Updated, 4:50 p.m., with comments from Inman’s attorney
Amid mounting calls for his resignation, Republican state Rep. Larry Inman wants everyone to know that he doesn’t plan on going anywhere — except back to his home near Traverse City for the weekend.
While there, he plans to meet with local press and his constituents before returning to Lansing next week and getting back to business as usual, he told the Advance.
Less than 24 hours after a federal indictment accused the Williamsburg lawmaker of bribery, extortion and lying to federal law enforcement — which could land him up to 20 years in prison, if convicted — Inman is making the media rounds around Lansing.
But he skipped House session, as he did on Wednesday.
The legislator first appeared on the MI Big Show radio program Thursday morning, protesting his innocence in an alleged attempt to sell his vote on a crucial union wage policy. Inman told host Michael Patrick Shiels he has no plans to step down, despite calls for him to do so from House Speaker Lee Chatfield (R-Levering), House Minority Leader Christine Greig (D-Farmington Hills) and others.
Inman stressed that again in speaking to the Advance on Thursday shortly after the radio interview, and just after a brief meeting with a pair of agricultural lobbyists.
The embattled third-term state representative was more than happy to field questions during an almost 20-minute interview, although he deferred to his attorney, Chris Cooke, on several matters.
Asked whether citizens should view his situation as another example of officeholders getting too cozy with lobbyists and special interests, Inman rejected the characterization.
“Lobbyists do perform a function in Lansing and it’s more educational-driven, on their clients’ behalf,” he said.
“It is what is it is,” Inman added. “If I ever took a contribution from anyone — an individual or any PAC — if I felt uncomfortable about it, I would send it back.”
According to the indictment, Inman stands accused of sending unduly solicitous text messages last summer to a pair of unnamed people tied to the Michigan Regional Council of Carpenters and Millwrights union. In them, he asked for $30,000 each in campaign contributions for himself and 11 other unnamed lawmakers.
Inman’s indictment alleges that the contributions would have been in exchange for votes to block the repeal of prevailing wage, a law strongly favored by unions that mandated union-level wages on certain publicly-financed construction projects.
Inman ultimately voted to repeal the law, which was done last June. He stressed to the Advance on Thursday that union issues — particularly as they relate to the skilled trades — are extremely important to him, but his constituents expected him to vote to repeal the prevailing wage law.
“People will not go down for $5,000, not that we dont [sic] appreciate it,” Inman allegedly said in one of the texts, according to the indictment.
“Please get with the [sic] all the trades by Monday, I would suggest maxing out on all 12, or at least doubling what you have given them on Tuesday.”
He added that “it’s not worth losing assignments and staff for $5,000 in the end,” according to the indictment. In both conversations, Inman allegedly told recipients, “we never had this discussion.”
Speaking with the Advance, he said the texts have been “misinterpreted,” but declined to elaborate further on what that meant. Asked whether he still had the texts, Inman said they had been transferred to his attorney.
Cooke, Inman’s lawyer, said that he fully expects to have a jury trial.
“Every communication can be taken out of context,” Cooke said. “Especially text messages. If we were all bound to the context of our text messages, we’d all be in trouble.”
With regards to the 11 other lawmakers, Cooke denied that there was any “coalition” of lawmakers working to get money to block prevailing wage repeal and said the context of that “will all come out.”
The Carpenters union has previously said it’s “glad that Larry Inman is being brought to justice.”
Inman told the Advance that he believes the union turned him over to law enforcement officials. Although he noted that he’s had a “pretty good relationship” with the Carpenters in the past, he said he doesn’t expect that to continue.
A Carpenters union spokeswoman declined to comment on Wednesday when asked whether the union had turned Inman into authorities.
For money-in-politics watchdogs in Lansing, the Inman incident — as alleged — makes for “a sad situation,” but not a particularly surprising one.
Craig Mauger, executive director of the nonprofit Michigan Campaign Finance Network, said the allegations paint a vivid picture of the culture in Michigan politics between lawmakers, lobbyists and campaign donor groups.
“It might be an isolated situation that someone would put it in a text message in the kind of blunt wording that he did,” Mauger said in an interview Thursday morning. “That could be isolated, but the idea of the close connection between public policy decisions and fundraising for political campaigns, the close connection between those two things, is widespread.”
Mauger anecdotally shared that he’s heard of lobbyists for interest groups bouncing between nearly a dozen political fundraisers on any given day.
“The number of fundraisers that happen within two blocks of the Capitol on days the Legislature is in session is sometimes more than a dozen. It’s not that people going to these fundraisers are voters in their districts … it’s the same 40 lobbyists traveling from fundraiser to fundraiser,” Mauger said.
“The lobbyists are there because they represent clients who want to influence policy and they’re giving campaign checks to people who are making the policy decisions,” he said. “The idea that there’s a connection between the campaign money and trying to influence policy, I don’t think would surprise anyone.”
While Inman remains steadfast in his innocence and his commitment to remaining in office through the end of his final House term, calls for him to leave office continue to escalate.
“Rep. Inman’s actions are concerning and deeply troubling,” Greig, the House minority leader, said in a statement. “I join with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle in calling for his immediate resignation and look to Speaker Chatfield to use all the tools at his disposal to take action if Rep. Inman refuses to resign.”
Other progressive and Democratic party groups have called for those efforts as well, as the Advance reported on Wednesday.
Chatfield has stressed since Wednesday that he believes Inman needs to step down, and that he has asked him to do so. Inman told the Advance that he believes the speaker is simply doing his job and following proper procedure.
Speaking with reporters on Thursday, Chatfield again noted that he has asked his fellow northern Michigan representative to resign, but stopped short of saying whether he would take up expulsion efforts.
“I think it is in the best interest of this institution that he resign his position as a state representative,” Chatfield said. “And he will have a couple of days to make that decision, because I think he needs to reevaluate his position and where he is at.”
The last time the House held expulsion hearings was in 2015 for Reps. Todd Courser (R-Lapeer) and Cindy Gamrat (R-Plainwell), who were accused of abusing their offices in the course of what became a very public affair. Eventually, Courser resigned and Gamrat was expelled.
Inman said he believes his long history of private sector work experience and 22 years on the Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners — as well as his other state appointments — will come to light and help show his innocence.
“I have a high standard of trust and integrity for my whole life,” Inman said. “So do you really think that I’m going to take a $2,000 contribution and do what they said I was going to do? There’s no way. I would never take a bribe or anything illegal or unethical. Never.”