Jeff Smith

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Recovering Politician

THEN: State Senator (MO), 2006-2009, Candidate for U.S. Congress, 2004 NOW: Writer Full Biography: link

Jeff Smith: Recovering Politicians: A Twelve-Step Guide

From WKUR- Public radio, Kansas City:

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We’ve all seen it, a politician’s life derailed by scandal or personal crisis. While in years past that meant retirement from public life, nowadays we’re just as likely to see these individuals re-emerge to campaign another day.

On Wednesday’s Up to Date, we look at crisis management with Jeff Smith, one of the contributors to The Recovering Politician’s Twelve-Step Guide to Surviving Crisis. A recovering legislator himself, Smith relates his path from the Missouri statehouse to prison. He reveals how the lessons he and others have learned in handling their crises can be beneficial even to those of us who live much more private lives.

Click here for the interview.

Jeff Smith: When Work Takes Over Free Time

Do you find yourself unable to check your office work at the door when you get home? A new survey reveals nearly all employed Americans do work-related tasks during their free time. We talk to people who just can’t seem to disconnect from their work.

Originally aired on HuffPostLive, September 3, 2013

Hosted by:

  • Alex Berg
      • Contributing RP Jeff Smith (New York , NY) Professor of Politics & Advocacy at The New School
      • Debra Shigley (Atlanta, GA) Creator & Host, “Deb’s Kitchen”
      • Jeff Kreisler (Hoboken, NJ) Comedian and Author

Jeff Smith: Do Liberals Deserve Larry Summers as Fed Chair?

The conventional wisdom in the political class is that Tea Party-inspired primary challenges of recent years have had decidedly mixed success. Sure, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee have beaten sitting senators and establishment-anointed candidates, changing the issue terrain and nature of debate in the Senate. But most Tea Party candidates imploded.

That view largely misses the point. Interest groups seeking more influence within their party should think more like class-action trial lawyers: While it would be great to beat the company, the real reason to fight is not to win a 43-cent check for every plaintiff but to change corporate behavior in a lasting way.

Seen this way, even widely mocked far-right challengers have had lasting impact. Although Senate nominees Christine O’Donnell (Delaware), Sharron Angle (Nevada), and Richard Mourdock (Indiana) lost, their primary wins over establishment candidates terrified some other senators, causing them to move right. Witness the pandering of Senate Republican leaders Mitch McConnell and John Cornyn since 2010 to their home-state counterparts Paul and Cruz. Even very marginal primary losers like Arizona’s J.D. Hayworth had an impact, temporarily moving John McCain to the right on key issues like immigration. (McCain, who appears unlikely to seek reelection in 2016, has since shifted back.)

Jeff SmithWhen tough votes arise, many Republican senators can’t help but consider ex-Senators Dick Lugar of Indiana and Robert Bennett of Utah — both unceremoniously booted in primaries — which usually leads to appeasement of the Tea Party. That’s the nature of politics. As congressional scholar Gary Jacobson has documented, politicians run scared, altering their behavior in anticipation of future challenges. That’s why it is helpful, but not necessary, for interest groups seeking power within a party to get a scalp.

Economic progressives are now clamoring for a Federal Reserve chair more progressive than Larry Summers. But they should’ve thought of that last year and, for instance, challenged incumbent Delaware Senator Tom Carper, who consistently votes with Republicans on banking and finance issues. They could have attempted to nationalize the race as conservative interests groups such as the Club for Growth did for Lee, Mourdock, Cruz, and others. They could have tried to capitalize on the residual energy of the Occupy movement to energize liberals angry at the Clinton-ushered takeover of the Democratic Party by Wall Street which has proven relatively durable even in the wake of the finance-induced Great Collapse.

There are many reasons Carper should have been a progressive target — from the obvious policy ones (Carper is the Senate Democrat who votes furthest to the right of his constituency) to logistical (a tiny state where grassroots activism can trump money) and media (close to the Beltway and so easily covered) advantages. And again, winning isn’t necessary: Primary challenges to incumbents can help change policy before the fact — despite ultimately losing, Netroots darling Bill Halter’s Arkansas primary in 2010 made Senator Blanche Lincoln stronger on Dodd-Frank.

And if progressives had found a credible candidate, it likely would not have been a fool’s errand — Elizabeth Warren demonstrated the national grassroots thirst for a populist Democrat last cycle, and locally, a political nobody fresh out of law school named Bryan Townsend ran a longshot primary in Delaware last year and upset the entrenched state Senate president, suggesting at least some Delaware Democrats are willing to buck party orthodoxy.

