John Ostrander: Michigan Political Theater

House of Cards

I’m from Chicago. Most of you already know that. I grew up in the days of Mayor Richard J. Daley (the first Mayor Richard Daley) and the Chicago City Council of his era so I’m used to the concept of politics as theater, as popular culture. The rest of the country is catching up; the Republican Debate last week scored really high ratings for CNN. Some of the big TV shows such as House of Cards and Scandal also score well.

Given my upbringing I’m somewhat a connoisseur of political dramedy. Years ago, in one of the early visits to NYC, I read that a NYC borough president was caught in a scandal and committed suicide. I’m afraid my first rather uncharitable reaction was, “What a wimp.” I was from Chicago; when our politicians got caught and convicted, they would try to run their political fiefdoms from inside the prison and/or run their wife/brother/dog in the election to keep their seat warm until the malefactor alderman got out of the pokey.

I’ve been living in Michigan now for a number of years and we have our own set of entertaining politicos. In a state were over 60% of the population was polled and said their first priority was the state fixing our lousy and dangerous roads and bridges, the legislature has been unable to get together on a sane way of financing that fix without gutting things like education. They’d get close and then – whoops! – it was time to take a few weeks off. This, however, is simply incompetence; as I said, I’m from Chicago and I have higher standards for real political theater.

Recently, however, there has been an incident that has risen to my lofty standards. It involved two Republican members of the House of Representatives, Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat. Both are Tea Party activists and devout Christians who are self-proclaimed proponents of “traditional” marriage values. (Courser was also the representative for my former district, Lapeer.) And, of course, the two were having an affair.

Still, despite the delightful odor of hypocrisy, the affair still didn’t reach the bar for me in regards to political corruption. There was nothing really new or compelling in all this. It’s what happened next that really started making it entertaining.

Todd (the God) Courser decided to “leak” a phony e-mail saying that Courser had been caught having gay sex with a male prostitute. The “reasoning” was that it would “inoculate” Todd and Cindy if allegations of their affair came out.

Don’t ask me to explain it. I’m just reporting it.

This Dynamic Duo were using their offices and their staffs to help get this e-mail out and some of them refused. It was improper use of state funds and services. And, of course, the truth came out in all its jaw-dropping glory.

There was an investigation, Courser and Gamrat admitted to everything but asked to be censured and not expelled, there was a huge official report, and the whole messy debacle came to a head this last week. Courser resigned just before he could be expelled but Gamrat hung on to the end and got the boot. A new election was set to fill the now empty seats.

All this is fun and interesting to an old Chicago political junkie like me but it’s what happened next that raises the whole thing to Chicago level chicanery.

As of Friday, the last day for candidates to file, both Courser and Gamrat declared themselves as candidates for the very seats they just lost. That is Chicago style politics!

And they say, you can’t make this stuff up. I think if I tried to make a story that did all this, the editor would tell me it was just not believable. (Except for Mike Gold – Mike’s another old Chicago boy and he could easily cite three or four historic events that were much worse.)

Part of me is perverse enough to wonder if I should work in Courser’s and/or Gamrat’s campaign. You know; just as a way to say “thank you.” They made me nostalgic for the Chicago of my youth. I could even devise a campaign slogan: “Don’t let those bastards in Lansing tell you who can represent you! Vote Courser/Gamrat! Let the affair continue!”

Sigh. It seems like the old days all over again. I miss Chicago.