Saturday, March 24, 2012

Political people getting worked up for wrong reasons over Derrick Smith

It is an embarrassment for our state that an incumbent legislator from the West Side gets elected to office just one week after we learned he was indicted on federal charges claiming he solicited bribes in exchange for his services as a representative.

But I have to be honest. The real embarrassment isn’t so much related to state Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago, as it is to the way political people on all sides of the partisan equation are behaving.

EVERYBODY IS TRYING to behave like they’re “holier than thou” and are somehow superior to everybody else. That’s just a batch of nonsense.

I’m talking about the Republican legislators who immediately reacted to Tuesday’s Democratic primary victory by Smith over Tom Swiss (a conservative ideologue who was hoping that a lack of specific information about himself would enable him to “steal” a seat from the Democratic caucus) by calling for hearings to discipline, if not outright remove, Smith from office.

Then again, I expect a partisan reaction. It is easy for me to dismiss such talk by GOPers as the rantings of a batch of political gasbags.

The fact that Democratic Party-affiliated politicos in Springfield are now taking on such legislative hearings (and according to the Capitol Far newsletter actually contemplated whether they could hold them in executive session – a.k.a., in secret) is complete trash.

THE IDEA THAT they’re trying to create the illusion that they’re going to “discipline” one of their own is stupid. It’s ridiculous. It’s absurd. If anything, it borders on hypocritical.

They would be the last people I would expect to impose serious discipline, since the whole strategy behind the way they dealt with news of Smith’s indictment in U.S. District Court in Chicago was to urge people to vote for Smith in the primary.

Because they knew that if Smith won, his eventual replacement would fall into their hands. A Swiss victory (he is a former executive director of the completely ineffectual Cook County Republican Party) would have meant engaging in a hard-core campaign to depose him come 2014 – which they likely would have done.

The Illlinois Statehouse will feel this gloomy and doomy while legislators try to figure out what to do with previously-unknown representative Derrick Smith.

Nobody really cares about punishment. It’s about using the Smith situation to try to bolster their own political situations. This is partisanship at its worst.

ALL OF WHICH means that the hearings scheduled to start Tuesday at the Statehouse in Springpatch (which are being billed as a mini-version of the impeachment hearings held in 1997 for then-Illinois Supreme Court Justice James Heiple and in 2010 for now-incarcerated former Gov. Rod Blagojevich) are a batch of bunk.

Cheap rhetoric at its worst. The ultimate in grandstanding, with politicos of both parties seeing who can outdo the other side in terms of diminishing what little public reputation Derrick Smith has.

Personally, if I were in Smith’s position, I wouldn’t do a thing to move toward resignation (which is what Democratic leadership would like Smith to do, now that it is a “done deal” that they can appoint his replacement).

He does still have that “innocent until proven guilty” thing going for him. Until a jury comes back with a “guilty” verdict and a judge agrees (or until he enters a “guilty” plea), he doesn’t have to go anywhere.

AND FOR THOSE people who are going to argue that having an indicted person hanging around the state Legislature is embarrassing and adds to the symbolic stench of the place, I say, “nonsense.”

All the high-minded “trash talk” we’re going to get from legislators pretending to be morally superior than Smith will be more of an embarrassment than anything Smith is alleged to have done.

Because the reality is that Smith, who was nothing but an appointed replacement himself to finish off the Illinois House term remaining when Annazette Collins gave it up to become a state Senator, is alleged to have written a letter on behalf of a day care center owner who wanted a state grant.

There’s nothing wrong with that, EXCEPT that prosecutors claim the only reason he wrote the letter was the $7,000 in cash (all hundreds, from someone who turned out to be an FBI informant) that he received in exchange.

WHICH MAY BE the ultimate evidence that Smith is not so much a corrupt, venal individual as he is a dim bulb – so to speak.

Legislators often offer up their influence to projects or groups in their home districts in order to gain their eternal gratitude – which if played properly (and legally) can be worth far more than $7,000 in cold, hard cash.

If Smith were truly as conniving as I’m sure some people are going to claim next week that he is, he would have been able to gain much more for himself in favor after favor that would have bolstered his influence – and NOT have to worry about the prospects of an indictment and conviction.

Which makes me think that this is a two-bit, petty crime that political people will try to exaggerate to make themselves feel all-powerful. That offends me much more.

FOR I KNOW that Smith, if he is guilty, will eventually be weeded out by the criminal justice system. The political blowhards who want to get themselves involved for their own selfish reasons will linger around the Statehouse Scene for far longer.

Much longer, as a matter of fact, after the name “Derrick Smith” fades away from our memories and becomes a “who dat?”


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