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Michigan pols lose bids to win old seats after affair, bizarre cover-up revealed

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Todd Courser

LANSING, Mich. » Two Michigan lawmakers who were forced from office over an extramarital affair and a convoluted cover-up scheme lost longshot bids Tuesday to win back their seats.

Tea party leaders Todd Courser, who resigned rather than be expelled, and Cindy Gamrat, who was kicked out, sought the Republican nominations in special primary elections, which came less than two months after their Sept. 11 ouster.

Gamrat had 912 votes, or 9 percent, with all precincts reporting in her former southwestern Michigan district — finishing third to Mary Whiteford, a former nurse who helps run her family’s wealth management business and had 5,065 votes, or nearly 52 percent. County commissioner Jim Storey was in second with 24 percent in the eight-candidate primary.

Courser had 415 votes, less than 4 percent, with all precincts reporting in his old Thumb-area seat — coming in fifth in an 11-candidate primary. Farmer Gary Howell won that race with 3,070 votes, or 26 percent.

"I told the voters they should have the opportunity to decide," Courser told WWJ-AM. He said he could not overcome the "political headwinds," which "were unlike anything I’d ever experienced."

An emotional Gamrat told reporters that regardless of what voters heard or believed, "I worked really hard for them when I was there" in Lansing. "It was a tremendous honor to serve. … My infidelity was wrong, but I don’t think it warranted and merited the maligning of my character that I had on me and my family day after day in the news."

In May, Courser sent a sexually explicit phony email to GOP activists and reporters that said he had been caught having sex with a male prostitute behind a Lansing nightclub. The self-smear email called Courser a "bi-sexual porn addicted sex deviant" and "gun toting Bible thumping … freak" and Gamrat a "tramp."

Courser explained that he thought his tale would make the affair less plausible in case it were revealed by an anonymous extortionist who sent him and Gamrat text messages demanding that he resign.

After the scandal broke in August, the freshmen legislators asked to be censured. But the Republican-led House pursued expulsion.

Whiteford, who like Howell will be favored to win when special general elections are held in the conservative-leaning districts on March 8, said she looks forward to being a "strong, credible, conservative voice for Allegan County."

Political action committees for business groups and legislative leaders threw their financial support behind the candidates who finished second to Courser and Gamrat in the 2014 primaries — nurse Jan Peabody and Whiteford — along with Howell. An education policy group with ties to one of the state’s Republican mega-donors mailed advertisements attacking Courser and Gamrat for misusing public resources to cover up the affair.

An apologetic Gamrat admitted to official misconduct and misuse of state resources but said she did not know the email’s content. Courser, who also apologized for the relationship, said he sent the email out of desperation. He accused former aides to him and Gamrat of conspiring with an anonymous blackmailer and GOP leadership in a "political hit" against him.

The staffers, including one who refused to send the email at Courser’s request, have filed a whistleblower and libel/slander lawsuit against Courser and Gamrat. The state police investigated the extortion allegation and sent a report to a county prosecutor, who could file charges, decline charges or seek more information.

"Voters of these districts have spoken and are now one step closer to having the effective representation that is the right of every Michigan resident," state Republican Party Chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel said. "It is time to move forward."

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