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Jeff Smith: Do Liberals Deserve Larry Summers as Fed Chair?

Jeff Smith: Do As I Say – A Political Advice Column

Jeff SmithQ: What should you do if you work for a candidate or elected official who doesn’t turn out to be quite who you thought they’d be? I’m not talking about any kind of scandalous behavior but about pols who wind up not being as dedicated to the policies they preach, or candidates who try to present a reformer image but are in fact willing to take money from the “wrong” sorts of people. Should you stay to build up your résumé— and your connections? Or should you try to be true to what you really believe? —D.N., New York City

Great question. The answer depends on why you decided to work for the politican in the first place. If you are an idealist who was inspired by the candidate when you first met him/her and thus decided to apply for a job, then I think you should probably leave, since the work appears to be a disheartening, compromising experience. If, on the other hand, you took the job because you saw it as a good way to get where you want to be, then you should probably stay, so long as the job continues to serve that purpose.

No candidate is as wonderful as his staunchest supporters imagine or as awful as his fiercest opponents allege. Paul Wellstone, the first politician I ever “fell for,” voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996 as he faced a tough re-election battle. While I understood the political context, his vote disappointed me. (He later apologized and said he regretted the vote.) Conversely, John Ashcroft, whom I reviled as a U.S. senator and attorney general, ultimately made a very courageous decision, standing up to White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales and Chief of Staff Andrew Card regarding a domestic surveillance decision as he lay on what he thought was his deathbed. I try to keep these examples in mind before falling too hard for—or harshly condemning—any politician.

Q: So, dude, I’m a former high school teacher and I keep getting Facebook friended by girls I taught who have become WAY hot. So here’s the thing: I’m hoping to run for office next year and my question is, is it okay for me to message them to ask for help with my campaign, or will it totally creep them out? —Hot for Student, Somewhere in the Midwest

So, dude, maybe you haven’t been keeping up with the news, but have you heard of this guy named Anthony Weiner? Yeah, because you make him sound classy.

Regarding messaging them: As your FB friends, they will be able to see all of your updates once you announce your campaign, and will be able to decide on their own if they would like to volunteer. But if you’d like to reach out to them to make an individual ask—which is always more effective than a mass update—I’d suggest you do so via a campaign manager or volunteer coordinator. I actually didn’t follow the advice I’m giving—I reached out to many former students personally for campaign help—but I’m gonna go out on a limb here and say I wasn’t as creepy as you.

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Jeff Smith: Do As I Say – A Political Advice Column

Jeff Smith: A Former Prisoner On What “Orange Is The New Black” Gets Right — And What It Doesn’t

From Buzzfeed:

Jenji Kohan, the creator of Netflix’s new hit series Orange Is The New Black, had to grapple with a pretty serious conundrum: How do you make a compulsively watchable series about a milieu whose defining characteristic is boredom? And yet, the show’s writers have pulled it off.

Of course, they have had to take some liberties; the series is based on Piper Kerman’s memoir but is highly fictionalized. So what did they get right about prison life, and what did they miss?

Though my year in federal prison was quite unlike Piper Kerman’s — largely on account of the differences between men’s and women’s prisons — here’s my assessment of where Orange nailed it and where it missed the mark.

Here’s what they get right:

Small things can have outsize consequences — in positive and negative ways.

Jeff Smith on “All In” with Creator of “Orange is the New Black”


MSNBC’s “All In with Chris Hayes” talks with Piper Kerman, the real-life inspiration behind the series, “Orange is the New Black”, and Jeff Smith, a former Missouri state
senator who read Kerman’s memoir while in prison on campaign finance violations, about the prison system in the U.S. and AG Holder’s recent remarks about mandatory prison minimums.

(Click here to read Jeff Smith’s body of work about his time behind bars.)

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For Missouri politicians gone bad, redemption over pizza

Excellent piece by Kevin McDermott for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Smith and JettonST. LOUIS • Former political adversaries Jeff Smith and Rod Jetton sat at a long table at Pi Pizzeria on Delmar next to a stack of crisp softcover books, scrawling their signatures and chatting with a couple dozen patrons lined up around them.

On the menu was complimentary deep-dish pizza, soft drinks and humility.

“Hopefully, people can learn from the mistakes I made,” said Smith, whose preprison political talents were once compared to those of Barack Obama. “Really smart people learn from other people’s mistakes.”

