If the rumors are true, Jeff Smith won’t be a state senator much longer. Tony Messenger is on top of this story, but as I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of any of the details here, I have no idea as to how valid any of it is. Needless to say, if there was any wrongdoing, it’s only fitting that Jeff should be punished appropriately.

On the other hand, I can’t just sit quietly and not point out the good in Jeff, or the amazing effect he has had in politics, especially among young people.

I didn’t know Jeff Smith in 2004, only learning about him and his congressional race from Daily Kos diaries and from a profile in DFA e-mails about the “Dean Dozen” (which also included a certain young state senator named Barack Obama.) I first met him when he was gearing up to run for state senate. He arrived 30 minutes late to our meeting to talk about digital video in politics. I had heard he was short, but I wasn’t prepared to see that he only came up to my shoulder. Neither was I prepared to hear the high pitch of his voice.

In any event, our conversation went long, mostly because he patiently listened to me while I explained who I was and where I thought the wide availability of cheap digital video could take political communication, which prompted him to invite me to his next meeting, where I could perhaps make a contribution. Twenty minutes later, after a harrowing drive to the Royale, I sat with the blogger Archpundit, a web designer, and another blog admin chatting about Jeff’s website.

I didn’t go on to have a major part in Jeff’s electoral triumph in the 5th Senate District, but that first meeting was fairly typical of every experience I had with him. I later found out that he’s habitually late to virtually everything he attends, not because he doesn’t care about meeting people, but because it’s the cumulative effect of trying to talk to as many people as he can for as long as he can.  He’s not just gregarious and charming – he openly invites people to work toward a common purpose and invests them with trust. He feeds off being a champion, but he gives that belief right back by empowering his supporters. Doubtless this is why you find so many ardent Jeff Smith supporters, why you saw his campaign workers openly weeping at his loss in Can Mr. Smith Get to Washington Any More?

It’s important to remember that as we all go forward. Nothing should change for people who followed Jeff’s example of jumping into politics because they hold progressive ideals and believe they can make a difference. He is still the guy who believed he could win a congressional race winning over voters one door at a time and damn near pulled it off. He’s still the guy who challenged the proposition that we should have gone to war in Iraq when it was fashionable among Democrats to focus on the poor execution. He’s still the guy who has fought for voting reform in the Missouri State Senate, passed several green measures through a Republican-dominated legislature under a Republican governor, and went to the mat to preserve historic tax credits.

I have little doubt that after Jeff weathers his current troubles, no matter how severe the penalty, he’ll back in public service continuing to inspire people around him.