Melissa Gilbert (aka Laura Ingalls) running for Congress in Michigan

Melissa Gilbert, an actress who starred in 'Little House on the Prairie,' announced her run for a Michigan congressional seat on Monday.

REUTERS/Gus Ruelas/Files
Actress Melissa Gilbert answers a question during a panel discussion at the Television Critics Association press tour in Pasadena in this file photo from January 9, 2007. Gilbert, best known for playing Laura Ingalls Wilder in the 1970s television show Little House on the Prairie, announced August 10, 2015 she would run for a U.S. congressional seat in Michigan.

Former "Little House on the Prairie" star Melissa Gilbert announced her candidacy for a Michigan congressional seat on Monday, saying "fresh voices" are needed to help improve the economy for people who have fallen behind.

The 51-year-old Democrat, who moved from California two years ago after marrying actor Timothy Busfield, will run for the 8th District, which stretches across three counties from the northern Detroit suburbs to the state capital of Lansing and has been in GOP hands for 15 years. First-term Republican Rep. Mike Bishop of Rochester won last year after then-House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers decided not to seek re-election.

"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."

Gilbert, who has never held public office, campaigned for Michigan gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer in 2014. She was president of the Screen Actors Guild from 2001-05 after playing Laura Ingalls on "Little House" in the 1970s and 1980s.

She and Busfield recently moved from Howell to nearby Brighton, 35 miles northwest of Detroit, according to her campaign.

Bishop campaign spokesman Stu Sandler called Gilbert a "tax cheat," noting that she owes $360,000 in back taxes to the U.S. government and $112,000 to California.

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

Gilbert has blamed the tax debt on a stalled acting career, the economy and divorce.

Gilbert blames the 2011-2013 tax debt on a stalled acting career, the economy and divorce. In a statement to the Detroit Free Press in June, she said that "like so many people across the nation, the recession hit me hard" and there was a "perfect storm of financial difficulty for me."

Gilbert says she's negotiated a payment plan with the IRS. "I've set up an installment plan to fully pay off my debt and will continue to work as hard as I can to erase this debt and dig myself out of this hole," she said. "I am absolutely positive that I can do it."

Bishop is among 23 incumbents — and the third from Michigan — to be designated as the National Republican Congressional Committee's most vulnerable.

Gilbert may be joining a long line of former actors who have turned name recognition into political careers, including former Calif. governors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Ronald Reagan, as well as former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura and Rep. Sonny Bono.


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