The dictionary defines nepotism as, “the practice among those with power or influence of favoring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs.”
It perhaps should come to no surprise to anyone even remotely aware of the ethical scandals permeating Democrats in the State Senate that a new scandal should emerge surrounding untoward hiring practices in the State Senate, and a cover-up by Senate Leadership. (More on that cover-up in a moment.)
First I think it is important to recap that the Senate, as an institution, is clearly at an ethical low point.
Former Democratic State Senate Rod Wright finally resigned from office. This is a man who was found guilty back in January of eight felony counts of voter fraud and perjury, stemming from the fact that the Senator did not actually reside in the district in which he ran and which he represented, despite California’s requirement that you must do so. One Senator doing this is anecdotal, but it seems to be common knowledge that many legislators scoff at the residency requirement–well, they did, anyway. Where you start to talk about the culture of the institution is when you consider that out of 39 other Senators, only five Republicans called for a vote to remove Wright. Most of the others were silent, and a few, most notably Senate President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg and his soon-to-be successor Senator Kevin DeLeon, were vocal about continuing to let Wright serve in the Senate until his sentencing.
Days after Wright was found guilty, we had the back-to-back indictments of Democratic Senators Ron Calderon and Leland Yee, who are both facing a raft of very serious criminal charges from federal prosecutors. Still, even then, the State Senate leadership could not or would not put before the Senate an up-or-down vote on removing any or all of these three ethically-challenged elected officials.
Instead, Senator Steinberg literally invented a new thing, which he called “suspending” Senators. This new scheme accomplished two things. First, it continued the idea that members of the California Senate should not be held to a higher standard, and would be protected until a judge was forced to intervene. A “suspension” for a State Senator for all appearances is like a paid vacation. Second, Steinberg’s invention also gave “cover” for other Senators to say they had done something about their ethically challenged colleagues, without actually doing anything.
It is probably worth noting that recently a fourth Democratic State Senator, Ben Hueso, was recently arrested and charged with driving under the influence. This at a time when the Senator had on his own website a warning about the dangers of drinking and driving.
With all of this going on, we now circle back to the latest black mark for the once-venerable Senate–covering up the results of an investigation by an independent law firm that was retained to look into nepotism in the hiring practices of the State Senate.
From the Sacramento Bee:
The Senate commissioned the investigation this spring after The Sacramento Bee revealed that a Capitol peace officer whose mother was the Senate’s head of human resources tested positive for cocaine the night he was involved in a fatal off-duty gunfight in December 2012. The incident unleashed employee complaints that Dina Hidalgo, the human resources director for 25 years, abused her position to help friends and family. The Senate has been billed more than $98,000 for the independent investigation it commissioned into the nepotism complaints. It rejected a request from The Bee for a copy of the report.
“Making the legal settlement avoided the Senate and the taxpayers having to pay untold amounts of money in litigation that could last for many years. So I understand the argument on the other side but I think [keeping the report confidential is] justified,” Steinberg told a group of reporters.
Perhaps Pete Peterson, the Republican Party nominee for Secretary of State–who is running against one of these go-along-to-get-along Senators, Democrat Alex Padilla–made the most important observation, while calling for a release of the report: “The fact that the Democratic Senate leadership thinks they can keep secret an investigation into insider hiring practices that cost taxpayers almost $100,000 should be a sign to all Californians that our one-party state has gone too far.”
Yes, it has.