Jefferson Smith and his driving record: Does it matter? Should it?

Kari Chisholm FacebookTwitterWebsite

OK, folks, let's talk about Jefferson Smith's driving record. At first, I was fairly dismissive of the whole story - after all, lots of folks have earned themselves a speeding ticket or been busted by the red light cameras (which I love, btw.)

But after the Oregonian story late last week by Beth Slovic, and all the aftermath, I'm not so sure. It's at least worthy of a conversation here.

For the record, after strongly supporting Eileen Brady in the primary, I'm still undecided between Jefferson and Charlie Hales. Where I am on that spectrum seems to vary day-by-day.

On Sunday afternoon, the Portland Mercury's Denis Theriault posted a comprehensive rundown of every single moving violation and license suspension. (I've posted it on the jump here, too.)To Jefferson's credit, the list came directly from him. If you check out the Mercury coverage, be sure to read into the first few comments - as Jefferson asks and answers a bunch of questions. If it's true that "it's not the crime, it's the cover-up", then it seems that Smith has been relatively candid, and he's pretty tough on himself. (Assuming that this is everything.)

There's also a very good conversation over at The most striking comment comes from someone calling himself "GlowBoy", excerpted here:

A lot of people are bothered about the suspensions -- and I am, to some degree, but the the violations that disturb me most are the speeding tickets. ALL of them were for at least 15mph over the limit; four were for more than 20 over the limit. ...

I'm really concerned about that 2009 ticket [40 in a 25 zone]: 1. It's very recent, and therefore relevant. 2. To me it's BY FAR the worst of this decidedly egregious list of moving violations. A 25 zone probably means a residential neighborhood or somewhere where there are a lot of pedestrians. I can only imagine someone going 40 down the street I live on. Unbelievable that he could be that oblivious to the risk that he caused others by doing this. At 40mph a driver with typical reaction times will travel nearly 120 feet -- more than half a block -- before their foot even touches the brake pedal, and stopping distance is 2.5 times longer at 40mph than at the 25mph speed limit. At that speed, a kid crossing the street isn't going to be looking far enough down the road to see him coming.

Bike Walk Vote issued a statement yesterday that makes the counter-argument:

Jefferson has matured since his earlier days. The evidence shows his driving behavior has improved. Like most Portlanders (including his opponent and some members of the Bike Walk Vote team), his driving still needs further improvement.

Since 2005, both mayoral candidates have been ticketed twice for moving violations: once for speeding and once failing to obey traffic control devices. Smith also has a paperwork violation. ...

We are not hiring either candidate to be our driver. Instead, we are electing a mayor who will lead the city in focusing on equity, in fighting the CRC mega-highway, and in promoting transportation choices and safety. We think Jefferson is that candidate.

What do you think? Should we care? Does this matter?

In addition to the links above, there's more at BikePortland, the Oregonian (here, here, and here), KATU, the Portland Mercury, and at Taking the Lane.

Here's his full driving record as provided by Jefferson Smith to the Portland Mercury:

6/6/1993 - Improper Left Turn

10/25/1993 - Suspension - Failure to pay fine (rescinded)

6/27/1994 - Speeding - 95 in 55

3/17/1995 - Failure to renew vehicle registration

3/28/1995 - Failure to pay fee

3/28/1995 - Failure to deliver vehicle documents on transfer

4/2/1995 - Speeding - 69 in 45

5/17/1995 - Speeding - 80 in 65

6/19/1995 - Improvement Letter - Step 1 driver improvement letter

9/9/1995 - Suspension - Failure to attend hearing (rescinded before going into effect)

10/22/1995 - Speeding - 80 in 55

5/30/1996 - Improvement Letter - Warning - step 2 driver improvement course

7/20/2002 - Speeding - 52 in 35

12/30/2002 - 12/31/2002 - Suspension - Failure to attend hearing

1/28/2003 - Failure to carry proof of insurance

1/28/2003 - Speeding - 75 in 50

9/13/2003 - Failure to yield to an emergency vehicle

12/19/2003 - Adult driver improvement restriction - Based on 3 moving violations within an 18 month period, driving privileges restricted for 30 days to prohibit driving between midnight and 5 a.m. except to and from, or for, employment.

