Can Melissa Gilbert turn 'Little House ' cred into Congressional win?

Melissa Gilbert announced her run for US Congress on Monday. Her campaign is grounded in economic improvement, while she has been said to owe several hundred thousand dollars in back taxes.

Gus Ruelas/Retuers/Files
Actress Melissa Gilbert answers a question during a panel discussion at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena, January 9, 2007. Ms. Gilbert, best known for playing Laura Ingalls Wilder in the 1970s television show Little House on the Prairie, announced Monday she would run for a US congressional seat in Michigan.

Those who know actress Melissa Gilbert as Laura Ingalls Wilder from her time on the 1970s television show “Little House on the Prairie” may have to adjust their mental image of her. Ms. Gilbert hopes to be known soon as Congresswoman Gilbert.

The actress announced her candidacy for a seat representing Michigan’s 8th district in a tweet Monday afternoon. A Democrat fighting for a traditionally red district, Gilbert has branded herself as an advocate for working class families.

"I'm running for Congress to make life a little easier for all the families who feel they have fallen through the cracks in today's economy," Gilbert said in a statement. "I believe building a new economy is a team effort, and we need to bring fresh voices to the table to get the job done."

She and her husband, fellow actor Timothy Busfield, have lived in Michigan since 2013, when they moved from California to the town of Howell. They now live in Brighton, about 35 miles outside Detroit, her campaign says.

Gilbert has never held public office, but she campaigned for gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer last year, and she is familiar with the title of “president:” she was the head of the Screen Actors Guild from 2001 to 2005. She has also written three books, including "Prairie Tale: A Memoir," a bestseller about her role on “Little House on the Prairie.”

Her campaign has already drawn criticism from current first-term GOP Representative, Mike Bishop. His spokesman, Stu Sandler, called her a “tax cheat,” pointing out that she owes a total of almost half a million dollars in back taxes – $360,000 to the US government and $112,000 to the state of California.

"Melissa Gilbert can afford to have a stylist for her dog, but cannot pay her taxes," Mr. Sandler said in a statement. "Her values our out of whack with the district."

Gilbert told the Detroit News in June her debts were a result of the economy, career problems, and her divorce, and that she had worked out a payment plan with the IRS. But last month, the Livingston Daily Press & Argus newspaper reported that the IRS had filed a lien against her.

This report contains material from Reuters and the Associated Press.

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