California lawmakers grim, angry after arrest of state Sen. Leland Yee

SACRAMENTO -- A group of schoolchildren chattered excitedly Thursday during a field trip to the state Capitol as state Sen. Ed Hernandez stood nearby in the rotunda, looking grim and sipping coffee from a paper cup.

The Democratic lawmaker from West Covina was still trying to fathom the arrest the day before of state Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) on suspicion of accepting payments from an undercover FBI agent while promising him official action and introduction to an international arms dealer.


The news was especially hard to take coming weeks after Democratic state Sens. Roderick Wright and Ronald Calderon took leaves of absence to fight unrelated criminal charges.

"I felt like I was hit in the gut yesterday," Hernandez said. "It's kind of like the straw that broke the camel's back. Its really disappointing and frustrating."

Hernandez said he agreed with the angry demand of Democratic leaders that Yee must either resign or face a state Senate vote, as early as Friday, to suspend him.

"I certainly think it's time for Sen. Yee to not continue to serve in the California Senate," said Sen. Richard Roth (D-Riverside), chairman of the Senate Legislative Ethics Committee.

Roth spoke to The Times as he was about to preside over a three-hour hearing on how the proposed state budget will affect local government, which required focus despite the Yee scandal.

"Is it a distraction from time to time? Certainly," Roth said. "Do we need to keep our heads focused on the people's business? Absolutely."

Roth said the possible state Senate vote on Yee will have to take place without him because he will be attending a previously scheduled hearing on mobile home issues in the Jurupa Valley, and he did not know the Yee arrest would happen when he scheduled the hearing with hundreds of constituents.

A former major general in the U.S. Air Force, Roth was deeply troubled by the allegations that Yee was willing to arrange arms deals.

"If true, the allegations are shocking," Roth said.