1/4/2004 to 4/6/2004 - Suspension - Failure to attend hearing

3/24/2004 - Driving while suspended

4/6/2004 - License reinstated

4/8/2004 - Improper right turn

6/29/2004 - Suspension - Driver suspended for 30 days (vacated)

7/9/2004 - Suspension - Driver suspended for 30 days based on receiving 4 or more driver improvement violations within the 24 month period preceding the date of record review under the driver improvement program (reinstated 6/20/2006)

7/15/2004 - Suspension - Driver suspended for 30 days based on receiving 4 or more driver improvement violations within the 24 month period preceding the date of record review under the driver improvement program (reinstated 6/20/2006)

9/1/2004 - Suspension - Failure to appear in hearing

9/7/2004 - Suspension - Failure to appear in hearing

6/20/2006 - License reinstated

1/11/2009 - Speeding - 40 in 25

3/31/2009 - Failure to obey traffic control device

1/12/2010 - Improper display of validating stickers & failure to carry proof of insurance

5/14/2010 to 1/20/2011 - Suspension - Failure to pay fine

8/20/2010 - Car stolen

8/25/2010 - Fine paid

1/20/2011 - License reinstated

  • (Show?)

    Is it too late to mount a write-in campaign for Eileen?

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    What's public now doesn't make any difference to me, nor do I think it should to others.

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    We're really going to miss Sam.

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        phooey. you were at how many? i was at almost all. what she wasn't was practiced in the art of the good-sounding-empty-statement. when i began working for her campaign, i was not a supporter. she won me over with her grasp of the issues, her passion, and her willingness to give substantive answers. you simply prove my point: people who heard a few debates & decided she didn't know the issues. on most issues, she was better versed than her opponents. but let's not forget: she supported the CRC! and raised money!! so obviously she didn't know the issues as well as JS or CH.

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    I'm very much enjoying the comments here being posted by folks on all sides of this discussion. It's got me really thinking about whether (and how much) this matters.

    Keep it coming, folks.

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    A lively and entertaining thread for sure :-)

    Like Kari, I supported Eileen in the primary and am more or less undecided between two candidates. While some may brush off his multiple driving violations as from his immature days (seriously, he is not that old) it does display character traits of someone who just might not be suited nor have the temperament to lead our city. Yes, yes I know Bus Project. I get it.

    Now before the Church of Jefferson followers start replying back to me (or really anyone else), I do believe Charlie also has some equally disqualify issues, but that is for another post

    I guess I am back to deciding who is the lesser of two evils (but not a Dick Cheney kind of evil)

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    Most folks here seem to be missing the important point and dismissing this as just about a "driving record", a record which by the way is terrifying.

    But that's not the important part of the story. Seven suspensions? Blowing off court dates? Failing to insure his car? None of these came without ample warning and adequate opportunity to deal with them. Oh, and let's not forget that little thing about punching someone out and being disciplined multiple times for failing to pay bar dues. And this is a lawyer?

    Driving record, violence and safety aside, the real story is a long history of irresponsibility, entitlement, inattention, failure to learn from mistakes, denial, lack of respect for the process, and much more. And it's not ancient history or simply the miscalculations of youth.

    How in the world does a human like that even think he can and should govern a city? Oh yea, he's in Portland.

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      Passionate people often focus so intensely on one area of their lives that other areas are neglected. Jeff was focused on his family, shaping public policy and expanding voter participation in elections. His achievements vastly outpace any concerns over his driving record.

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        That's an excellent example both of manufacturing the best possible talking point that one can under these circumstances and of avoiding the point entirely.

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        can I hear an "Amen" from the Church of Jefferson?

        So what you are saying is that is that as mayor, Jefferson could neglect some areas of city business because he might be so passionate about one area of city business.

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          I think that's pretty inevitable, no matter who is mayor. Mayor's set their priorities. Of course, in Portland, the Mayor isn't much more powerful than the other councilors, so being low on the Mayor's list doesn't make something low on the city's list.

