Full disclosure: I was a constituent of former Missouri State Senator Jeff Smith.
In 2009, Smith resigned from office, pled guilty to obstructing justice, and went to jail. Now he’s back with a new book.
Let’s jump right on in, shall we?
I haven’t read Jeff Smith’s new book, but I did struggle through his recent piece in Politico. I can share that the wince-worthy title ‘The Senator Be Embezzling’ should be taken as warning to readers that they are about to read some seriously entitled spin lightly seasoned with an indictment of the prison industrial complex.
“The final stop was the counselor’s office. He was a compact, sandy-haired man wearing a light blue shirt and a wispy mustache. He flipped through my presentencing report, pausing briefly to absorb the case summary and shook his head. “This is crazy,” he said quietly, without looking up. “You shouldn’t be here. Complete waste of time. Money. Space.”
Exactly, I thought. Finally, someone agreed with me. But now, it was too late."‘The Senator Be Embezzling’ - Politico
I was pretty damn disgusted with Jeff Smith back in 2009. His fall from grace was only remarkable in that it was so damn pathetic and avoidable. In 2004, Smith had captivated thousands with his run for Congress. Somewhere along the way, Smith’s Congressional campaign coordinated on a now infamous mailing. The FCC eventually received a complaint about the mailing. Smith lost the 2004 Congressional race, went on to win a state Senate seat, and he ultimately pled guilty when his obstruction of justice in the investigation of the mailing finally caught up with his ambition.
"The postcard dropped in the campaign’s last week. It was a 3x5 picture of my opponent on a milk carton. “MISSING: RUSS CARNAHAN,” it read, and in tiny print detailed his absenteeism. The design was totally amateurish—a joke, really. We laughed and shook our heads."‘The Senator Be Embezzling’ - Politico
...but not exactly a laughing matter. It's one thing for a political novice to fuck up on mailings, but Smith has a Ph.D. in political science. The same background that Smith says was wasted behind bars makes it hard to swallow the idea that he didn't know better about the mailings or the perils of lying to government investigators.
I voted to send a progressive champion to the Senate. When the dust finally settled, my replacement Senator was a committee-selected establishment Democrat who sometimes dipped his toe into progressive waters. All because Jeff Smith got caught on tape doing a heinous Richard Nixon impression pondering how to pin his “amateurish” violation on a campaign worker who committed suicide in the midst of the investigation into what Smith now calls ”a joke, really.”
In his Politico piece, Smith goes on to talk about how locking him up was a waste of resources and taxpayer money.
I agree. I’d love to have that money, along with the money spent for the investigation, back. Maybe the proceeds from Smith’s book could go into a fund to pay for a program to help formerly incarcerated people who lack Smith’s connections and education. Or maybe we could use those proceeds to pay for midnight basketball for young people in Smith’s former Senate district.
Jeff Smith stands as a cautionary tale for all would-be wunderkind who lust for political power.
And it also stands as a reminder that when we mess up we often do damage that isn’t easily repaired or forgiven.
"Mass incarceration is driven in large part by sky-high recidivism rates, and when one contemplates the myriad obstacles to successful prisoner re-entry, one grasps that the system is not, as many claim, broken at all; rather, it appears to be a well-oiled machine, keeping millions of people out of our economic mainstream." ‘The Senator Be Embezzling’ - Politico
Jeff Smith is correct that the prison industrial complex is a mess.
And he’s absolutely right that sending him to prison was a complete waste of time, money, and space.
The whole mess is...like a joke, really.
Let me know when we get to laugh and shake our heads.
Some suggested reading material:
- Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow
- The Prison Industrial Complex by Angela Davis
- Riverfront Times: Jeff Smith Campaign Documentary Makes for An Interesting Post-Mortem, Particularly in the Case of the Dead Campaign Worker Caught Up in Smith's Crime
- Riverfront Times: Twenty-Two Page Criminal Case Against Jeff Smith and Posse is Engaging Read
- St. Louis Post-Dispatch: From felon to political adviser - and back