Traverse City Record-Eagle

September 5, 2012

Another View: GOP wrong to cry foul on probe

By the Livingston County Daily Press & Argus

---- — A judge in neighboring Ingham County has been selected as a one-person grand jury to investigate if the election-rigging conduct of House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, and state Rep. Roy Schmidt, R-Grand Rapids, was merely political shenanigans or something more ominous, perhaps felonious.

Some Republicans are crying foul. They think Democrats are guilty of judge shopping, and they are shocked — shocked — that politics might be playing a role in a quest to discover if any laws were broken while the Republicans were playing politics with a state House election.

The Republicans are crying crocodile tears. Had Republican elected officials fully investigated this matter, a grand jury wouldn't be necessary.

They decided not to, leaving the door open for Democrats to push the issue. It's disingenuous for Republicans to complain now.

It's fair to say that this is a political scandal. Schmidt, who has been a Democratic member of the state House, told Republican leaders that he was willing to switch parties. So far, no problem.

But then the scheming began. Schmidt waited to file for re-election until the last possible minute, leaving Democrats surprised at his defection and unable to put a candidate of their own on the primary ballot.

But that wasn't enough for Republicans. They recruited a scam candidate who would occupy the Democratic ballot but who had no interest in running for the office. Such a move would make it virtually impossible for a write-in candidate to win the Democratic primary.

But then, a problem emerged. The patsy candidate turned out not to live in the district. That should have been a deal-killer for Republicans, who have made fraudulent voting a national issue. If it's wrong to illegally vote, shouldn't it be even worse to illegally run for office?

Maybe not. When reporters started asking the fake candidate about his residency, he got cold feet. At that point, according to a truncated state police investigation, it appears as though Schmidt offered him $1,000 to stay in the race.

If Schmidt knew that the candidate failed to meet residency requirements, that could be suborning perjury. If he was going to use campaign funds for the payoff, that could violate election finance laws. The investigation could ensnare House Speaker Bolger, who was so involved in the chicanery that one of his key staff members actually filed the nomination papers for the fake Democrat.

State police looked to be closing in on possible charges when the investigation was shut down by Kent County Prosecutor Bill Forsyth. A Republican, Forsyth issued a scathing report that harshly criticized what he called appalling behavior by Schmidt and Bolger. But he said there appeared to be no laws broken and he wanted voters to be aware of the scheme before the election.

That's somewhat reasonable, but the investigation could have continued even after the fiasco was revealed. Meanwhile, Attorney General Bill Schuette has declined to intervene because of the lame excuse that he doesn't want to second-guess a local prosecutor. Apparently, stepping on a fellow Republican's toes is a greater concern than the legality of public elections.

Into that void stepped two Democratic leaders — state party Chairman Mark Brewer and Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, D-East Lansing — who successfully sought a grand jury investigation from the Democratic-dominated Ingham County bench.

Are politics at play? Perhaps. But such concerns pale compared to the idea that legislative leaders can play fast and loose with election law. Republicans have chosen to try to sweep this under the rug. Now that Democrats are shining some judicial light on the matter, Republican complaints sound like so much whining. They had their chance to come clean. They chose not to.

Livingston County Daily Press & Argus