Jefferson Smith (politician)

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Jefferson Smith
Jefferson Smith of Oregon - 2008.jpg
Member of the Oregon House of Representatives
from the 47th district
In office
Preceded byJeff Merkley
Succeeded byJessica Vega Pederson[1]
Personal details
Born (1973-06-29) June 29, 1973 (age 46)
Portland, Oregon, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Alma materUniversity of Oregon
Harvard Law School

Jefferson Smith (born June 29, 1973) is an American entrepreneur, radio personality, and politician in the U.S. state of Oregon. He is a member of the Democratic Party of Oregon, founder of the Bus Project, and served in the Oregon House of Representatives, representing District 47 in east Portland, from 2009 to 2012. He was one of two candidates for Mayor of Portland in 2012 to advance beyond the primary election, but lost to Charlie Hales in the November general election.

He served in the 2010 and 2012 legislative sessions, but to facilitate his run for mayor, he did not run for reelection to the House and he vacated his seat after serving four years.[1]

Early life and career[edit]

Smith was born in Portland in 1973 to attorney and former Umatilla County district attorney R. P. Joe Smith and family therapist Suzanne Peck.[2] He was named for U.S. President Thomas Jefferson.[2] He is a great-great-great grandnephew of Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism. His parents split before his second birthday, and he moved with his mother to South Pasadena, California.[2] He returned to Portland during his seventh-grade year, and later became class president at Grant High School.[2][3] His mother died of breast cancer when Smith was a teenager.[2]

Smith earned a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Oregon, where he was a member of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity.[2] At his father's insistence, he took a year off during college, serving as a youth counselor in Lane County and then running youth sports programs in Washington, D.C.[2] Smith went on to earn a law degree from Harvard Law School, where he finished in the top five percent in his class.[2][4][5]

Following law school, Smith took a job at the New York City law firm Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz. His second day on the job, he was asked to take a case defending tobacco companies.[2] He declined, and returned to Oregon.[3] He briefly worked for Stoel Rives, but became motivated to establish an organization dedicated to engaging young people with progressive politics.[2] He soon left the law firm, founding the Bus Project in 2001.[5]

Political career[edit]

In 2008, Smith was elected with no opposition to the Oregon House of Representatives representing House District 47. The seat had been vacated by Jeff Merkley, who was running for the United States Senate.[6]

In the Legislature, Smith collaborated with representatives from rural Eastern Oregon to develop a statewide water strategy. He co-led the initiative called "Cool Schools" to create jobs by helping Oregon public schools begin retrofitting for energy savings. Smith co-led the legislature's budget transparency initiative to put Oregon government spending information online, and carried a bill to reduce the ratio of middle managers to line employees in state government. Smith also co-led the initiative to create online voter registration in Oregon, and carried a bill in the Legislature to allow trafficked minors to expunge their prostitution convictions upon reaching age 21 if they have had no other trouble with the law.[7]

In April 2011, Smith released the results of a video he compiled of Oregon state representatives reciting the lyrics of Rick Astley's 1980s pop hit "Never Gonna Give You Up".[8]

In September 2011, he announced he would run for Mayor of Portland in 2012.[9] In the May 2012 primary election, Smith defeated most other candidates to become one of the two candidates advancing to the November general election. He received 32.9% of the vote in the primary, while Charlie Hales received 37.2%.[10] In the general election, closing on November 6, 2012, Smith received approximately 31.3% of the vote and was defeated by Hales, who received 61.2%.[11]

Smith served in the 2012 Legislative session, but to facilitate his run for mayor he did not run for reelection to the House and vacated his seat in the Legislature after serving four years.[1]


Smith is married to Katy Lesowski, also a Portland native, and a co-founder of the Bus Project.[5][12] His stepmother, Meredith Wood Smith, is former chair of the Oregon Democratic Party.[2]

2012 Portland Mayoral Campaign controversies[edit]

A series of incidents from Smith's past uncovered by The Oregonian and Willamette Week derailed his 2012 mayoral campaign.[13][14] In July 2012, The Willamette Week revealed that Smith had been banned from an intramural soccer league in early 2011 after pushing another player, and subsequently ejected from a pickup basketball game at the Harriet Tubman School gym in North Portland after punching another player.[15] Smith conceded to reporter Nigel Jaquiss that he had thrown a punch, but argued that the blow was not aimed at the player's genitals, as alleged by witness accounts.[15] In August 2012, The Oregonian—following up on earlier reporting—revealed that Smith's driver's license had been suspended seven times from 2002 to 2010.[16] Smith had previously declined to provide complete information about his driving record to the press.[16] In October 2012, The Willamette Week revealed that Smith was cited for a misdemeanor assault in 1993 involving a woman.[17] Smith's account of the incident to the press following the revelation was challenged by the victim and contradicted by the police report.[18] As further details from the case emerged, Smith lost the endorsement of the Portland Police Association and the Portland Firefighters Association.[19] Although Smith had been the mayoral frontrunner early on in the campaign, he would go on to lose to Charlie Hales by more than 30 percentage points.[14] Smith would later concede that the revelations—especially the assault charge—had cost him the election.[20][21]

1993 fraternity party incident[edit]

In 1993, Eugene police cited Smith for a misdemeanor assault charge stemming from an incident with an 18-year-old woman at fraternity party.[17][22] According to the police report, the woman touched Smith's chest, after which he grabbed her arms. He then drew back and struck her with a fist to the eye, causing a one-inch cut that required several stitches.[18] "He really popped me," the victim told police.[18] Smith was attending the University of Oregon at the time.[17]

