Friday, August 21, 2015

Gamrat Dishonors Our Community

Plainwell, a small city (pop. 3,900) in southwestern Michigan, has a new claim to fame. News of a sex scandal involving the area's representative in the state legislature has spread to the major television networks, been mocked on late-night comedy shows, and circulated to all manner of  media by the Associated Press. Reuters is carrying the story, so it may even have reached foreign shores.

I was much more content when Plainwell's claims to fame were servings of great treats at the Plainwell Ice Cream Company and a history of papermaking at a giant mill now mostly decomposing in the center of town after shutting down about 15 years ago.

My inclination has been to let the scandal play out without comment here. Several investigations are under way to determine if laws as well as moral principles have been violated. However, a few folks have poked fun in my direction because of the situation. A couple of  things need clarification.

It is true that Cindy Gamrat, the female partner in the sordid affair, is a neighbor. News stories correctly identify her as "R-Plainwell," and we both have Plainwell mailing addresses. We actually live about 5 miles east of town in a community of some 450 families. Although Gamrat resides on the edge of my neighborhood, we have never met.

My silence regarding the now infamous representative should not be construed as support. Usually, I consider voting a very private matter, but I'll make a small exception in this case. I have never
Courser and Gamrat need to resign.
voted for Cindy Gamrat. One area GOP leader said two "sensible Republicans" were in the four-person primary field that included Gamrat. I voted for one of them. Gamrat also didn't get my vote in the general election, but that mattered not, because this district is very conservative, and the Republican nominee always wins local elections.

Gamrat moved to our neighborhood from Indiana about four years ago. She became the founder and leader of the Plainwell Patriots Tea Party. She and another first-term legislator, Todd Courser, upon arriving in Lansing took the unusual step of  sharing office space and staffs. They now admit to sharing a lot more.

So what?  Sexual transgressions involving politicians, some of them prominent (Bill Clinton comes to mind), seem so routine that news of another one usually gets ho-hum reactions.

One respected local newspaper columnist addressed the question by producing statistics indicating affairs involving female legislators are much less common than those of males. The counter argument that there are many more men than women holding office doesn't hold up. Correcting for that, it appears to be a fact that far fewer women politicos than men go astray, or at least fewer get caught.. That truth helps make the Gamrat-Courser affair unusual, and that makes it newsy.

More unusual is Courser's bizarre attempt to create a cover story. One of his staff recorded Courser discussing the whole thing. The tape was given to the Detroit Free Press, which broke the story. Courser arranged to have an e-mail sent to  Republican leaders in Lansing stating that he was an habitual drug user who had been caught having sex with a male prostitute. That was supposed to create such a sensation that revelations about the  Gamrat-Courser affair would be dismissed or discounted.

Another major factor in turning a minor Michigan affair into national news is that the participants are outspoken social conservatives who do not hesitate to bring up their dedication to "family values" and hurl God bombs around at will. Both are married. Gamrat has three children (she home schooled them), Courser has four children. Courser has said he won't resign because God hasn't told him to do so.

There are many other strange quirks to this story, including Gamrat being thrown out of the Republican caucus for breaking its rules. If you like to delve into political-sexual intrigue, do a computer search and you'll find all sorts of interesting stuff.

If you study the matter, you probably won't wind up feeling sorry for Gamrat or Courser, only their families. They clearly have not been star-crossed lovers caring intensely only for each other. In one of his cover-up statements, Courser called Gamrat "a tramp." Gamrat stood beside her husband while making a tearful public confession about the affair, and never mentioned Courser by name.

Six of seven top Republican leaders in our county have called for Gamrat's resignation. Michigan Tea Party leaders have demanded that both Gamrat and Courser resign. The Mayor of Plainwell said Gamrat has made a mockery of her role in government, and "needs to go away." I agree.

(On Sept. 10, Courser resigned from the Michigan House of representatives while votes were being taken on expelling him. A short time later, the House voted to expel Gamrat. Both decided to run in Nov. 3 special elections to fill their seats, stating "let the voters decide." The voters did. Gamrat finished third with less that 10 percent of the vote; Courser did even worse finishing behind a bevy of opponents with about 3 percent of the vote )

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

A Dubious Distinction

Our town featured a different kind of summer diversion this year. The Smithsonian Institution's traveling exhibit "The Way We Worked" had a place of honor for several weeks in a renovated area of the historic Plainwell Paper Mill.

Our local arts council and district library were principal sponsors of the exhibit, and they created
some related activities using the work theme.  Among them, the library hosted an essay contest. Several categories for authors of different ages all revolved around employment experiences. Why not enter? I thought. I extracted some material published  in lengthy articles elsewhere and assembled it into an essay about my first job as a shoe shine boy.

Several days after the exhibit left town, a cheerful librarian called with the news my essay was a winner and prizes would be forthcoming.  It was great news, but got a little less great when she laughed and said there were six prize packages for the five authors who entered the competition, so everybody got a prize.  I felt a bit as some youngsters might when everybody who races around the track gets a blue ribbon because "we all are winners."

My ego got a small boost when the librarian said she thought my essay was the best. But when I  stopped in to get my prizes and read the other four entries on display, I realized there were some pretty darn good stories in the "contest." Did that pleasant lady tell everyone their essay was the best?

The prize packet included a nice "Essay Contest Winner" certificate and a Barnes and Noble gift card. The third item was a $25 share of stock in the Michigan Paper Company of Plainwell. Wow, those were issued many years ago. Could be very valuable. Not really--the Plainwell Paper Mill ceased operations 15 years ago. The buildings are  being demolished or, in a few cases, remodeled for other uses.

Incidentally, the Smithsonian exhibit is an outstanding audio-visual presentation. If it comes your way, take the opportunity to see it. And, if the locals sponsor an essay contest, give that a go. Chances of winning are very good. If nothing else, you might ask about that sixth prize package the Plainwell folks couldn't find a winner for.