Capitol Alert

The latest on California politics and government

March 28, 2014
Senate to vote shortly on fates of Yee, Calderon and Wright

YeeCalderon.jpg

California Senate leader Darrell Steinberg moved to suspend three of his Democratic colleagues today who have been accused of crimes including corruption, perjury and conspiracy to traffic weapons.

Two of them — senators Ron Calderon of Montebello and Rod Wright of Baldwin Hills — have been on paid leaves of absence for roughly a month. But Steinberg said Thursday that the latest case involving Sen. Leland Yee has caused him to take things up a step by asking the Senate to cast a formal vote on the fate of their three disgraced colleagues. The senators would still be paid if suspended, because the Legislature's lawyers say they don't have the right to revoke pay unless a lawmaker is permanently expelled.

As the debate began, Steinberg said he understands the public concern.

"One is an anomaly. Two is a coincidence. Three?" he said. "I am calling on our entire body to take a deeper look at our culture."

He said he would cancel session on April 7 and conduct an "office-by-office ethics review."

Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, said Steinberg's move does not go far enough.

"Which is it today, more smoke a mirrors, more paid holidays for bad behavior?" he asked. "There should be only one measure on this floor...and that's to expel these members."

Yee, of San Francisco, became the latest state Senator to face criminal allegations when he was charged in federal court Wednesday with corruption and conspiracy to illegally import guns. A 137-page FBI affidavit alleges that Yee took numerous official actions as a legislator in exchange for contributions to his current campaign for secretary of state. The contributions, it turned out, were from undercover agents.

Yee was arrested Wednesday as part of a massive FBI sweep that involved more than two-dozen people accused of running guns, drugs, stolen liquor and cigarettes — and arranging murder for hire.

It was the latest turn in what's already been a tumultuous year for Democrats in the California Capitol. Last month, a federal grand jury in Los Angeles indicted Calderon on 24 counts of corruption. And in January, a Los Angeles jury found Wright guilty of perjury and voter fraud for lying about whether he lived in the district he represents.

Wright and Calderon both requested leaves of absence, so their colleagues in the Senate never actually cast a vote on their fate. Steinberg's move to suspend all three would require a majority vote by the Senate, and be an unprecedented action for the house.

A suspension is temporary, while expelling a legislator is a permanent ouster.

Steinberg said he does not think it's right to expel Calderon and Yee because they have not yet been found guilty. In Wright's case, Steinberg has said he is waiting to see if the judge upholds the jury's guilty verdict before taking an irrevocable action against him.

Steinberg plans to introduce a constitutional amendment that would allow the Legislature to suspend members without pay, though that would have to be approved by voters before it could take effect.

PHOTO: Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, left, speaks on a bill, while his seat mate Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, works at his desk inside the Senate chambers in January 2014. Associated Press/Rich Pedroncelli.

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Yee criminal complaint "Word Cloud"

VIDEO: Steinberg says Yee arrest leaves him 'extremely disappointed and upset'

March 10, 2014
Democrats block GOP move to suspend Wright and Calderon

HuffSteinberg.JPG

For the third time in less than two weeks, Democrats in the California state Senate have blocked Republican attempts to formally oust two Democratic senators who are involved in criminal cases.

The latest move came Monday after Senate Republican leader Bob Huff introduced two resolutions, one calling for the Senate to suspend Sen. Rod Wright and the other to suspend Sen. Ron Calderon. Republicans have previously asked for Wright to be dismissed but Monday was the first time they asked for a vote on Calderon's fate in the Senate. The resolutions, SR 34 and SR 35, call for temporarily removing the senators, with pay, until their legal cases are resolved.

Wright, of Baldwin Hills, has been found guilty of eight felonies including perjury for lying about whether he lives in the Inglewood-area district he represents. Calderon, of Montebello, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on 24 counts related to corruption. Both men are on a voluntary paid leave of absence from the Senate.

"I believe we should have the opportunity to weigh in on something that is not breaking new ground... it's merely out there and codifying what's already been done," said Huff, of Diamond Bar.

Senate leader Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat from Sacramento, called the resolutions a waste of time and ordered them sent to the Rules Committee, where they could permanently stall.

"Another day here on the floor of the Senate, another drill," Steinberg said. "Senators Wright and Calderon have already left the building."

The Senate voted 22-12, largely along party lines, to support Steinberg's maneuver to delay action on the resolutions. Sen. Ted Lieu, a Torrance Democrat running for Congress, and Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, a Stockton Democrat in a competitive district, joined Republicans in the vote.

Monday's votes followed an attempt on Thursday by Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, to permanently expel Wright, which Steinberg quickly shot down, and a similar effort by Anderson and three fellow Republicans the week before.

PHOTO: Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento speaks with Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff on Thurs., Feb, 27, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

February 27, 2014
Senate Dems delay Republican move to expel Rod Wright

Knight.JPGSenate Democrats delayed debate on a resolution to expel Sen. Rod Wright today by moving a Republican proposal to the Rules Committee, where it could permanently stall.

Sen. Steve Knight, a Republican from Palmdale, introduced a resolution to expel Wright from the Senate because a jury found him guilty of eight felonies last month for lying about living in the district he represents.

"This will be precedent setting," Knight said as debate on his measure was being quashed on a 21-13, mostly party-line vote.

"We have gone past any time period where someone has been convicted of a felony and not resigned."

