State Sen. Roderick D. Wright (D-Inglewood) was convicted in January of eight felonies, including five counts of fraudulent voting, two counts of perjury and one count of filing a false declaration of candidacy. As of this writing, he is still a fully active member of the state Senate.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg only removed the senator from his Governmental Organization Committee chairmanship at his request. No disciplinary action has been initiated by the Senate leadership. Some have said that we need to wait past any possible appeal, but that’s not what the Senate has done in other cases.
The integrity of the Senate has been compromised, and further delays will only exacerbate the damage. If the Democratic supermajority allows a Senate floor vote on this issue, we are prepared to vote to remove the senator.
We have always found Wright to be smart, articulate and engaging, but that doesn’t mean we can turn a blind eye to what’s best for 38 million Californians. It’s not his job to be an amiable colleague. His job is to represent his district and to introduce and vote on bills.
A felon convicted of a single count, let alone eight counts related directly to the integrity of his office, is not allowed to vote in elections in California. How can we allow a member who can’t cast a ballot to reelect himself to introduce or vote on legislation? If you can’t vote at the polls, you shouldn’t be able to vote in the Senate. When a senator is convicted of a felony, every member of the Senate should be given the right to vote his or her conscience. That’s why we are asking for an opportunity to vote for Wright’s removal.
Membership in the Legislature is an honor and carries with it the public’s expectation that we will hold ourselves to the highest ethical standards. Wright’s case is not just about cutting corners; his conviction by a jury of his peers makes it clear there was deliberate deception on his part.
Through their inaction, Senate leaders have demonstrated that they do not believe such behavior warrants discipline, let alone removal. Based on precedent and common sense, the Senate must act to remove him.
Last week, we sent a letter to the Senate president formally requesting a vote on the Senate floor to address the removal of Wright. As members of the minority party in the Senate, we rely on the cooperation of our majority colleagues to bring this issue to the table so that we can act. They have control of what issues are, or aren’t, brought up for a vote.
When a senator’s ability to represent his or her constituents is inhibited, it’s incumbent upon that senator to step down. And when a senator fails to step down following convictions of this magnitude, it is incumbent upon the entire Senate to move for his or her removal.
In the absence of decisive action by Senate leadership, we were forced to act. We allowed seven days to elapse following the senator’s conviction before taking formal action. This was in line with precedent established in the cases of Democratic state Sen. Joseph Montoya, found guilty on seven felony counts, and Republican state Sen. Frank Hill, found guilty on three felony counts. They were both forced in the 1990s to resign under threat of expulsion within one and three weeks of conviction, respectively.
In contrast to the inaction in the Wright case, the Senate leader stripped Sen. Ronald Calderon (D-Montebello) of all committee appointments simply because a television report alleged that he was under investigation. Calderon had not even been charged with a crime. The leaders of the Senate have failed to explain why similar action has not been taken against Wright.
We urge the Senate president and other Senate leaders to clarify their position and address our letter. We urge them to exemplify the honor of the Senate and to make a public statement — not for our knowledge alone but for the benefit of all Californians, who deserve action.
Steve Knight (R-Palmdale) represents the 21st District in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties in the state Senate. Joel Anderson (R-Alpine) represents the 36th District in San Diego and Riverside counties.