Pubdate: Sat, 16 Dec 2000
Source: Houston Chronicle (TX)
Copyright: 2000 Houston Chronicle
Contact:  Viewpoints Editor, P.O. Box 4260 Houston, Texas 77210-4260
Fax: (713) 220-3575
Author: Thom Marshall


Listening to President-elect George W. Bush speak of his hopes and plans 
and declare his intention to do his best for all Americans, I couldn't stop 
thinking about Dalton Smith.

I had just returned from visiting with Smith and his attorney in time to 
catch Bush's victory speech on national TV.

Bush said: "After a difficult election, we must put politics behind us and 
work together to make the promise of America available for every one of our 

And I thought of how Smith said this election was his first time to vote. 
He is 18 years old. He is a straight-A student and plays on the Fort Bend 
Austin High School baseball team, sometimes pitching, sometimes in the 

Bush said: "Americans share hopes and goals and values far more important 
than any political disagreements."

Smith has been exploring what scholarships he might qualify for, to help 
cover college expenses. A high school senior these days faces amazing 
opportunities, but also tremendous challenges -- deciding where to go, what 
to study, competing for grades, setting priorities. It is a most 
exhilarating, exciting time, filled with pressures and tensions and emotions.

Bush said: "Together, guided by a spirit of common sense, common courtesy 
and common goals, we can unite and inspire the American citizens."

Life Took Unexpected Turn

A few days ago, Smith's future encountered an unexpected question mark. He 
was led out of school in handcuffs and spent the next 28 hours in jail. He 
said he asked the officer to please put the handcuffs on him when they got 
outside, rather than parade him past other students wearing the shackles. 
The officer refused.

Smith had not been in a fight. He had done nothing violent. He had not 
caused a disturbance. He had not stolen anything. He had not vandalized 
anything. He had not harmed anyone. He had not threatened to harm anyone.

A vice principal watching a security monitor screen had observed another 
student open a door of Smith's pickup at a time when Smith and other 
students were in class. That led to a search of the vehicle. Smith and his 
lawyer, Thomas Steinmeyer, said that search turned up some cigars, a small 
amount of marijuana, and a half tablet of the prescription tranquilizer Xanex.

Bush said: "Together, we will address some of society's deepest problems 
one person at a time, by encouraging and empowering the good hearts and 
good works of the American people. This is the essence of compassionate 
conservatism, and it will be a foundation of my administration."

Smith's outstanding record as a student was not a consideration under the 
zero tolerance rules that our schools and so much of our society have 
embraced in recent years. Steinmeyer said his client faces misdemeanor 
charges for the marijuana and felony charges for that half tab of Xanex.

While it is against school rules to have tobacco products on campus or in 
vehicles driven to school, and, although nicotine is an extremely addictive 
and deadly drug, it is not an illegal substance and Smith faces no criminal 
charges for the cigars found in his pickup.

Bush said: "Respect for each other. Respect for our differences. Generosity 
of spirit. And a willingness to work hard and work together to solve any 

Expelled From School

Released from jail on bond, Smith was expelled from school. He took 
semester finals in a school district behavioral learning center. But rather 
than complete the year in a special facility with other students who have 
been expelled, Smith plans to attend one of the private schools in the area 
next semester.

Steinmeyer said the outcome of the criminal charges may not be known for 
many months. Our criminal justice system routinely deals quite harshly with 
people charged with drug offenses, even while millions of other citizens 
choose to use various controlled substances. In fact, some who foolishly 
experiment with illegal drugs when younger, but never get caught, go on to 
attain high political offices. The unlucky ones who do get caught find that 
the arrest record alone can keep them from getting a decent job.

Bush said: "I will be guided by President Jefferson's sense of purpose: to 
stand for principle, to be reasonable in manner, and, above all, to do 
great good for the cause of freedom and harmony."

A country that values common sense, respect for one another, reason, 
freedom, harmony, compassion -- our next president has some fine 
improvements in mind. I wish him the best of luck.

And good luck to Dalton Smith, too.
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MAP posted-by: Terry Liittschwager