Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Michael: Burnell Smith Should Go Quietly

After an investigation of illegal over-spending by an independent investigator, the Clean Elections Committee has decided that Representative David Burnell Smith must surrender his office, pay a 10K fine and pay back the 34K the citizens gave him to run. Burnell Smith would do everyone a service by accepting that decision and stepping down.

First of all, it isn't a partisan issue. I would be advocating the same for a Democrat who cheated the system. Burnell Smith's a Republican, it's true, but then so is his district. The elected Precinct Committeepersons of his district will have to select Burnell Smith's replacement, and he or she won't have to face the electorate to take office. Thus, whoever replaces Burnell Smith might be, and likely will be, further right than Burnell Smith. So it is not for partisan advantage that I support the Clean Elections Commission's decision.

I think Burnell Smith should step down because it is responsible to accept the consequences of your actions. Burnell Smith failed to adequately oversee his campaign fund. We are talking about less than 40K here. If Burnell Smith can't compently manage that amount of the public's money, how can we trust him to make decisions about the nearly 1 billion of state revenues which the legislature is responsible for? Do we really want a legislator in office whose excuse for flagrantly exceeding spending limits is that he still had checks left?

An editorial in the East Valley Tribune sums up the Republican take on Smith's problem. They excoriate the Clean Elections laws instead of the irresponsible candidate. They wax poetic about the will of people being superior to the whims of a bureaucrat. They fret that Clean Elections could harm grassroots involvement. In other words, they obsfucate horribly.

The candidate knew, or should have known the rules and the penalties. He's irresponsible and not fit to hold office. Clean Elections law, being adopted by Proposition is the will of the people - all the people - of Arizona, far more so than Burnell Smith's election. The voters of Burnell Smith's district will get a representative as provided by Arizona law. The decision made by investigator Lemon was considered and with strong precedent, the fates of Reps. Gorman and Gould clearly indicate this fact. Finally, only someone completely ignorant of Arizona's election law, or who was trying to scare people into opposing Clean Elections, would suggest the volunteerism might be a contribution to a campaign, as does the Tribune.

No matter how Burnell Smith and his supporters may try to portray this as a fight for principle, it is only fight for Smith's own self-interest. The court costs to defend any legal challenge he might make will come out of the tax-payers' pockets. The time he will tie up his legislative seat with his vain and selfish protestations could have been profitably used by a newly appointed Representative. The only possible good that could come of this is that the Arizona courts would lay down precedent upholding the Clean Elections system, even to the point of removing elected officials.

Step down Mr. Burnell Smith. It is the right thing to do. You still have a potential political career. You can run again. But if you fight this in the courts, you'll always be seen as that self-regarding grandstander who broke the law and tried to worm out of the consequences, and with good justification. What kind of example does it set when a lawmaker argues that the laws shouldn't apply to him? Go.


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