Tuesday, May 8, 2012

39.97 % Remember that!

It was the autumn of ’86 and the Illinois governor’s race had become a true debacle.
STEVENSON III: His independent campaign failed

Adlai E. Stevenson III tried for a second time to run for governor against incumbent James R. Thompson, and we will always wonder if the man who came within 5,000 votes in 1982 could have won four years later – had there not been the craziness that caused the Democratic nominee to abandon his political party and run an independent campaign for the office.

IN THE END, Stevenson’s final bid for electoral office took nearly 1.26 million votes, or 39.97 percent – which fell short of the 52.67 percent that Thompson got to ensure him his final four-year term in office.

I can’t help but think of all this political activity that occurred during my years in college (specifically, I was in Washington, D.C. for a semester when this election occurred, and I was too lazy to get an absentee ballot – which is why I didn’t vote) when I hear the talk that Democrats in one legislative district on the West Side are contemplating challenging their party’s nominee with an independent campaign.

We don’t know who it would be. We only know that officials are getting embarrassed by the spectacle that has become state Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago.

He’s the legislator who faces criminal charges in U.S. District Court in Chicago for activity that federal prosecutors say constitutes acceptance of a bribe.

HE’S ALSO THE guy who managed to win the March Democratic primary election, mainly because the person who was challenging him was a scuz-ball in his own right.

So now, Democrats literally have among their nominees for the Illinois Legislature a person who faces criminal indictment. Since there is not going to be a credible Republican challenger in that particular inner-city district (the black people who would have voted for the GOP as the “Party of Lincoln” are long-gone from that area), it would seem Smith has a clear path to re-election.
SMITH: Is he safe from independent?

Except that party officials want him to go away. They’d like him to resign his seat now, renounce the nomination similar to how Scott Lee Cohen gave up his Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor in 2010, then keep quiet until the day he is found guilty or pleads guilty – when he would then go to prison.

Not that Smith himself has any intention of playing alone. He perceives himself as the victim in all of this, although I suspect his need for a paycheck provided for his services as a legislator is his real motivation for refusing to leave. This is a man who has tried to describe his legal predicament as a lawsuit filed against him – as though he can later claim it was one of those “frivolous” legal actions that some people like to claim there are too many of.

I HAVE SAID before that I think Democrats should not be able to force Smith out prior to his being found “guilty” of something. If there is shame due to his association with them, perhaps they deserve to have to live with it for ever thinking that Smith was qualified to be in the General Assembly in the first place.

Smith got where he was because he had the backing of Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White. So perhaps Smith ought to be a part of the White legacy – the good along with the bad. White backers shouldn’t be allowed to “erase” Smith as though he never existed.

But I have to be wary of any attempt to have an independent challenge Smith.

Because somehow, I keep remembering Stevenson.

HE CREATED A “Solidarity Party” label for himself and tried to push the message that Democratic voters should remember to switch political parties for that one post come Election Day.

Yet in the end, the technicalities of election law ensured that requiring people to put that much thought into casting their ballot would ensure that many voters wouldn’t.

If they had, Stevenson would have gotten more than the 39.97 percent vote he received. Thompson got himself another term in office because of the partisan political confusion.

Why do I suspect that at a time when Democrats will be trying to turn out every single vote possible to ensure that Barack Obama gets a large-enough urban vote to overcome rural opposition to his presidency, the idea of telling people in this one very-Democratic legislative district that they have to do some funny political maneuvering might backfire.

MANY MIGHT NOT do it. Some might wind up being confused enough that they don’t bother to vote. It definitely isn’t a guarantee that Dems could dump Smith come Nov. 6.

Yes, Election Day is going to be a headache this year. Yes, Smith has the potential to be embarrassing because of his arrogance. The 2012 election cycle is not going to be a high-minded campaign on any level.

But Democrats might very well have to accept the fact that they’re going to have to live with the shame of his association with them until that day comes when a federal judge pounds his gavel down and pronounces Smith’s criminal case closed.


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