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Smith not totally out of Missouri politics

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 18, 2011 - The final week of Missouri's legislative session was filled with the usual behind-the-scenes negotiations and lobbying, in many cases involving non-elected players -- aides, lobbyists and simply influential individuals.

Some of those players aren't known to the general public. But some are. They include former state Sen. Jeff Smith, D-St. Louis, who has been working as a paid consultant for the Missouri Workforce Housing Association, a group that advocates for affordable housing for low-income people.

Smith -- who recently completed his federal prison sentence -- was an active behind-the-scenes player in the effort to protect the state's low-income housing tax credits from taking too big of a hit. Curbs on such credits were part of the now-defunct negotiations by some, notably in the state Senate, to revamp the state's tax credit programs as part of an economic development package.

The demise of a deal may have hurt St. Louis' quest of credits to encourage the China cargo hub, but it also meant no changes in Missouri's low-income housing tax-credit program.  

Stephen Acree, the association's board chairman, said the group tapped Smith because "we know he would be passionate about our issue, affordable housing."

The group also has been taking advantage of Smith's well-known expertise in grassroots organizing, which the association hopes will help it expand its base and become a statewide organization.

"I think it has worked well for us," Acree added.

Acree declined to say how much Smith is paid but emphasized the amount was modest. 

During last week's negotiations, the association and its allies believe they benefited, in part, from Smith's continued contacts with many legislators and governmental leaders.

But Smith took care to keep his role below-the-radar, in part because he didn't want to energize political opponents in the General Assembly who might use his involvement as an opportunity to be tougher on low-income housing issues, such as the tax credits.

In his role with the association, Smith said, "I help direct MOWHA's legislative strategy and work to expand, engage and mobilize their membership to fight for quality affordable housing for low-income tenants."

Smith defended the state tax credits as crucial to the effort. "Right now, especially in this economy, it's very difficult to get decent housing built for struggling families and seniors without some type of state or federal incentive," he said.

"Since about 10 percent of children in St. Louis schools are homeless or home-insecure at any given time, this issue affects the city acutely; a child with such an unstable living arrangement, moving shelter to shelter, is usually going to struggle in school. During my time in the Senate and also through my work with the Confluence Academies, I saw how these issues interact. MOWHA has given me an opportunity to approach it from a different angle, and I've enjoyed it."

Smith also has been doing consulting work for the Missouri Growth Association, which he said, "is interested broadly in economic development, particularly in protecting the state historic preservation program from attacks."

Such consulting work may have been limited to the just-finished legislative session.

"I've been offered a full-time advocacy position in St. Louis and a professorship in the public policy graduate program of a NYC university," Smith said. "And my new bride and I are expecting a baby in August. So I'm in the process of making some big decisions."

Smith also has been a regular contributor to Politico,the national online political web site, as well as a site called "The Recovering Politician,'' which was started by two friends who hold public office in Kentucky.