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Politically Speaking: Jeff Smith on how power can change people in Jefferson City

Jeff Smith
Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio

On the latest episode of the Politically Speaking podcast, St. Louis Public Radio’s Jason Rosenbaum and Jo Mannies chat with former Missouri state Sen. Jeff Smith about his post-political life — and recent turbulence in Jefferson City. Smith was a rising political star before going to prison for lying to federal investigators.

The former Democratic elected official first came into the public’s eye in 2004, when he narrowly lost a congressional primary to now-former U.S. Rep. Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis.

Smith rebounded in 2006 when he captured the 4th Senatorial District seat, which encompasses about half of the city of St. Louis. While he was in the legislature, Smith was known for his filibustering ability — and a pragmatic streak that lead to passage of bills instituting “fathering courts” to help men who can’t pay child support.

But Smith’s fortunes took a nosedive in 2009 when he pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators about a third-party mailer sent out during the 2004 race. After resigning his seat, Smith spent about a year in federal prison. Since he got out, Smith has become a prolific writer and is a frequent guest on cable news shows.

Now living in New Jersey, Smith teaches at the New School. But he still has a hand in Missouri politics, as executive director of a Missouri advocacy group for low-income housing and low-income housing incentives.

During the show, Smith said:

  • He’s a business partner with former House Speaker Rod Jetton, a Marble Hill Republican whose personal life crumbled near the end of his legislative service. The two often speak to lawmakers across the country about “ethical dilemmas in public life.”
  • Speakers of the Missouri House often get a “sense of invincibility” during their tenure. He contends that position can be more powerful than the governor’s office, especially since the officeholder can single-handedly kill bills.
  • House Speaker Todd Richardson, R-Poplar Bluff, is a “fantastic guy” who’s able to intuitively grasp complex issues. While he won’t agree with him on many issues, Smith adds that Richardson has done a great job of “staying grounded” during his legislative service.
  • Senate Democrats view the “previous question” as the “nuclear option.”He said he wouldn’t be surprised if Democrats were still upset about Senate leaders'  use of the maneuver to pass a "right to work" bill this spring, when they return to the Capitol next year.
  • Sen. Scott Sifton, D-Affton, has a chance to galvanize the support from organized labor for his attorney general contest, since he led the Democrats' filibuster over “right to work.” Interestingly, Sifton didn’t receive the backing of the AFL-CIO when he ran for Senate in 2012. (Former Sen. Jim Lembke, R-Lemay, got that endorsement.)

Follow Jason Rosenbaum: @jrosenbaum

Follow Jo Mannies: @jmannies

Follow Jeff Smith: @jeffsmithmo

Music: “NYC” by Interpol  

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.
Jo Mannies is a freelance journalist and former political reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.