Tony Mendoza resigned from the California Senate last month rather than face expulsion by his colleagues after an independent investigation concluded that he most likely engaged in a pattern of sexual misconduct involving six women, four of whom worked in his office, over the course of a decade. The Senate was expected to take action on his case later that day.
His resignation triggered a special election to fill the seat for the remaining time left in his term. That election is to be held on June 5, and guess who plans to run?
That’s right. Tony Mendoza. The same man who skulked away from Sacramento just weeks ago rather than stand before his peers and make a case for why they should not kick him out of office is now asking voters to return him to the job for the remaining months of the term.
It hardly seems possible, but democracy doesn’t always make sense. Still, this much is clear: It’s both unseemly and unfair of Mendoza to ask the people of his southeastern Los Angeles County district to join his quixotic and self-serving campaign to show up his former colleagues in the Senate. One of the chief arguments against his kooky plan is that even if he were to win, he would very likely find himself in the same tight spot — facing expulsion — that led to his resignation in the first place.
Mendoza, a Democrat from Artesia, has been defiant since the first allegation surfaced last year, strongly denying he did anything wrong. He refused to take a leave when the investigation began and only did so under threat of a suspension vote by the Senate. Mendoza filed a lawsuit claiming lack of due process after the Senate voted to extend his leave.
Nor did Mendoza concede anything in his resignation letter. He said he was stepping down because he didn’t think he could get justice from the Senate during an election year, adding that Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León wouldn’t rest until he had Mendoza’s “head on a platter” to appease the #MeToo movement. Never mind that an independent investigation by two outside law firms interviewed 47 people and found that Mendoza, who is married, “more likely than not” made inappropriate advances on young women even after he was warned twice to stop doing so.
The timing of Mendoza’s resignation in the last year of his Senate term means that there will be both a special election and a regular election for the 32nd Senate district on the same ballot on June 5. The winner of the special election will serve until the current term expires, and the winner of the regular election will take over on Dec. 3. Mendoza said in a statement Friday that he plans to run in both races.
If he truly cared about the interests of his district, Mendoza would bow out of both races now and leave the field open for less compromised, less polarizing candidates. There are very few scenarios in which this doesn’t end badly for the people of his district, and maybe even for Mendoza and his family. Does he really want to stir up more controversy about the advances he allegedly made on a 19-year-old intern as he fed her alcohol in a hotel suite during a trip to the party convention?
And if Mendoza receives enough votes to return to the Senate without the support of his party (delegates at the state convention last month chose not to endorse him), what happens then? Perhaps Mendoza thinks that the national outrage over sexual harassment by men in power will have waned. Or maybe he believes that having the support of some of the voters in his district will inoculate him from any further punishment by the Senate.
What seems most likely is that if Mendoza somehow claws his way back into Senate, those same colleagues would simply bring up the expulsion vote again, possibly triggering another costly special election. How does that help anyone?
He has lost sight of the fact that serving in the Legislature is about representing the interests of the people most effectively, not merely about soothing his own bruised ego or undoing the raw deal he seems to believe he got from his colleagues.
Mendoza needs to let it go, and then go away.