Last week, the California State Senate announced that all committee hearings for Wednesday, April 23 were cancelled and ordered all Senators, staff and Capitol office employees to attend a full day of training and ethics. As the memo from the Senate Presidents pro tem’s Chief of Staff stated, they are “requesting that Members and staff clear their calendars for this one day to devote to the ethics training and discussion.” The meetings are deemed more important than any state business scheduled (all of which is rescheduled over the following week).
However, it comes too late for three of their members.
In January, state Senator Rod Wright of Inglewood was found guilty of a variety of charges of felony voter fraud related to the fact that he didn’t live in the district he represented. The conviction was the latest twist of a nearly three year saga. While the senate was dealing with that shock, February saw the indictment of another member, Ron Calderon. After a months’ long FBI investigation, the state senator from Montebello was indicted on 24 counts ranging from wire fraud, to bribery, to money laundering.
In exchange for supporting and opposing specific legislation, Calderon received tens of thousands of dollars, plane trips and jobs for his two children. By “jobs” they mean they were paid but didn’t really work.
The pièce de résistance of California capitol corruption came from San Francisco state Senator Leland Yee. A prominent Democrat and staunch gun control advocate, Yee was the author of California’s 2005 law that banned the sale of violent video games to minors. In the midst of campaigning for Secretary of State (and still being a state senator), Yee was indicted in March on public corruption charges. As part of a five year investigation into a notorious Chinatown gangster, it was discovered that Yee accepted bribes in exchange for brokering weapons deals and arranging meetings with officials. He even awarded a Chinatown gangster an official Senate proclamation for a campaign contribution.
The Democrat’s super majority in the California State Senate is now just a majority as all three of the senators have been suspended. The senate has been busy distancing themselves from the scandals by canceling a major fundraiser, and taking the websites of all three senators offline. In the meantime, the millions of Californians that are represented by the three corrupt members are now without representation.
For now if anyone calls regarding local matters, constituents are handled by staff. Legislative concerns are directed to the representative in the Assembly, though the issues and focus for those representatives may differ than the senators’. The state senate has, thus far, refused to move forward with expulsion and none of the senators have resigned – even Wright, who has been convicted. This allows them to still collect their monthly check for the $95,280 annual salary they receive.
They won’t, however, get their per diem.
This level of corruption is rare for the California legislature. The Senate GOP leader, Bob Huff, worked with Senate President pro tem Darrell Steinberg on the suspensions, with one lone Republican calling for expulsion of the senators, a move not supported by anyone including his own party. Thus far the body has focused on trying to mitigate the damage and to keep working on state business.
But, first, they are going to take a moment for introspection.
The day of ethics training and discussion comes at the behest of Senator Steinberg, who calls on “our entire body to take a deeper look into our culture” in light of the three scandals. He promised an office by office ethics review, yet admits there are limits. “I know of no ethics class that teaches about the illegality and the danger of gun-running,” he said.
Senator Rod Wright is appealing his conviction and Ron Calderon announced that he is taking a paid leave of absence while he fights the charges. In the meantime, Leland Yee has withdrawn from the race for California Secretary of State.
Photo by Steve Rhodes