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State Senator Virgil Smith ought to have the decency to resign

May 12, 2015

When I was in junior high school my class was taken to Lansing, to see the state capital. I was blown away with awe -- the Capitol Dome, the stately Senate and House chambers, the display of Civil War battle flags.

This was a long time ago; President Kennedy was still in the White House, but I thought this was sacred ground, in a sense, and I still think that.

Though I have seen plenty to disillusion me since, I also know that a working democracy is a priceless thing. Many good and occasionally great men and women have worked under that Capitol Dome, and it should be a place of honor.

We don’t have as much respect for politics and government as we did before Vietnam and Watergate and the rise of all news, all the time, and social media everywhere.

Skepticism is healthy. Cynicism, however, can destroy democracy.

Some people don’t have any respect for government at all, which is a dangerous thing for our state and our country.

Skepticism is healthy. Cynicism, however, can destroy democracy. And State Senator Virgil Smith, a Democrat from Detroit, seems to have done his best to reinforce the view that all lawmakers are clowns or crooks or both.

Smith, who is only 35, is largely in the senate because his father, who has the same name, was there before him. Actually, as far as I can tell, he’s never had another job other than serving in the Legislature. He first ran at 21, got elected to the House when he was 23, and has been there ever since.

He drew some notice earlier this year when he was the only Democrat in the Senate to support a bill limiting benefits for victims of catastrophic car accidents; we then learned he had taken more than $36,000 in campaign donations from the insurance industry.

But Smith is all over the news now.

According to police, he shot up his ex-wife’s Mercedes on a residential street in the wee hours Sunday. Apparently she showed up at his house to find him with another woman, a fight ensued, and he banged away with a gun.

You can read much more lurid accounts in the papers. Smith is in custody, and Detroit’s police chief said he anticipated charges, including aggravated assault with a gun. Everyone is indeed innocent until proven guilty.

But citizens also deserve adequate representation. It is hard to imagine that the senator will be able to do his job properly if on trial for various felonies.

Michigan voters approved a ballot proposal five years ago saying people could not hold public office if they committed “dishonestly, deceit, fraud or a breach of the public trust.”

Well, it’s hard to see how this isn’t a breach of the public trust, if there is any truth at all to what the police are saying.

Those who do the people’s business don’t have to be saints.

However, there should be some sense of respect for those they represent and the responsibility they hold.

This senator ought to have the decency to resign.

If he does not, and is convicted, he needs to be expelled. They still bring twelve year olds to the state capital.

Our future depends on their having some respect for those inside.

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio's political analyst. Views expressed in his essays are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.