There's a Wiser Option than Jailing Lawmaker Guilty of Absentee Ballot Misdeeds

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Federal prosecutors had the goods on Stephen “Stat” Smith, the state rep from Everett, so he agreed to plead out.
In December, he admitted to two misdemeanors for his role in submitting “fraudulent absentee ballot applications and casting invalid ballots in multiple elections in 2009 and 2010,” the U.S. Attorney said. As part of the plea, he agreed to resign from the legislature and not run for public office again for five years.
Smith resigned January 1 and is awaiting sentencing.  Reportedly, prosecutors are going to recommend he be sent to jail for six months.
When a lawmaker breaks a law, any law, it is always a serious matter because it violates the trust voters have placed in him.  It also stains the honor of government service, perhaps the highest calling in a free, democratic society.
But Smith is guilty only of two misdemeanors, i.e., misdeeds, not felonies.  For committing those wrongs, he has suffered disgrace in public, one of the worst forms of pain, and has lost a coveted position in a city where politics is king.
A smart, self-made businessman, Smith was a natural on the political battlefield.  He could shake off a hard hit better than any of his peers.  He always smiled when his adversaries came into view, as if to say, “You want to fight?  Come on.  I’m ready.”
Until the news broke about Smith’s absentee ballot case, he was a big deal in Everett.  And there’s nothing to say he won’t be big again.  He was extraordinarily devoted to constituent services and finding people jobs during his six years at the State House.  A lot of people in his Everett-Malden district owe him. 
“In five years, I’m back,” he told a friend of mine.   
Don’t bet against a Smith comeback.
He ran for re-election last fall knowing the feds were investigating him, but he probably didn’t think he’d go down at the culmination of that process.  Regardless, Smith’s decision to plunge ahead with a re-election campaign will result in significant costs to the City of Everett.  Two special elections, a primary and a final, will be held to choose his successor.  Each will cost approximately $30,000.
It’s not a good idea to lock Smith up, to take him away from his family and his profit-making, tax-paying ventures, mainly in real estate, which could falter in his absence.  And it doesn’t make sense for the taxpayers to fund half a year of incarceration, meals, and medical/dental care for someone who committed two misdemeanors.
There’s a wiser, more just punishment available to the federal judge who will soon decide Stat Smith’s fate:  order the former lawmaker to pay the costs of the special elections for his replacement: $60,000. 


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