Opinion

Opinion: Prop 50 is the only state measure on the California primary ballot. Here’s what you need to know about it

Leland Yee and Ron Calderon
Former state Sens. Leland Yee and Ron Calderon were suspended from the Senate with pay in 2014.
(Rich Pedroncelli/Associated Press)

There’s only one state proposition on next week’s primary ballot, and you may not have heard about it. There’s not much of a campaign on either side, and it probably won’t matter if it passes or fails.

Proposition 50 is a constitutional amendment giving the California Legislature the authority to suspend members without pay on a two-thirds vote. Currently legislators can only vote to suspend with pay. But up until 2014, they never had even done that.

That was the year the California Senate suspended not one, but three of its own: Sens. Ron Calderon and Leland Yee, who were under investigation on serious corruption charges, and Sen. Rod Wright, who had been convicted on charges lying about living in his South Los Angeles district and was awaiting sentencing.

At the time, state senators grappled with whether to suspend the three or throw them out altogether. The latter seemed overly harsh, the  former not harsh enough. In the end, the senate voted to suspend, even though it was unsatisfying that the three would continue to collect benefits and a paycheck.

That’s when Proposition 50 was born. Though it’s largely academic (remember: 2014 was the first time ever that a legislator had been suspended), it will probably pass. Who doesn’t support holding misbehaving politician accountable? (This Hoover Institution poll has 60% of voters endorsing Proposition 50.) Even Calderon’s nephew, Assemblyman Ian Calderon (D-Whittier), supports Proposition 50.

Nonetheless, the LA Times editorial board would like you to vote no because it’s right thing to do. Even politicians accused of terrible crimes have the right to the presumption of innocence. Also, nothing in the proposition requires that suspension of pay only be used in criminal cases and that raises the possibility that suspension without pay could be used as a weapon of political retribution.

But if you decide to take the advice of some other editorial board instead, it won’t be the end of the world. If history is any guide, legislators might not have reason to consider such extreme punishment of any sort for another 164 years.

That’s good news, because if legislators start getting  arrested on corruption charges at a regular pace then we have bigger problems with our political system than Prop. 50 can fix.

mariel.garza@latimes.com

Follow me @marielgarzaLAT