Next to him, Jetton — in that retro-political fashion statement, the seersucker suit — explained how his own politics have changed as a result of his downfall. “I’m not near as judgmental,” said the one-time most powerful conservative in the Missouri House. “You make as many mistakes as I have, it’s hard to be judgmental, right?”

In this age of felonious governors, groping mayors and “sexting” congressmen, Smith and Jetton may not particularly stand out. But their crimes (respectively: lying to the feds about campaign shenanigans, and letting a consensual sexual encounter turn violent) are enough to qualify them as part of a growing modern phenomenon: fallen pols on redemption tours.

Smith, a Democrat and former Missouri state senator, and Jetton, a Republican and former Missouri House speaker, each wrote a chapter in the new book, “The Recovering Politician’s Twelve Step Program to Survive Crisis.”

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Click here to order

Smith served almost a year in prison after lying to federal investigators about an anonymous smear campaign in his unsuccessful 2004 run for Congress against Russ Carnahan. Smith, now an assistant professor at the New School for Public Engagement in New York, penned a chapter in the book aptly titled, “Tell the Truth: Don’t Even Go Near the Line.”

Smith’s lie collapsed when his “former best friend” wore a wire at the behest of investigators. In the book, Smith recounts telling his parents he might go to prison.

“My mom’s lips quivered. ‘I knew it from the start. Knew you’d get mixed up in something like this. I tried to tell you what politics was like.’

“My dad … asked, ‘How do they even know you lied? What proof could they have?’

“‘Steve’s been wearing a wire for the last couple months.’

“‘That (expletive),’ said my dad.”

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For Missouri politicians gone bad, redemption over pizza

Jeff Smith on Political Dynasties

From Charles Mahtesian of National Public Radio:

Jeff SmithAnother day, another political dynasty.

This latest one is taking shape in Wyoming, where Liz Cheney, daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, announced Tuesday that she’s challenging incumbent Sen. Mike Enzi in the 2014 Republican primary.

Her announcement is a fitting prelude to the next four years, when voters will witness America’s political royalty in its full glory.

Cheney is just one of a gaggle of legacy candidates running for the Senate next year. In the South, Sens. Mary Landrieu, daughter of the former New Orleans mayor and sister to the current mayor; and Mark Pryor, the son of former Arkansas Sen. David Pryor, are both seeking re-election. Out west, Alaska Sen. Mark Begich and Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, both sons of congressmen, are also vying for another term. So is Udall’s cousin, Tom, who is New Mexico’s senator and himself the son of a congressman.

In fact, pick any place on the map and you’re likely to find dynasty politics in full bloom. In Texas, George P. Bush, son of the ex-Florida governor and grandson of a president, is running for the statewide office of land commissioner. In Rhode Island, Lincoln Chafee, a senator’s son, is running for his second term as governor.

And that’s just a sampling.

The scope will become even broader as the 2016 presidential race kicks off. Consider the current top prospects: the son and brother of a former president (Jeb Bush); the wife of a former president (Hillary Clinton); the son of a governor who was once a presidential contender (Andrew Cuomo); and the son of a congressman who ran for president three times (Rand Paul).

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Until Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008, every winning ticket since 1980 featured a son of a United States senator or president.

“Americans were born in rebellion, but they crave connection and familiarity. The temptation of dynastic politics may be a contradictory note in our national character, but it’s perfectly explicable in human nature,” says Rick Wilson, a Florida-based GOP political consultant. “People look for signifiers that give them a quick shorthand to a candidate’s views and character, and because candidates are known generally more by who they are than what they advocate, a famous family name becomes a cornerstone of political branding.”

The practice of political inheritance is as old as the nation. In his book America’s Political Dynasties, scholar Stephen Hess counted at least 700 families in which two or more members had served in Congress since 1774 — and that was back in 1966, when the book was first published.

One of the most famous American political houses, the Kennedys,counts six politicians with service in the House or Senate, including current House freshman Joe Kennedy III.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with dynasty politics. If anything, it underscores the deep commitment of some of the nation’s most prominent families to public service.

But it comes at a cost. There’s no denying that political scions often have an advantage over candidates of lesser lineage.

“They begin with near universal name identification. They begin with a huge rolodex. They begin with a huge understanding of how politics works,” says former Missouri state Sen. Jeff Smith, whose long-shot 2004 campaign for Congress against a scion of a prominent political family was the subject of an award-winning documentary film. “Are any of these skills necessary to become a great public servant? No, but if you understand the game, you may end up spending less time banging your head against the wall learning how things work.”

Sometimes, congressional seats end up in the same family’s hands for decades — even when the talent and charisma skips a generation.

