Rod Wright and the California Senate's Culture of Corruption

On April 3, Republican Mike Morrell gave up his seat in the California State Assembly as he was sworn into the State Senate--he had recently won a special election in a Senate District in the Inland Empire. One of the first things that Morrell did was to have his name added to a resolution bottled up in the State Senate’s Rules Committee calling for an immediate vote to remove Senator Rod Wright.  

Wright, now rather infamously, continues to serve in the Senate despite having been found guilty by a Los Angeles jury of eight counts of perjury and voter fraud, centered around the Senator falsely saying that he lived in a place where prosecutors convinced jurors he, in fact, did not live at all. 

Unlike the United States Constitution, which places no residency requirements on Senators and Members of Congress, California legislators are legally required to live in their districts--though apparently many have not and do not.  

Wright went through a full criminal trial, which of course included his being able to present a full defense to the judge and jury. Nevertheless, the jury unanimously found Wright guilty on repeated felony charges in late January.

When it became clear after the guilty verdicts that Wright had no intention of resigning from the Senate, four Republican Senators--Joel Anderson, Steve Knight, Andy Vidak and Mark Wyland--publicly called for a vote to remove Wright from the Senate.  

Some, including Senate President Darrell Steinberg and Senate GOP Leader Bob Huff, said that Wright should continue to serve in office until his actual sentencing (which at the time was scheduled for last month, but then was delayed until next month), citing the theory that a judge could toss the verdicts. Go ask an expert, as I did: that’s not going to happen.  

Subsequently Anderson, Knight and Vidak actually introduced a formal resolution calling for the removal vote on Wright. 

Anderson said in his floor speech, “Every member here can vote their conscience, but the public deserves to see how each of us stand on this important issue.” 

Senate Democrats, led by Steinberg, moved that resolution into a legislative black hole where it remains to this day, with no action taken on it. GOP Senator Huff introduced a resolution calling on Wright to be “suspended” (read: “paid vacation”), but even that watered down measure was also killed by Steinberg. It actually ended up being counter-productive, allowing Senators that should be asking for a vote to remove Wright instead to “hide” behind a vote for mere suspension with pay.

It took the cumulative political pressure created by the Wright guilty verdicts, and the indictments of Ron Calderon and Leland Yee, for Steinberg to finally act--but not to remove Wright, but to simply suspend him (and Calderon and Yee) while continuing to allow them to collect salary and benefits.  

I will be the first one to say that as you look at seriousness of criminal allegations, Wright’s being found guilty of lying about his residency is way down the wrong-doing food chain from the allegations against indicted Democrat Senators Calderon and Yee. Very much so. 

That having been said, the “circling of the wagons” around Wright--the wink, the nod, the private outrage that he was even charged with doing something that, well, so many others do--is offensive.  

If you choose to engage them, supporters of Wright will try to pull you through the looking glass into a world where they have constructed self-serving legal theories about ambiguities about the word “domicile” to justify ignoring the jury verdicts against Wright. “He’s a victim of selective prosecution,” they will tell you.

The sad reality is that as of today only five GOP Senators have called for Wright to resign or be removed. Every other Senator has been silent. There is no escaping the sense that Senators are deciding for themselves, which laws must be obeyed, and which ones need not be. The very idea that Senators can make laws, but themselves are above the law--well, it’s no wonder that Calderon and Yee felt like they could get away with brazen unlawfulness.   

Despite the fact the jury verdicts against Wright were returned back on January 28, Wright continues to be an elected Senator, and still receives his government salary and medical benefits. I’m always cynical about when I hear folks refer to Governor Jerry Brown as the “adult in the room”--but at least he, at the end of March, publicly called on Wright to resign from the Senate, making him the only Democrat in the State Capitol to do so.

And as for newly minted Senator Morrell, I can’t blame him if he’s just a tad more cynical in his new job.  Can you?   

Jon Fleischman is the Politics Editor of Breitbart California. A longtime participant, observer and chronicler of California politics, Jon is also the publisher at www.flashreport.org. His column appears weekly on this page. You can reach Jon at jon@flashreport.org.


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