Will Senator Wright's Jail Sentence Change the Culture of the Capitol?

Will Senator Wright's Jail Sentence Change the Culture of the Capitol?

Friday, after more than a half year of delays, State Senator Rod Wright was sentenced to 90 days in jail after having been found guilty in January of eight felony counts of election fraud and perjury.

Wright had been prosecuted by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office for lying about being a resident of the State Senate seat for which he ran and which he represents in the legislature. In California there is a requirement that all members of the California legislature must reside in their districts.

In addition to being sentenced to 90 days in jail, Judge Kathleen Kennedy also ordered Wright to conduct 1,500 hours of community service. With the formal entering of felony convictions, Wright will now have a lifetime ban on future service in elective office. 

Things could have been much worse for Wright — prosecutors had asked for a six month sentence, and technically the sentencing guidelines for all of the felonies committed by Wright would have allowed the judge to give Wright considerably more jail time. Wright has said that he will report to start serving his sentence on October 31st.

Some question remains as to whether Senator Wright intends to resign from his office. He had been telling people that he would serve until his sentencing hearing, with the hopes that the judge would actually throw out his guilty verdicts. Of course quite the opposite occurred, with the judge actually blasting Wright for his arrogance.

Both State Senate President Darrell Steinberg and Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff have opposed expelling Wright before he was formally sentenced. Both have now called for him to resign, and Wright has pretty much been given an ultimatum to resign or be removed.

When Wright does depart the Senate, it will end one chapter of what has been an ugly, embarrasing story for the California legislature’s upper chamber. After Wright was found guilty by a jury last January, his colleagues more or less circled the wagons, refusing to remove the popular Wright from his office. Four Republican Senators actually introduced a resolution calling for an impeachment vote on Wright to take place — Senators Joel Anderson, Steve Knight, Andy Vidak and Mark Wyland. Senate Pro-Tem Steinberg referred it to the Senate Rules Committee, which he controls, where it still resides.

Three other Democratic California Senators are currently facing criminal charges — Senators Leland Yee (D-San Francisco), Ron Calderon (D-Montebello), and Ben Hueso (D-San Diego) — the former two facing major criminal allegations by the Justice Department, the latter charged with driving under the influence of alcohol. Both Yee and Calderon are finishing up their final year in the Senate, under term limits.

It remains to be seen whether the successful prosecution of Wright by Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey will lead to a change in the culture of the State Legislature, where the practice of legislators not really living in their districts has been fairly widespread. In fact, many of Wright’s colleagues and other Capitol denizens felt that it was unfair that one legislator was actually being prosecuted on a residency issue when so many others, who are guilty of the same crime, are not being prosecuted.  

Perhaps Wright’s conviction will cause DAs in the 57 other counties to wake up and investigate any allegations that their local legislators aren’t maintaining their primary residence in their district.

One has to imagine that any sitting legislator who currently doesn’t reside in their district is currently on Craig’s List, looking for a place to rent — inside of their district.


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