considerable political risk, figured they could score political points against Republican Speaker Kevin Cotter’s office by claiming – with some justification – that the speedy investigation and ensuing expulsion vote looked like railroading designed to (a) make a Republican embarrassment disappear quickly lest it (b) dominate the coming fall legislative session. The whole affair also shows just how opaque the Legislature’s rules are when it comes to transparency and adherence to freedom of information, because the full disclosure of the House report on the Courser-Gamrat affair – and the process in which it was prepared – was treated like the state secret it clearly is not.
Howes also observed that the House readily pulled an all-nighter to do almost whatever it took to excise two political liabilities from their ranks, reminding everyone else that the people who make the laws too often are not required to follow to them. Glenn, in his floor remarks, said, “We are not a court of law, …” unintentionally implying that the legislature isn’t obligated to adhere to constitutional protections and protocols in its internal deliberations. By extension, Glenn was apparently unknowingly implying that the legislature, with regard to its internal matters, operates according to administrative law (controlled by the executive rather than the judiciary), and thus that this expulsion action was essentially a glorified proxy vote on behalf of the professional political establishment.
According to multiple political pundits, the image of the Michigan Legislature was the biggest loser in the night-long gridlock that ended with Courser’s resignation and Gamrat’s expulsion. Democrats legitimately believed the Republican leadership botched the investigation of Gamrat and Courser, and insisted on withholding a bloc of 26 votes until Speaker Cotter agreed to a demand to include language requesting an attorney general criminal investigation. Either way, House republican leadership now owns this mess, including the dangerous precedent that they have set should such action ever be “necessary” again (karma is known to be a bitch, especially in regards to backfires). And if the MSP investigation – which is subject to FOIA protocols – clears either Courser or Gamrat (and/or implicates the Speaker’s Office of misconduct), then they’ll own that, too
There is perhaps an odd irony to Cindy’s announcement being the backside bookend to Patriot Week this year, in that her expulsion was the frontside bookend to the same week. There’s also a bit of irony, if not some digitus impudicus involved, to this occurring just in time to be a media talking point in a news cycle that was supposed to focus on the 31st Biennial Mackinac Republican Leadership Conference. Regardless, Cindy’s one consistent point during this debacle, that dominated the state news feeds for the past six weeks, was that the 80th District voters should have the final say on her ouster, and now, one way or the other, they shall.