Smith resigns from Senate 3 days after going to jail

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — State Sen. Virgil Smith tendered his letter of resignation Thursday, three days after the Detroit Democrat began a 10-month jail sentence for shooting up his ex-wife’s car.

The Senate Business Office received Smith’s letter at about 12:50 p.m., said Amber McCann, a spokeswoman for Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive.

The letter of resignation, which will become official when the Senate returns to session on April 12, was one sentence long: “I resign as Senator of the 4th District.”

Smith’s attorney, Godfrey Dillard, called Meekhof’s office earlier in the week with a heads-up on the pending resignation.

“It’s good to have resolution to this issue,” McCann said Thursday. “It has gone on a little longer than the majority leader expected, but ultimately a voluntary resignation was the next logical step. The majority leader is glad to put the issue to rest.”

Smith was arrested in May 2015. He went to jail Monday after pleading guilty to malicious destruction for shooting at his ex-wife’s Mercedes-Benz during a May 2015 dispute.

He earned $71,685 a year as a state senator and was not legally obligated to resign despite his incarceration. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy negotiated a plea deal that required Smith to resign but Judge Lawrence Talon declined to enforce the provision. A spokewoman said Thursday that Worthy still plans to appeal the ruling.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder will eventually call a special election to fill the vacant seat for the remainder of Smith’s term, which runs through 2018. Snyder will set the dates for both the primary and general election.

“It’s totally at the discretion of the governor about when to do that,” said Fred Woodhams, a spokesman for the Michigan Secretary of State’s Office.

Former state Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Detroit, who challenged Smith in 2014 but narrowly lost to him in the Democratic primary, surprised political observers Thursday by announcing she will not run for his seat if a special election is called this year.

Tlaib issued a statement saying she believes she would be well-positioned to run a successful campaign but thinks her job at the Sugar Law Center for Economic & Social Justice “is the best way” for her to defend the southwest Detroit community.

“This was a very difficult decision to make, but at this moment it is in the best interest of my family and current commitments,” she said.

Smith is a Democrat who sided with Republicans on some key votes in recent years. With his departure, Republicans will have 27 members in the Senate compared with 10 Democrats.

Smith served in the state House from 2002-08 and won election to the Senate in 2010 and 2014. His father, Virgil C. Smith, also served in the Legislature and is now a Wayne County Circuit Court judge.

Meekhof said last week he expected Smith to step down. If it had not happened, Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D-Flint, said Friday he would vote to expel Smith from the Legislature.

“I think there is no scenario where a person serving in jail serves in the Michigan Senate,” Ananich said during a taping of WKAR-TV’s “Off The Record.”

Smith’s resignation will become official when his letter is read into the Senate Journal in April.

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