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updated: 10/4/2011 10:24 AM

Moving on from a public mistake

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Daily Herald Editorial Board

State Sen. Suzi Schmidt used very poor judgment when she called 911 last Christmas Day to suggest dispatchers ignore her husband if he called. As a former Lake County Board chairwoman and current state senator, she should have known that emergency dispatchers could never ignore any call for help. And she certainly should have known better than to throw her political resume into the midst of an already complicated personal crisis. She owes her constituents a sincere and unequivocal apology.

But should she forfeit her job? On that question, she and everyone else should slow down a bit and think.

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We didn't need Schmidt's experience to inform us -- though somehow we always seem surprised when we see another example -- that politicians have difficulties in their private lives just like all the rest of us. They do, indeed. And sometimes they don't handle them very graciously, to put it mildly. Now, Schmidt's private troubles have spilled into public view, and she's facing pressure to step down from her 31st District seat in the Illinois Senate.

In some ways, that would be a nice clean break from the controversy. But it also has some disturbing implications, perhaps chief among them the notion that a person facing painful troubles at home cannot function successfully in his or her profession. In fact, the awareness of just that attitude in some circles can lead public individuals to take more serious and more obviously inappropriate actions in seeking to avoid humiliation or professional repercussions.

So far Schmidt's sin, and it is no small one, has been to make an inappropriate call to emergency authorities and, in the process, make them aware of her public profile. She has not been accused of any crime or misdemeanor, and her record as a freshman senator has demonstrated hard work and conscientious attention to her duties. Has her attention been focused in the right place and have her decisions on the business of state been fitting and well-thought-out? Those are political questions that deserve to be aired and discussed in the course of the election process.

In short, if voters are not happy with the decisions Schmidt, a Lake Villa Township Republican, is making in Springfield or the way she conducts herself as a senator, they will have the opportunity soon enough -- in just a little over a year, actually -- to replace her, as will voters on scores of other state senators. Until then, it's important that the difficulties of her private life remain distinct from the challenges of her public duties.

She let one mingle with the other when she called 911, and she owes voters a clearer response than her brief statement last week apologizing if her actions "seem inappropriate." They don't just seem so, they are so, and she should publicly acknowledge that and emphasize her commitment to seeing that it doesn't happen again.

Then she should return to her responsibilities as a state senator in public and, we sincerely hope, solve her troubles at home in private.

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