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          If anything, Jeff will focus like a laser on the three great passions in his life: his brilliant wife Katy, public policies that improve the lives of Oregonians and the latest addition to his family, an adorable puggle named George Bailey.

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            Err, time to layoff the kool-aid. He can focus like a laser on the three great passions in his life by: 1) spending more time at home with his wife

            2) running for governor or senator of Oregon (though I am certain that is real end-goal) rather than running for the mayor of Portland.

            3) spending more time at home with his dog.

            For what it's worth, the cultish personality of Jefferson supporters is a huge turn-off for many, many undecided voters and you would be doing your candidate a favor by toning it down.

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      He never "punched anyone out." "Out" means unconscious. A leg punch usually does not render so. And he was NEVER disciplined by the bar; that's false. His (disused) license was suspended for not keeping up with fees that someone who is living on couches is not likely to prioritize. Let's discuss the record, but let's get it right please.

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          Unfit to lead, or lacking the money and desire to keep up a law license not being used. It is wholly NOT a civic duty to keep one's law license current. I'd be happy to hear how Jefferson's particular transgressions have affected his success to date, and how they impede his success in the future. Thank you.

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    So I think there are 2 questions here:

    1. How does someone with this record have a driver's license at all?

    2. What do we expect from a mayor, given that there's a shortage of perfect people?

    I will leave it to DMV and the Legislators to answer the first question.

    With respect to the second, I expect a mayor to be a champion for ordinary citizens, to provide creative leadership and inspire people to follow him, and to represent the city honorably in a variety of venues. I think Jefferson is well suited for all these things. Especially in a city that has great public transportation, of which he clearly ought to be a regular user

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    Is this story still getting attention? Good God, don't we have real crap to worry about?

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      Hart - Playing devil's advocate since I am pretty much on the fence with both candidates.

      I do worry about electing a mayor that has demonstrated character traits that, in my opinion, should raise a ton of eyebrows. This should be taken very seriously by all voters and not white-washed.

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        I am far, far, far, more concerned about the onslaught of cars and coal dust that we'll all be suffering from should the CRC get built and coal trains start winding their way through out city than I am about whether the mayor got ticketed for expired tags. Issues, people.

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          Hart - I share your concerns, but it is not really about the speeding tickets or his driving record in general. It is about one's personal traits and how an individual respects the laws of the land.

          It seems that Jefferson has demonstrated over the course of almost two decades, that abiding by laws are meant for other people, not him.

          Yes, issues, but also yes making sure the most suitable person that can effectively represent our city which seems to be lost on the Jefferson supporters...and yes also Charlie supporters as well

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    Mr. Smith's driving record deserves as much attention as did Mayor Adams' love life. I.e., none. I'm far more interested in Mr. Hales' tax-paying practices, which open a far larger window into public character than does driving ability. Or we could even (shock! surprise!) discuss issues.

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    May I reiterate, this story is not about a driving record, no matter how many times you say it. Someone who cannot follow simple rules and respect the law cannot and should not lead a city.

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      Hales also "cannot follow simple rules." He has recent driving violations similar to Jefferson's.

      And he has 21 parking tickets since 1998 - even though he was, for most of that time, living in Washington State.

      So - write in campaign for someone else?

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        Hey, wait a minute.

        Charlie Hales got how many parking tickets while he was living in Washington?

        That actually raises the question of whether he was actually living in Washington, or just claiming to...

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      You could say the same thing if Smith was a chronic jay-walker. So what?

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    We can talk about Hales too if you'd like. He's a much simpler case. He resigned before completing his term. That's all I need to know. The rest is just frosting. As I observed a week or two ago here, speaking as a former Portlander: you guys are screwed either way.

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    It is a shame that, in 40 years of watching campaigns for City Office here, we have two of the best candidates FOR THE JOB I have seen -- fewer than four others would be competitive (Earl, Vera and Neil). It is a crime that The Oregonian and Willamette Week can't stand to talk about the future of the City. The days of the perfect person should be well behind us, and I am not forgiving the sins of Neil Goldschmidt, Sam Adams or Bob Packwood, which were, in my humble opinion, far beyond what Jefferson or Charlie have committed.

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