Police and the Lane County District Attorney's office dropped the charge after Smith reached a diversion agreement with the city of Eugene and the victim.[22][23] Smith agreed to cover the woman's medical expenses, pay a $250 court fee, and complete 20 hours of community service, among other conditions.[23][24] The incident came to light during Smith's 2012 campaign for Portland mayor.[25] Smith tried to speak with the victim at her home before reporters contacted her, but she told him to leave.[25] Smith's eventual account of the incident to the press was challenged by the victim and contradicted by the police report.[18]

A year after the election, Smith admitted that the woman had rebuffed his advances before the altercation. Although Smith denied knocking the woman off of a couch later in the evening, he conceded to grabbing her and then hitting her above the eye when she confronted him.[20][21]

In November 2017, Smith resigned from the Oregon Center for Public Policy, just two weeks after his controversial appointment as executive director, as concerns of the 1993 incident resurfaced.[26]

Radio entrepreneur and personality[edit]

In 2013, Smith led an effort to bring progressive talk radio to Portland's low-power non-profit radio station XRAY.FM. He brokered agreements with radio personalities including Thom Hartmann and Carl Wolfson. He also launched his own program, Thank You Democracy.[27] Smith occasionally fills in as guest host of the Thom Hartmann Program.[28][29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Wong, Peter (November 10, 2012). "Capitol Watch: New members of the Oregon House and Senate". Statesman Journal. Salem, Oregon. Retrieved November 18, 2012.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Law, Steve (March 26, 2009). "Mr. Smith goes to Salem". Portland Tribune. Archived from the original on August 19, 2016. Retrieved November 6, 2012.
  3. ^ a b Collins, Cliff (May 2006). "Jefferson Smith: Active in the Forum". Oregon State Bar. Retrieved November 6, 2012.
  4. ^ "Jefferson Smith". Project VoteSmart. Retrieved November 6, 2012.
  5. ^ a b c "Meet Jeff". Archived from the original on November 16, 2009. Retrieved November 13, 2008.
  6. ^ Friesen, Mark (November 4, 2008). "Oregon Legislature Results". Oregonian. Retrieved November 6, 2012. Italic or bold markup not allowed in: |publisher= (help)
  7. ^ "Oregon House of Representatives, Representative Jefferson Smith". Oregon State Legislature. Archived from the original on December 13, 2011.
  8. ^ "How one Oregon lawmaker convinced his colleagues to 'Rick Roll' the state legislature". Yahoo News. Retrieved April 8, 2011.
  9. ^ Slovic, Beth (September 13, 2011). "Jefferson Smith announces he will run for Portland mayor, challenging Eileen Brady and Charlie Hales". The Oregonian. Retrieved November 9, 2012.
  10. ^ "May 2012 Primary Election - Official Results". Office of the City Auditor, Portland. Retrieved November 9, 2012.
  11. ^ "November 2012 General Election - Official Results". Office of the City Auditor, Portland. December 2012. Retrieved January 6, 2013.
  12. ^ Law, Steve (March 21, 2008). "Timely moves set up races". East County News. Retrieved November 6, 2012.
  13. ^ Steve Law (January 17, 2013). "Smith takes a 'purposeful pause'". Portland Tribune. Retrieved June 26, 2015.
  14. ^ a b Mark Zusman (November 12, 2012). "The Unraveling of Jefferson Smith's Campaign". Willamette Week. Retrieved June 26, 2015.
  15. ^ a b Nigel Jaquiss (July 4, 2012). "Red Card". Willamette Week. Retrieved June 26, 2015.
  16. ^ a b Beth Slovic (August 21, 2012). "Jefferson Smith tally grows to seven driver's license suspensions". The Oregonian. Retrieved June 26, 2015.
  17. ^ a b c Nigel Jaquiss (October 1, 2012). "Jefferson Smith Was Cited for 1993 Misdemeanor Assault Involving a Woman". Willamette Week. Retrieved June 26, 2015.
  18. ^ a b c d Nigel Jaquiss (October 8, 2012). "Police Report And Victim Contradict Smith's Version of 1993 Assault: Updated". Willamette Week. Retrieved June 26, 2015.
  19. ^ "Road to mayor's office now 'very, very difficult' for Jefferson Smith". KPTV. October 12, 2012. Retrieved June 26, 2015.
  20. ^ a b Nigel Jaquiss (December 10, 2013). "Jefferson Smith Revisits Mayoral Campaign On Stage". Willamette Week. Retrieved June 26, 2015.
  21. ^ a b BackFencePDX (December 9, 2013). "Jefferson Smith at Back Fence PDX". Vimeo. Retrieved July 27, 2012.
  22. ^ a b Slovic, Beth (October 8, 2012). "Police report: Woman said Jefferson Smith 'really popped me' in 1993". The Oregonian. Retrieved June 26, 2015.
  23. ^ a b Nigel Jaquiss (October 2, 2012). "Smith Releases Assault Diversion Agreement". Willamette Week. Retrieved June 27, 2015.
  24. ^ Ian Gray (October 16, 2012). "Jefferson Smith, Portland Mayoral Candidate, Faces Questions About Assault Charge". The Huffington Post. Retrieved June 26, 2015.
  25. ^ a b Nigel Jaquiss (October 10, 2012). "Knocking Himself Out". Willamette Week. Retrieved June 26, 2015.
  26. ^ Acker, Lizzy (November 12, 2017). "Jefferson Smith out as lead at Oregon think tank after less than two weeks". Retrieved June 6, 2019.
  27. ^ Mesh, Aaron (October 8, 2013). "Air Apparent". Willamette Week. Retrieved June 6, 2019.
  28. ^ "Thom Hartman Program 4/24/18 - Jefferson Smith Guest Hosts 10am-12pm - The Thom Hartmann Program ///". Retrieved June 6, 2019.
  29. ^ "Wednesday 13 February '19 show notes". Thom Hartmann - News & info from the #1 progressive radio show. February 13, 2019. Retrieved June 6, 2019.

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