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Where voters finally got it right

Mr. Smith went to Springfield not once, but twice. Corruption charges caused legislators to boot him out the first time, and voters have done so the second time, helping to erase a stain on the Legislature’s reputation.

Published: Wednesday, March 26, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

The strange legislative odyssey of state Rep. Derrick Smith has taken another turn.

In August 2012, Smith, a Chicago Democrat, became one of the few Illinois House members to ever be expelled by his fellow members.

Their complaint against him? Earlier that year, Smith was indicted by federal authorities on corruption charges. Specifically, he was charged with taking a $7,000 bribe in exchange for recommending a state grant to help a daycare center.

Smith maintained his innocence. He pleaded not guilty in federal court. His lawyer said his client was entrapped. Smith said he wanted to continue serving in the House.

But his fellow House members voted him out anyway.

Trouble was, the November 2012 election was coming up, and Smith remained on the ballot.

Voters can be a fickle lot, and they didn’t cotton to the entire Illinois House of Representatives ganging up on their guy.

Smith won the 2012 election, the House had to seat him in January 2013, and he proceeded to again represent the 10th House District.

Smith’s presence was seen as an embarrassment by some. For example, Secretary of State Jesse White had recommended Smith’s appointment in March 2011, well before the indictment. And Speaker Michael Madigan, who presided over the House action that booted Smith, found himself with the disgraced Smith back in Springfield.

That was then. By last week’s primary, things had changed. Madigan threw his weight behind Smith’s renomination against four other candidates. According to the Chicago Tribune, Madigan sent campaign staff to help Smith, and allocated more than $70,000 for Smith’s re-election campaign.

But then it came time for those fickle voters to weigh in, and it appears they had had enough of their troubled lawmaker.

Smith, with 37 percent of the vote, came in second behind Pamela Reaves-Harris, who won the Democratic nomination with 43 percent. Three other candidates split the remaining 20 percent.

So, Smith’s days in the Illinois House will end in January, at the latest. His term could end even sooner, if federal prosecutors have their way.

Smith’s corruption trial is scheduled to start May 28 – right at the tail end of the spring House session. He’ll not be available to vote on the budget or key end-of-session bills that always crop up before the May 31 adjournment date.

It took them two tries, but District 10 voters finally did their part to bring Rep. Smith’s strange odyssey toward its inevitable end and help erase a blot on the Legislature’s reputation. Congratulations to them.

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