ACTRESS MELISSA GILBERT ARRIVES AT BVLGARI STORE OPENING IN BEVERLY HILLS.
Actress and president of the Screen Actors Guild Melissa Gilbert poses as she arrives at the opening of the newest Bvlgari store in Beverly Hills, California February 12, 2003.Reuters

The former Little House on the Prairie star Melissa Gilbert announced her bid to run for the Michigan congressional seat, saying that "fresh voices" are needed to help improve the economy for people who have fallen behind.

Gilbert, who played half-pint Laura Ingalls on the TV series that ran in the 1970s and 1980s, will seek the Democrat nomination to run for the 8th District, which stretches across three counties from the northern Detroit suburbs to the state capital of Lansing, AP reports.

The seat has been in Republican hands for 15 years and is currently held by first term Republican Mike Bishop who won the seat last year after the then House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers decided not to seek re-election.

The 51-year-old actress moved from California two years ago to Michigan after marrying fellow actor Timothy Busfield, who starred in West Wing. Both of them are now involved in ABC's new series Secrets and Lies.

This is the third marriage for both Gilbert and Busfield. She was formerly married to actor Bruce Boxleitner and actor Bo Brinkman.

Gilbert was born in Los Angeles to a newly engaged couple, David Darlington and Kathy Wood but was placed for adoption immediately after birth. She was adopted by actor and comedian Paul Gilbert and his wife, dancer and actress Barbara Crane.

"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. 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."

Soon after her announcement, incumbent Bishop's campaign spokesman Stu Sandler called Gilbert a "tax cheat", highlighting the fact that she owed $360,000 in back taxes to the US government and $112,000 to California."

Gilbert however told The Detroit News in June that she had negotiated a payment plan with the tax office, blaming the debt on a stalled acting career, the economy and divorce.

Her campaign told the Free Press on Tuesday (11 August) that she expects to pay off more than $470,000 in federal and state tax liens by 2024.

"Melissa was caught in a perfect storm of financial difficulty, which is why she initiated an honest conversation with the IRS. Together they set up a payment plan that will allow her to pay back her federal taxes over approximately 8 1/2 years and her California taxes over approximately 46 months," her campaign statement said, declining to go into further details, according to the Detroit Free Press.

Celebrities have name recognition in politics

Matt A.Barreto, a political science professor at the University of California told the Washington Post: "One of the biggest hurdles for newcomers to politics is name recognition. It's one of the big reasons incumbents have such an advantage, because they are more well known to the average voter in the district.

"So when celebrities enter politics, they have an advantage early on of name recognition. Depending on their current finances, they may also have a bit of money they can spend to further increase their name recognition.

"Not to mention that the media, for whatever the reason, love to devote extra attention to celebrity politicians, which further increases their profile and recognition among voters," he added. Barreto was however quick to say that name recognition alone will not be enough to sustain a candidate or an elected official.

"Eventually a celebrity politician will still have to run on a well-articulated agenda and set of policy beliefs, and this is where most end up falling short," he added.

Other celebrities turned politicians

Although she has never held any public office before, she campaigned for Michigan gubernatorial candidate Mark Schauer in 2014.

She served two terms as the president of the Screen Actors Guild from 2001-05, a post held by former US President Ronald Reagan before he turned to politics and became the governor for California.

Celebrities moving into politics was not a new phenomena, AFP said citing Fred Grandy who served four terms in Congress after his role as Gopher the purser in the 1970s and 1080s cruise comedy The Love Boat and Ben Jones who was elected in 1988 after his role as Cooter in the TV series The Dukes of Hazzard.

The Washington Post said singer Sonny Bono served as Palm Springs mayor before becoming California congressman from 1995 until his death in 1998.

Action movie star Arnold Schwarzenegger clinched the governor post in California in 2003 while Clint Eastwood ran for mayor and won in his hometown of Carmel in 1986.