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Derrick Smith and MJM

Wednesday, Jun 18, 2014

* I talk to a lot of folks at the Statehouse on a daily basis and I have never once heard anyone say this

Well, another state legislator is heading to prison. You won’t hear much outrage in Springfield. Or dismay for that matter.

In the grand scheme of things, the conviction of state Rep. Derrick Smith, D-Chicago, on bribery charges is picayune. You’ll hear it whispered around the statehouse: “He ‘only’ took $7,000.”

Come to think of it, I have heard it said, but in sardonic derision, as in “If you’re going to take a bribe, why only $7,000?” In other words, it’s the usual dark humor of if you’re on the take, make sure to get enough cash to pay your legal bills.

* Back to the column at hand

A few years back, some Springfield wag printed up bumper stickers that said, “My Governor is a Bigger Crook than Your Governor.” This kind of cynicism has metastases through the electorate leaving political tumors of apathy, inevitability and suspicion.

There is no greater exploiter of this political cynicism than House Speaker Mike Madigan. Despite Smith’s indictment, Madigan threw his support behind his reelection this year. Madigan’s spokesman told the Chicago Tribune, the speaker supports Democratic incumbents and believes in “innocent until proven guilty.”

Well, some of the time.

I watched Madigan vote to impeach Blagojevich before he was ever brought to trial on corruption charges. When we hope for statesmanship in Springfield, we all too often end up with raw politics.

Good point.

And the “raw politics” aspect has played out pretty well for Madigan at the Statehouse. Black Caucus members, particularly in the Senate (where MJM is not loved at all), approvingly noted the Speaker’s defense of Smith in the March Democratic primary. Madigan stuck his neck way out for an embattled African-American and they were impressed.

Even so, supporting Smith in the 2014 Democratic primary will rightly dog MJM for a very long time to come.

- Posted by Rich Miller        


20 Comments
  1. - MrJM (@MisterJayEm) - Wednesday, Jun 18, 14 @ 9:56 am:

    Madigan’s spokesman told the Chicago Tribune, the speaker supports Democratic incumbents and believes in “innocent until proven guilty.”

    Keep in mind that the crime in question is always “aggravated House Speaker”.

    Once you’re guilty of that, you’re toast.

    – MrJM


  2. - A guy... - Wednesday, Jun 18, 14 @ 9:59 am:

    Only in Springfield would some identify some level of “honor” in any of this. The atmosphere is toxic there.


  3. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Wednesday, Jun 18, 14 @ 10:03 am:

    Oftentimes, our greatest strengths are our greatest vulnerabilities.

    Madigan’s loyalty to his caucus is the keystone to his success and his longevity. When Madigan says he has your back on a tough vote, you believe him. That is particularly important for legislators in strong Democratic precincts because they oftentimes lack the fundraising ability of battleground districts.

    It is also why Madigan spent millions defending a dwindling caucus of downstate legislators over the past 12 years even though the numbers were against him and the “smarter” move would have been to spend those dollars in the suburbs.

    It isn’t just political calculus. Madigan is at the head of the class, but he is still old school, when it comes to his colleagues, his family, his friends, his staff.

    Bidding farewell to Bill Luking last night, I felt like I was staring at the edge of Tolkien history. How long before we bid or final farewell to the last dragon, the last giant, the last magic? Whatever the Tribune editorial board and other invaders of
    Middle Illinois might say about Springfield’s arcane ways, there ought to be some sadness in the passing of the best of it.


  4. - wordslinger - Wednesday, Jun 18, 14 @ 10:13 am:

    “You’ll hear it whispered around the statehouse: “He ‘only’ took $7,000.””

    Technically, if Reeder wandered around the Dome and whispered it to himself, it’s true. “Journalists-in-residence” can roll that way and rationalize that they’re keeping kosher.

    Smith was one of the dumber crooks in a while — or at least since Trips. He made for a nice easy score for some federales climbing the career ladder.

    But not all crimes are or can be prosecuted.

    Every year, some of the greatest “business leasers” in the state roll down to Springfield and threaten to toss people out of of work unless the taxpayers give them money, in the form of tax breaks or grants.

    That might not be extortion by the letter of the law, but they sure do have the spirit.

    Nothing personal. It’s just business.


  5. - walker - Wednesday, Jun 18, 14 @ 10:13 am:

    The Reeder column way oversimplifies the whole situation.

    Did Scott Reeder forget that Derrick Smith was also expelled from the House prior to his trial, with Madigan’s obvious participation? He was treated just like Blago, in that sense.

    What made the difference was that Smith could get reelected in the interim. And Madigan could leverage that in a different way.

    This had little to do with Madigan maintaining his Dem majority, and a lot with getting support within the legislature for his agenda. Madigan gained that internal support by supporting someone whom he knew would probably be removed anyway. And it was very unlikely that the Dems would lose this seat in any case.

    “Raw politics” yes. But not like ordinarily thought. It was internal politics.


