Keeping the grass roots growing!!
DEERFIELD TWP. — Gary Howell won’t officially be sworn in asLapeer County’s latest state representative until Wednesday, because the Speaker of the House is tending to his mother’s funeral. But Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. Howell was already in his 11th floor office across the street from the Capitol Building returning phone calls.
“I want to hit the ground running,” he said.
In Tuesday’s election Howell defeated former Imlay City Mayor Margaret Guerrero DeLuca and political newcomer Stacy Spilker taking 58.5 percent of the votes cast to find a replacement for disgraced former state representative Todd Courser.
Courser, a firstterm state representative, resigned last September following a scandal over his affair with Cindy Gamrat, a Plainwell Republican, and the failed attempt to cover it up.
Gamrat and Courser won their seats in the House riding a wave of Tea Party furor with campaigns that championed a defense of traditional family values.
The pair are now facing felony charges.
“I’ve got to restore respect for Lapeer County,” the 67-year-old Mayfield Township farmer and retired attorney said. He said he spent much of his first day in Lansing meeting with people and hiring a legislative director.
Noting that he, along with Allegan County’s Mary Whiteford and Grand Rapids’ David LeGrand are the “freshest of freshmen,” Howell said he tapped Rich Arizai, a 20-year veteran of the hall of Lansing as his legislative director.
“I really need a guy who knows Lansing,” Howell said. In Arizai he found someone who is “very experienced” and “has a deep understanding of the legislature.” Howell added, “As you know, this is a vast bureaucracy and I need someone who can tell me who to call when I need a question answered.”
Howell said the Legislature scheduled heavily toward the first half of the year and most of the state representatives have a two-and-a-half month jump on him, so there’s a lot of catching up to do. State lawmakers have already committed $130 million to the Flintwater crisis and the Detroit Public School (DPS) funding crisis is coming hard and fast on the Legislature. “It’s my understanding they’re (DPS) going to run out of money April 1,” Howell said.
On top of that, he has his own priorities for Lapeer County. Chief among them, jobs. “We have some excellent programs at Ed-Tech,” he said, “but there’s a lot more to do. We need job retraining for people who’ve lost their jobs.”
While all the House committee assignments held by Courser were temporarily filled following his resignation, Howell said the House will have to find committee assignments for himself, Whiteford and LeGrand. That, he said, won’t happen until sometime next week. Howell said he’d like to get a seat on the Agriculture Workforce Development and Regulatory Reform committees.
While he wouldn’t say what they are, Howell said he’s already drafted three bills for consideration.
It’s going to be an extremely busy few weeks for Howell. On April 19 he’ll have to be back in Lapeer to file for the August primary to seek the GOP nomination for his seat. Along with his legislative duties, Howell will have to spend much of the summer and fall campaigning for the first of what could be three two-year terms in Lansing.
Howell’s new digs are the same occupied by Courser and Kevin Daley before him. He said the house office building has 110 identical offices, numbered to match their district, each with a view of the Capitol Building. Other than the state-issued furniture and phone, which has the same number as before, 517-373- 1800, he found the office bare Tuesday.
He said he’s in the process of gathering things that will immediately say Lapeer County to people when they come in the office.
Friday morning he was at his beloved farm in Deerfield Township, feeding his horse and cattle hay.
“It’s a new day,” he said.