“My experience coming from a state with lots of prominent political families is that in many of these cases, the political talent and policy depth so evident in the first generation isn’t always present in the second generation, in part because it’s not as necessary to fuel the rise,” says Smith, who’s now a professor of politics and advocacy at The New School in New York.

Click here for the full story.

Jeff Smith: Do As I Say — A Political Advice Column

Jeff SmithQ. I work as a body man for an elected official who recently told me that I am in his “circle of trust,” which was, he said, why he decided to place me in such a sensitive job. A few days later he directed me to call the scheduler to cancel a midday appearance, and instead had me drive him to an apartment building. He disappeared for an hour and then came back. The next week he did it again. Yesterday he asked me to do it for a third time despite the fact that he would be missing a big event we’d discussed in staff meetings. Before calling HQ, I said, “Yes, sir, but isn’t this a pretty important event?” He replied, “Last time I checked, you were my driver, not my campaign manager.” So far we’ve been able to reschedule some things, but the point is, I am feeling pretty uncomfortable, especially since he is married. What is your advice?
—No name, no location, please

This is a tough predicament, and I’m sorry you’re dealing with it. You have three choices, as I see it.

  1. Explain to the campaign manager what is happening, without any editorializing or speculation. It may be that he/she is already aware of the issue, but you could probably shed some more light.
  2. Tell the principal you are concerned about his behavior. Don’t accuse him of infidelity, but say that people on staff are starting to ask questions about the frequent cancellations and suggest that they should stop.
  3. Quit.

According to Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s Game Change, John Edwards’ body guy tried Option #2, but when that didn’t change Edwards’ behavior, went to Option #1, which resulted in something like Option #3: He was summarily fired by an angry Edwards, who accused him of tattling.

Really, the point here isn’t that he’s cheating on his wife (although that’s troubling and could hurt the campaign); the point is that he’s cheating on the campaign. What he does in his personal life is no one’s business, but wasting a staffer’s time and using campaign time to get off when he should be getting votes or money? That’s unforgivable.

My overall thought: This won’t end well. With his “last time I checked” comment, the principal indicated his probable reaction if confronted, so that approach is unlikely to work. Going to the campaign manager might change the principal’s behavior but may cost you your job—at least your job as body guy—and your chances for upward mobility in this organization. So unless you are absolutely convinced that the principal is going to change the world as a public servant and that outweighs your discomfort, I’d suggest you start looking for other gigs. If you do decide to address the issue directly with the principal before making a final decision to quit, remember that doing so could make it impossible to use him (or other staff ) as a reference.

Q. I worked for a congressman who had a rule not to eat at events so he could talk and shake hands. Not wanting to be rude, he made me grab a plate in his place. So at every event I had a plate of food that I enthusiastically praised and enjoyed. After four events per day not only was I full but I was getting incredibly fat. How did you balance your campaign and your eating habits?
—C.W., Silver Spring, Md.

I may not be the best person to ask here: When my congressional campaign ended, I weighed 107 lbs. (at 5’6’’). But yes, you gotta eat something at events, especially in ethnic communities. The symbolism is powerful. However, that doesn’t mean you have to eat an entire plate. Remember when you were 5 and you tried to spread veggies across your plate to make it look as if you ate more than you actually did? If you are adroit on the front end, you can look as if you are helping yourself to a healthy portion. And no one ever said you couldn’t discreetly deposit your plate on a table before leaving. Just don’t throw it out—someone might see that. Also, work out. Given the stress and terrible food of campaigns, campaign aides should work out daily both for your physical and mental health, even if it’s just push-ups or pull-ups at lunch.

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Jeff Smith: Do As I Say — A Political Advice Column

Jeff Smith: Are Moms the Most Distracted People at Work?

Acclaimed hedge fund manager Paul Tudor Jones said women become less effective at the office once they become mothers. But with all of the distractions in life, are moms really any worse than non-mothers, men or fathers?

Originally aired on July 15, 2013

Hosted by: Abby Huntsman

Dr. Gloria Mark (Cleveland , OH) Professor at University of California Irvine
Dr. Jeff Smith @JeffSmithMO (Glen Ridge, NJ) Professor of Politics & Advocacy at The New School
Karen Firestone @FirestoneKaren (Boston, MA) CEO of Aureus Asset Management
Kristin Iversen @kmiversen (New York, NY) Managing Editor of Brooklyn Magazine

The Award-Winning Documentary about Jeff’s Early Career (2006):

The Recent New Republic Article About Jeff (2011):

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