Democratic State Sen. Roderick D. Wright said Monday that he will resign from office effective Sept. 22-- bowing to pressure three days after a judge sentenced him to 90 days in jail on felony perjury and voting fraud charges for lying about living in his Senate district when he ran for office in 2008.
Wright, who was threatened with an expulsion vote if he did not step down, agreed to step down but asked for a week to say goodbye to his staff and constituents.
“Effective Sept. 22, 2014, I hereby resign from the California State Senate,” Wright said in a letter Monday to the Senate secretary.
“It’s painful,” Wright said in an interview. “At the end of the day you want to consider what’s the best thing for the house and that was the best thing for the house.”
Wright has said in the past that he was wrongly convicted and plans to appeal but did not want to talk about his guilt or innocence. “It doesn’t matter what I think at this point. You have to move on with your life,” he said.
“The Pro Tem has accepted his resignation,” said Rhys Williams, a spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento).
Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) helped broker the deal, “Today is a sad day for both my friend and for California,” he said in a statement. “Senator Wright’s prosecution has been unfortunate and, in many ways, unfair. At best, this is an ambiguous law and, in this case, its application has been both arbitrary and selective. But today, Senator Wright did the right thing for his community and the Senate by resigning from office.”
Wright, 62, was sentenced Friday to jail time, a lifetime ban from holding future public office, three years’ probation and 1,500 hours of community service. He was ordered to surrender and begin serving his sentence Oct. 31.
Wright had originally proposed to step down Oct. 31, but Senate Democratic leaders worried the longer he stayed in office the bigger issue it would become in the Nov. 4 election, where their party is struggling to regain a two-thirds majority. In agreeing to delay Wright’s resignation one week, Senate leaders considered that it would cost about $20,000 to reconvene the Senate, which had adjourned until December, for an expulsion vote.
Wright is the first state legislator to resign over a criminal conviction in 20 years. The last lawmaker to quit under those circumstances was state Sen. Frank Hill (R-Whittier), who resigned in 1994 after being found guilty of extortion, money laundering and conspiracy in a corruption sting known as Shrimpscam, state officials said.
Wright’s resignation triggers a process that gives Gov. Jerry Brown 14 days from his departure to call a special election to fill the remaining two years of Wright’s term in the 35th Senate District seat. The special election must be set at least 126 days, but not more than 140 days, from the date of the governor’s proclamation. The primary for the special election would be held nine or 10 Tuesdays before the special election runoff.
Within minutes of Wright’s announcement, Democratic Assemblymen Steven Bradford of Gardena and Isadore Hall of Compton announced their candidacies in the special election that Gov. Jerry Brown must now call to fill Wright’s seat. The 35th Senate District is safely Democratic, with only 14% of voters registered as Republican.
Bradford said he brings to the election “Seventeen years of a solid track record of public service.”
Hall issued a statement saying he is running for the senate “to further expand economic opportunity, create more good paying jobs, and to bolster our K-12 and higher education systems so that they are second to none.”
Senate Democrats lost their supermajority earlier this year by voting to suspend Wright and Democratic Sens. Leland Yee of San Francisco and Ronald S. Calderon of Montebello. Yee and Calderon face federal corruption charges involving allegations they accepted payments for official favors. Both have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.
Wright agreed to quit after Senate leaders made it clear they would seek a two-thirds vote of the Senate to expel him if he did not step down.
The last time a senator was expelled was in 1905, when Sens. Harry Bunkers, E.J. Emmons, Frank French and Eli Wright were expelled for “malfeasance in office,” state officials said.