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Democrats Tue Sep 25 2012
State Rep. Derrick Smith is projected to win his bid for re-election over his challenger Lance Tyson.
To an outsider, that may seem like a banal statement to read in the last month or so of campaign season. To a Chicagoan, it's just another strange moment in the history of our patented style of politics, considering that Smith has been expelled from the Illinois General Assembly and he's under federal indictment for alleged bribery. Nonetheless, the Sun-Times's Dave McKinney reports that he has a lead of 48 percent to 9 percent in one election poll. Should he win, this race may have one of the most maddening election outcomes since John Ashcroft lost his 2000 race to retain his senate seat to a deceased Mel Carnahan. McKinney points out that Smith's affiliation with the Democratic Party alone (in a race with no other Democrats, and one independent) might explain his extremely high polling numbers. Yet, his poll numbers almost defy logic for a candidate that comes loaded with considerable doubts to their ability to govern ethically.
Perhaps the blame for this apparent level of misinformed public opinion may lay in the hands of other Democratic leaders who have actively defended Smith since his arrest in March, asking the public to consider his innocence and let the justice system play out, in what appears like an apparent strategy to retain Democratic numbers in the house at all costs.
Of course, Rep. Smith has yet to be convicted. Regardless of political affiliation, the United States law assumes all people are innocent until proven guilty in court. He will have an opportunity to defend himself. But until then, voters are left only with the realities of the court of public opinion. We know that he has been accused of bribery, and expelled from the Illinois Capitol. This is more than enough to give voters hesitation. The Feds don't typically arrest public officials on a whim -- see Ryan comma George or Blagojevich comma Rod for further. Rather than guide our decisions at the polls by the party we affiliate ourselves with, shouldn't we first and foremost consider the integrity of the candidate? Do we really want to elect someone who may end up in jail? In Illinois, where we are weary -- almost numb to corruption, shouldn't that be one of the most important questions we ask of candidates before we vote for them?
Similarly, don't Democratic leaders have a responsibility to preserve the integrity of their party, and demand honest leadership from their peers? Rallying to protect a seat in the general assembly for someone who eventually may be legally ineligible to sit in it has tremendous potential for backfire -- particularly in the state of Illinois where we have a bit of a corruption problem. We're not likely to solve voter apathy until our faith in government is restored. That isn't easy when we often find the people we elect on the other side of the law, and we see so few leaders taking a stand against corruption.
The outcome of this race may have more implications for Illinois politics than we think.