People's choice

In Illinois, being under indictment apparently is no impediment to waging a winning election campaign.

Chicago state Rep. Derrick Smith was expelled in August from the Illinois House of Representatives, with legislators taking the action to make themselves look good after Smith made them look bad.

Smith, a Democrat, is facing federal criminal charges in connection with allegations that he accepted a $7,000 bribe in exchange for backing a grant application with the state of Illinois.

Smith hasn't had a lot to say publicly since his indictment or his expulsion. Perhaps actor Arnold Schwarzenegger said it for him best with his immortal movie phrase, "I'll be back."

It's looking more and more like Smith will be back.

The polling firm "We Ask America" recently surveyed 556 voters in Smith's heavily Democratic, heavily minority district and found Smith is leading his third-party challenger by a 48 percent to 9 percent margin. The poll's margin of error is just plus or minus 4.15 percent.

So it would appear that Smith is pretty well situated to return to the House only a few months after he was expelled.

It may seem odd, but expelled legislators are permitted to return to the body from which they were ousted if the voters approve it.

What is going on here?

It's a combination of voter ignorance or apathy, party loyalty and party politics.

Smith is a Democrat in a Democratic-controlled House, and party leaders treat fellow party members with kid gloves because they need their votes.

Smith was indicted before the March primary, but that didn't stop party leaders from backing him to the hilt in a contested election against a Democratic opponent who was perceived, perhaps correctly, as more Republican than Democratic.

But immediately after Smith won the primary election, party leaders, including his mentor, Secretary of State Jesse White, urged Smith to step down from the ticket so another less embarrassing Democrat could take his place.

Smith refused — for principled reasons by the shoddy standards of politicians' principles. He needs the income from his legislative job. More important, it's to his benefit to wait until after he's convicted to resign so his lawyers can argue to the court that Smith's resignation is proof of his remorse and shows why he deserves a lenient sentence.

But the plot lines keep turning.

Unhappy with Smith, Democrats are running a third-party candidate, Lance Tyson of the 10th District Unity Party Ticket. The Unity Party is really a vehicle for party bigwigs to defeat Smith.

But it's not happening.

Voters either haven't got the message or have rejected the message. In District 10, they vote Democratic no matter what and Smith is the Democratic candidate.

Further, frustrated power brokers don't want to push voters too hard on the question of Smith's future. They're prepared to live with him if they have to because they still have his vote, however embarrassing it may be.

That's why Speaker Michael Madigan, who controls the body that ousted Smith, and Cook County Board Chairwoman Toni Preckwinkle, who's dropped broad hints about running for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination in March 2014, say publicly that they are neutral. Privately, they undoubtedly would prefer he disappear, but politics the way it's practiced in Illinois sometimes requires compromise on things that shouldn't be compromised, like honesty and ethics in government.

That's one of the reasons the state of Illinois is so compromised.

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parkmymeterelsewhere wrote on September 18, 2012 at 5:09 pm

As a newspaper who promotes the destruction of a sustainable way of life across the tracks from your printing facility don't you think your criticism of government officials who bend the rules and show disregard/respect for their local neighbors warrants you with the same condemnation?

Sid Saltfork wrote on September 18, 2012 at 7:09 pm

Naw; they don't see it that way.  Their intent is trashing Democrats.  The News Gazette is a conservative owned newspaper.  They meant nothing other than Democrats are corrupt, and evil especially those in Chicago.  They meant to discredit one party in order to support the party of their preference.  The rest is just collateral damage in striving to make their point.  They meant nothing personal.  It is just business. 

EL YATIRI wrote on September 20, 2012 at 1:09 pm
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I agree.  The NG is a neocon, teatard rag.

nick wrote on September 18, 2012 at 10:09 pm

There are reasons to be very critical of some of the people involved in Illinois government. All responsible citizens should be deeply concerned about corruption in government. However it is important that all citizens commit to a fair assesment of these issues. It is long overdue for the News-Gazette to demonstrate a much more fair and accurate view of Illinois politics.There are several well done and complete studies that put the ethical performance of state governments in perspective. Compared to many states Illinois seems to be much better in significant ways. Investigate,do some homework and expand your research base. The News-Gazette bashes and criticizes so relentlessly that they have very little credibility to anyone who is searching for a serious understanding of government ethics and public service. The board of trustees at the NG may not care to admit it but law enforcement and prosecutors in many places in Illinois are aggressive and dedicated.Of course I will be accused as being biased but I have been in public service a long time and have family members who also work as investigators and prosecutors.There are good people and dedicated professionals serving in Illinois government. Is there any chance that the News Gazette corporate sponsors will allow the editors to write just one positive editorial about those who have made a career of public service?