Hours after state Sen. Ronald S. Calderon was indicted Friday for allegedly taking $100,000 in bribes, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg conferred with his members and produced a statement calling on the Montebello Democrat to resign, take a leave of absence or face expulsion.
This was bold action from the Senate, no doubt aimed at preserving the integrity of the body and sending a message to Californians that corruption and fraud among lawmakers would not be tolerated. But if that's the message Steinberg wants to send, why is Sen. Roderick Wright still serving?
Wright, a Democrat representing Inglewood, was convicted last month of perjury and voter fraud for lying about his legal residence when he ran for office. Yet even though Wright is a convicted felon, Steinberg has resisted pressuring him to resign or take a leave of absence. Instead, Steinberg has delayed a decision on Wright's membership in the Senate until his sentencing in Los Angeles County Superior Court, which was slated for March 12 but has now been postponed to May 16, giving Wright another two months on the job.
Calderon — who has merely been charged but not yet tried, and who should be considered innocent until proven guilty — has been told to hit the road, ASAP. This inconsistency is troubling.
Steinberg has reasoned that the two cases are different. In Calderon's case, he said, corruption and bribery charges "strike at the very heart of what it means to be a public official." And he's right. Californians should be able to trust that legislators are developing laws for the good of their constituents and the state, not to line their own pockets.
But in the case of Wright, Steinberg argued that there was "ambiguity" in the law about when a candidate is in fact living in his or her district. If that's so, the Legislature should by all means tighten up the law. If, on the other hand, Wright's colleagues in the Senate are disinclined to punish him because they're not terribly offended by a politician playing fast and loose with residency requirements, that's a mistake.
The bottom line is that Wright was convicted by a jury on eight counts of voter fraud and perjury, meaning he was never in fact eligible to hold the seat he won. Doesn't lying to voters "strike at the very heart of what it means to be a public official"?
Enough with the double talk. Either due process matters in the Senate or it doesn't. Steinberg and his colleagues need a clearer position on who should be forced out of office and who should not.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times