Melissa Gilbert to Run for Congress in Michigan’s 8TH

Screen shot of Melissa Gilbert's website

Website for the Congressional campaign of Melissa Gilbert

Melissa Gilbert to Run for Congress in Michigan
| published August 11, 2015 |

By Thursday Review staff writers

Melissa Gilbert, perhaps best known for her endearing role as Laura Ingalls on the enormously popular television series Little House on the Prairie, says she is running for Michigan’s Eighth Congressional District. Gilbert, a Democrat, will challenge incumbent Mike Bishop, a Republican from Rochester.

The Eighth District covers most of three counties, and stretches from parts of suburban metro Detroit to Lansing and East Lansing. Gilbert says she is making the economy—and its harsh impact on families and middle-to-lower income earners—the centerpiece of her campaign for the U.S. House of Representatives. Gilbert announced the focus of her campaign on a recently-unveiled campaign website.

“I’m running for Congress to make life easier for all the families who feel they have fallen through the cracks in today’s economy.” Gilbert also said she would bring outside experience and perspective toward her goal of economic improvement.

Not a complete novice to politics, Gilbert was elected as president of the Screen Actors Guild in a complex and somewhat controversial election in 2001, beating actress Valerie Harper for the top spot. Gilbert was re-elected to the SAG presidency in 2003. She served two terms as SAG president, and was succeeded by Alan Rosenberg in late 2005.

Gilbert—the daughter of actor and comedian Paul Gilbert and the actress, model and dancer Barbara Crane (who was herself a prodigy in Hollywood, as her father was Harry Crane, writer and creator of The Honeymooners)—started in Hollywood as a child actress, appearing in television commercials and TV shows at the age of seven. Since then, she has appeared in hundreds of TV shows, films, and various guest appearances. She is currently married to actor Timothy Busfield.

Gilbert lives in Livingston County in the western portion of the district; Bishop lives in Oakland County, in the east. Though some of the Congressional districts around Detroit are highly complex and serpentine, the Eighth District is relatively contiguous and geographically contained, save for an area carved out for more densely populated districts around Pontiac, Auburn Hills, and other surburban areas northwest of Detroit. The Eighth District is generally regarded as solidly Republican based on the voting patterns in the last decade. Prior to Bishop, the Eighth District was represented by Republican Mike Rogers.

Republican strategists, however, are keen to keep an eye on any Congressional district in danger of being lost to Democrats, and they have recently included Bishop in a special fundraising effort crafted to assist GOP incumbents who are in danger of losing re-election. Though Gilbert may be viewed as a lightweight when it comes to national politics, some GOP strategists are careful to avoid underestimating celebrity star power in elections.

Still, Gilbert’s campaign team has a few difficult challenges to overcome aside from a district which leans strongly Republican: Gilbert still has unanswered questions regarding unpaid delinquent taxes. In June, journalists for the Daily Press & Argus (Livingston County) reported that the Internal Revenue Service had filed a lien against Gilbert for what the IRS calculates is more than $360,000 in unpaid taxes accumulated over a ten year period. The IRS has analyzed Gilbert’s assets, which include a home on Ventura Boulevard in pricey Sherman Oaks, California, along with dozens of other luxury possessions. Gilbert has lived in the town of Howell, Michigan since 2013, where many locals support her presence and defend her in her dust-ups with the IRS. But the IRS is pressing ahead with its case against Gilbert.

Gilbert has issued a statement telling reporters that she has set up a payment plan with the IRS to pay off the back taxes, but Michigan Republicans wasted little time pouncing on the tax fracas as proof that Gilbert is unfit to serve in Congress, much less assume the role of economic mentor for the people in her part of Michigan.

A spokesman for Bishop’s campaign said that Gilbert’s “values are out of whack with the district.”

Related Thursday Review articles:

Jeb Bush, Out of the Box; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; Thursday Review; July 21, 2015.

Biden and Supporters Considering 2016; R. Alan Clanton; Thursday Review; August 2, 2015.