Essay: Jefferson Smith still has my vote.

On an afternoon of a snowy January day during my eighth grade year I walked up to a classmate and hit him in the arm. He turned around and popped me in the eye, giving me a black eye.  There was no real reason for me to hit him, I
was messing around, I liked him a bit–though no more than 15 other boys–I had hit several other people as I traveled down the hall, but not as hard. I think his hitting me back was a reasonable response, albeit not the best one.  When someone out of nowhere suddenly inflicts pain upon you for no real reason, turning around with a fist is rather justified.

 My action, which led to his action landed us both in the vice-principal’s office where he sat sullenly and I collapsed in tears.  We were both suspended the next day, and the boy was excused from the office while the confused vice-principal kept me behind to try to further understand my actions. I had no explanation for him and he eventually sent me to my final class of the day where I got the first of many shocked reactions.  “I can’t believe he hit you!” many of them chorused.
The outrage only added to my misery.  I could understand why he hit me and it felt unfair for him to be cast as the wrong one.  We were pretty evenly matched, weight-wise—he was a rather compact wrestler—and I hit him first.  But I was
the girl and he was the boy and it was the general court of opinion’s view that
I shouldn’t have the black eye.
I’ve been thinking about this incident because of the recent—and perhaps fatally damaging—news in the Portland Mayoral Campaign.  We have already learned that candidate Jefferson Smith never voted until he was in his late 20s, has had his driver license suspended multiple times due to reckless driving, has been reprimanded for fighting in his adult basketball league and has had his law license suspended due to his inability to complete paperwork.  The most recent way Mr. Smith has found his way into the news cycle is the revelation that when he was an undergraduate in college, he hit a woman at a party, causing her an injury bad enough that there was a legal settlement.
The details have emerged from both sides.  According to her, he was coming on to her all night and wasn’t pleased when she gave him a firm no.  She fell asleep on a coach and when someone—who everyone agrees was someone other than Jefferson Smith—tipped over the couch she assumed it was him and went after him.
According to him, he repeatedly tried to stop her from coming at him before he struck her in the face and causing stitches above her eye which led to the settlement.  He refers to it as one of the worst nights of his life and had said he is still very sorry.  She, still apparently pretty pissed after twenty years, points out that him stopping by her house in the wake of the revelation of the news violates a no contact order Smith had agreed to in the initial settlement.
We’ve heard a lot of things about Jefferson Smith during this campaign, but this is the one that has caused him to lose a few critical endorsements.
My take?  It sounds like they were both drunk at a party and neither had very good judgment at the time.  Is it right for someone who is bigger than another person to hit them?  It’s not the best option.  But if they won’t let up?  I can see why, through the haze of alcohol, it probably seemed like the best choice at the
time.  The linchpin here, of course, is gender.  He was the man, he was much
bigger, he had been coming on to her, he should have known better.  If the roles were reversed there wouldn’t be a story at all.  However, she had a role
in this too.  If you are accusing someone of something, maybe get your facts straight before you fly off the handle.  In her version of the story Smith comes off
as pretty oafish and skeevy and he probably was.  But she said no to his advances and he backed off enough that she felt comfortable to not only stay at the party but to fall asleep on the couch.
And after the event?  Smith (or his family) settled up, paid the fine and he followed the agreement to not contact her, at least until the agreement was made
public.  He has said he is sorry to her and to us.
So I’m good with that.
I will still vote for Smith, though I think he’s not going to win.  Because here’s the deal.  For every single one of these revelations about Jefferson Smith the candidate—and there have been many—Jefferson Smith the man has said some version of, “Yep. I did that.  It totally sucks, I had bad judgment and I’m sorry.”
His opponent, former City Council member Charlie Hales, has had a number of blunders of his own.  He plagiarized an article, implying that he had attended an event that he had not attended.  He lived in Washington for several years and continued to vote in Oregon.  He left his city council term before completing it so he could become a paid lobbyist.  Because he chose not to complete his term so he could take a more lucrative job, the city of Portland held a special election and
those things don’t come cheap.  He also illegally taped an interview.
Hales’ response to these blunders?  He blames his staff (the letter,) the fact
that he wanted to sleep with his wife at night (the voting) or that he had kids
to put through college (the lobbying). He doesn’t say he’s sorry, he just plows ahead with his “it was the past” attitude.
And that attitude I’m done with.  Both men’s policies are pretty much the same,
but only one man can take responsibility for his actions.  That’s the man that has my vote.

5 thoughts on “Essay: Jefferson Smith still has my vote.”

  1. This is an interesting post. I like hearing your thoughts on this issue. I've seen a few posts on my FB feed from people who've said they were no longer voting for Jefferson over this particular incident. It seemed strange to me. If people knew about all the stupid things I did when I was in my early 20s, they probably wouldn't think very highly of me either. I feel like we need to give people the chance to grow, mature, and change.

    I'm actually tangentially acquainted with Jefferson (he's friends with my ex, so I met him on multiple occasions). He's been destined to be a politician for a long time. It's in his blood. I feel sorry for him that his campaign got scuttled by this.

  2. I've been keeping my eye on him for awhile now and I think he still has a political future. I think we will see him again in another five or ten years.

  3. And yes. I think we are in a collective "he who is free of sin cast the first stone" sort of situation about this incident.

  4. What was the outcome? How did he do in the election? This is a very well reasoned essay. I appreciate your insight and sharing about your former slugger ways (;)). I agree, there are some things in our past that should not make or break us anymore. Since I live near the capital of this sort of mudslinging and past dredging up, I find it especially interesting and rather sad.

  5. He lost. He only got 30% of the combined vote. I think he will be back again, though. He is quite young and very politically minded.

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