The unethical and illegal behavior of Democratic state senators in California, where Democrats have total control of the state legislature, is giving the state’s Democratic Party concerns that the GOP may use the misbehavior to regain power. Since the beginning of 2014, every month has featured a Democratic state senator either being arrested or convicted.
The latest arrest came Wednesday, as Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco was arrested on federal corruption charges. The federal government charged Lee with conspiracy to deal firearms without a license and illegally importing firearms.
In January, Sen. Rod Wright of Inglewood was convicted of perjury and voter fraud for lying about his legal residence in Los Angeles County. The GOP tried to expel him from the Senate, but the Democrats would not consider the matter.
In February, Sen. Ron Calderon was indicted on federal corruption charges; he had accepted roughly $100,000 for himself and family members as a trade for supporting laws to expand Hollywood tax credits as well as looking out for a hospital that wanted a provision of the workers’ compensation law protected.
On Wednesday, President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (pictured), who leads the Democrats in California’s Senate, held a news conference. He urged Lee to resign or face suspension. He bluntly said, “He cannot come back.” Steinberg added:
I know what people are thinking. This is the third incident the Senate has had to deal with. We are going to do everything in our power to uphold the integrity of the Senate and do the people’s business and still have a great and productive year.
Yee’s hypocrisy was staggering; before his indictment he was well known for his efforts to promote government transparency and public records and introduced several bills in 2013 that limited gun possession.
GOP senators lined up to take shots at the Democrats over their moral turpitude. Sen. Joel Anderson, the leader of expulsion efforts, said, “If you refuse to act and you shirk your responsibility to act, is it a surprise that senators don’t take ethics as seriously as they should?” Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff tried to remain non-partisan, asserting of politicians, “We all get painted in the same brush. The problem is manifesting itself, but people hold us all to the same standards.”
Even Derek Cressman, a Democrat opposing Yee’s reelection, called the Legislature corrupt, saying, “The constant begging for campaign cash clearly has a corrosive effect on a person’s soul, and the only solution is to get big money out of our politics once and for all.” He continued that the bar for public office “should be higher than the bar for staying out of prison.”
Dan Schnur, who gave up his GOP affiliation in 2011 and also is opposing Yee, remarked that Yee’s arrest should “prompt the Legislature to take much more aggressive and meaningful action to fix a broken political system than they have been willing to do to date.”
Yet Steinberg stonewalled about possible reforms: “We will continue looking to do whatever is necessary. But gun running? There’s no ethics reform that I am aware of to address, you know, that kind of allegation.”