Wright went on a paid leave of absence on Tuesday and has been removed from his committee assignments. Democratic Senate leader Darrell Steinberg has said he does not want the Senate to permanently oust Wright unless a judge upholds the jury's verdicts at his sentencing, now scheduled for May 16. Wright is planning to ask the judge to overturn the jury's verdicts.

"Senator Wright has already left the building," Steinberg said during a speech on the floor, adding that he would not come back unless the judge overturns the jury's verdict against him.

Steinberg said that several Republican senators face allegations that they do not live in the districts they represent. He looked toward Senate Republicans as he quoted a passage from the New Testament in which Jesus says, "Let he who is without sin among you cast the first stone."

PHOTO: Sen. Steve Knight, R-Palmdale during session in the Senate chambers in Sacramento, Calif. on Monday, March 11, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

February 26, 2014
Republicans push for vote to expel Rod Wright

rod_wright.jpgOne day after Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg announced state Sen. Rod Wright will take an indefinite paid leave of absence, three Republican senators said they will push for Wright's expulsion during the upper house's next regular floor session, on Thursday.

The move comes several weeks after a Los Angeles County jury found Wright, D-Baldwin Hills, guilty of eight counts of voter fraud and perjury related to charges he lied about where he lived.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, announced Tuesday that Wright will continue to receive his $95,291 annual salary while on leave. His sentencing has been postponed until mid-May.

Republican Sens. Steve Knight, Joel Anderson and Andy Vidak said in a statement Wednesday that they will move for a two-thirds vote on a resolution to expel Wright.

In a resolution, the senators write, "The Senate leadership has had, since January 28, 2014, the option of requesting Senator Wright to resign from the Senate but has not done so."

Steinberg said in a prepared statement that "Senate leadership has already moved swiftly and decisively to address" the matter.

"Senator Wright has taken a leave of absence until his criminal case is resolved," Steinberg said. "He's not coming back unless the judge sets aside the verdict. Period."

He said, "These Republican resolutions will be addressed if they are brought up on the floor."

Editor's note: This post was updated at 2:23 p.m. Wednesday to include Steinberg's remarks.

PHOTO: Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, sits in the state Senate on Monday, Feb. 3, 2014. The Sacramento Bee/Hector Amezcua

January 31, 2014
Rod Wright introduces bill to convert some felonies to misdemeanors

wright.jpgTwo days after a jury found him guilty of eight felonies related to living outside the district he represents, Sen. Rod Wright introduced a bill that would allow people convicted of non-violent felonies to have their crimes converted to misdemeanors.

Wright did not attend the Senate's floor session Thursday, but legislative records show that on that day he introduced Senate Bill 929, which would grant new benefits to non-violent felons who are not sentenced to prison.

The bill says that a felony offense would be deemed a misdemeanor "if the court finds that certain circumstances apply, including that the defendant was not imprisoned in the state prison for the offense, the offense for which the defendant was convicted was not a serious or violent felony, as defined, the offense does not require registration as a sex offender, the defendant is not currently charged with and has not been convicted of an offense in the preceding 5 years, except as specified, and the defendant presents clear and convincing evidence that he or she has been rehabilitated."

While Wright has lost his chairmanship of the Senate Governmental Organization Committee, his Democratic colleagues have stopped short of asking him to leave office.

Yet it does not appear the felony-to-misdemeanor bill will advance. A spokesman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said the legislation will not be referred out of the Senate Rules Committee.

"Putting the merits of the policy aside, it's the wrong author at the wrong time," said spokesman Rhys Williams.

Wright's office has not returned a call for comment.

A Los Angeles jury on Tuesday found Wright guilty on all eight felony counts he was charged with in a case that challenged whether he lived in the Inglewood home he claimed as his domicile when he ran for office in 2008. Prosecutors alleged Wright really lived in Baldwin Hills, a tonier area outside the district he represents.

Wright's sentencing hearing is scheduled for March 12. His lawyer has said he plans to appeal the case.

SB 929

Editor's note: This post was updated at 11:30 a.m. Jan. 31 to include comment from Steinberg's office and lack of comment from Wright's office.

PHOTO: Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, walks into the California Senate floor during the first day of session Jan. 6, 2014 in Sacramento. Hector Amezcua/Sacramento.



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Capitol Alert Staff


Amy Chance Amy Chance is political editor for The Sacramento Bee. achance@sacbee.com. Twitter: @Amy_Chance

Dan Smith Dan Smith is Capitol bureau chief for The Sacramento Bee. smith@sacbee.com. Twitter: @DanielSnowSmith

Jim Miller Jim Miller covers California policy and politics and edits Capitol Alert. jmiller@sacbee.com. Twitter: @jimmiller2

David Siders David Siders covers the Brown administration. dsiders@sacbee.com. Twitter: @davidsiders

Christopher Cadelago Christopher Cadelago covers California politics and health care. ccadelago@sacbee.com. Twitter: @ccadelago

Laurel Rosenhall Laurel Rosenhall covers the Legislature, the lobbying community and higher education. lrosenhall@sacbee.com. Twitter: @LaurelRosenhall

Jeremy White Jeremy B. White covers the Legislature. jwhite@sacbee.com. Twitter: @capitolalert

Koseff Alexei Koseff edits Capitol Alert's mobile Insider Edition. akoseff@sacbee.com. Twitter: @akoseff

Dan Walters Dan Walters is a columnist for The Sacramento Bee. dwalters@sacbee.com. Twitter: @WaltersBee

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