  6. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Jun 18, 14 @ 10:14 am:

    - YDD - great take.

    It really has flipped to what loyalty MJM shows and uses as chits, is now sadly seen as bad, with very little seen as redeeming.

    What I miss? Loyalty, camaraderie, working to find common ground, and governing with partners seem in all.

    The polarization is what is going to sink the whole thing, not the ideal of better government is going to fill the vacuum.


  7. - Will Caskey - Wednesday, Jun 18, 14 @ 10:32 am:

    The only time I’ve heard surprise expressed at a corruption penalty was in 2007 when some Water Department workers were put in handcuffs by the FBI for alleged patronage work. The surprise expressed at the time was that they DIDN’T take bribes but were subjected to somewhat severe federal treatment anyway.

    It was just the once though; re bribery I’ve always said exactly what Rich did: take risk and loss of income from jail into account if you’re going to break the law. Smith is giving up considerably more than $7K


  8. - walker - Wednesday, Jun 18, 14 @ 10:39 am:

    O’Willy: Amen brother.

    Great comment, (though I had to reinterpret a bit of the grammar) :)

    Yes, there has been and still can be “loyalty, camaraderie, working to find middle ground, and governing with partners” and I might add “honor” in Springfield.

    But partisan polarization, and the self-comforting desire to see the worst in whomever’s seen as on the “other side”, can trump all of that.


  9. - Steve - Wednesday, Jun 18, 14 @ 10:43 am:

    -Even so, supporting Smith in the 2014 Democratic primary will rightly dog MJM for a very long time to come. -

    Mike Madigan was co-chair of the 2006 re-elect Blagojevich campaign effort when Blago was already known as “Public Official A”. There’s nothing but sunshine around MJM. Only news junkies and highly informed voters are going to remember that MJM supported Smith.


  10. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Wednesday, Jun 18, 14 @ 11:19 am:

    Thanks Willy.

    As wordslinger points out, what separated Smith from the herd was neither his moral compass nor the audacity of his greed, but his lack of shall we say “sophistication”, My three year old would have known something was fishy.


  11. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Jun 18, 14 @ 11:20 am:

    - walker -, thanks , apologies to the grammar.

    ===But partisan polarization, and the self-comforting desire to see the worst in whomever’s seen as on the “other side”, can trump all of that.===

    It’s like something that sucks the life out of a legislative body, and eats away the fabric of a working government.


  12. - Knome Sane - Wednesday, Jun 18, 14 @ 12:49 pm:

    The Feds targeting “small fries” like Derrick Smith and LaShaun Ford is not “picking low-hanging fruit”, it’s picking fruit off the ground. Springfield needs an enema and targeting low-yield targets ain’t the way to get ‘er done.


  13. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Jun 18, 14 @ 1:19 pm:

    Springfield needs an enema and targeting low-yield targets ain’t the way to get ‘er done.

    Ignoring them doesn’t help either.


  14. - Raunerbot - Wednesday, Jun 18, 14 @ 1:37 pm:

    ==eats away at the fabric of a working government==

    run by people that Willy deems qualified to run our government.


  15. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Wednesday, Jun 18, 14 @ 1:42 pm:

    Anonymous:

    Madigan is to US Attorneys Office as Moby Dick is to Captain Ahab.

    They are picking fruit up off the ground, but only because they are convinced it is a trail that will lead somewhere.

    We know, of course, they are walking around the tree in circles.

    The Feds went through Derrick Smith’s life with a sieve.

    Any other evidence of bribery? Any other wrongdoing?

    Nope.

    How much money did we spend to bait, trap and filet Smith for taking a $7000 bribe?

    Oh but wait, it sends a message, right?

    LOL

    Yeah, the message is “don’t be an idiot.”

    Meanwhile, Ty Warner get a stern warning for
    Millions in tax evasion.

    That message is pretty clear too.


  16. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Jun 18, 14 @ 2:35 pm:

    Meanwhile, Ty Warner get a stern warning for
    Millions in tax evasion.

    That’s a sign of a bad judge, not a worthless prosecution.


  17. - Anonymous - Wednesday, Jun 18, 14 @ 2:37 pm:

    How much money did we spend to bait, trap and filet Smith for taking a $7000 bribe?

    Oh but wait, it sends a message, right?

    So the Koschman case (via Dan Webb) was worthwhile or not?


  18. - A guy... - Wednesday, Jun 18, 14 @ 2:47 pm:

    If MJM’s got Derrick’s back, just guess who’s back he doesn’t have. Nothing to praise about this BS.


  19. - Oswego Willy - Wednesday, Jun 18, 14 @ 3:27 pm:

    ===run by people that Willy deems qualified to run our government.===

    And the voters, don’t forget the voters…


  20. - concern1 - Thursday, Jun 19, 14 @ 8:12 am:

    to ” a guy”…yes you are correct the legislators in Springfield have become TOXIC and its time to get rid of the TOXIC WASTE!!!!


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