Three California state senators suspended

The California State Senate last week voted overwhelmingly to suspend three Democratic senators who are facing criminal charges.  

The vote took place days following the federal indictment and arrest of Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Mateo) on conspiracy to traffic firearms in exchange for campaign contributions. (Yee, whose term in the Senate will end in December, was running for Secretary of State.)

“I want to, on behalf of my colleagues today, call on Sen. Yee to resign. Leave. Don’t burden your colleagues and this great institution with your troubles. Leave,” said State Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento).

Steinberg said given the seriousness of the charges against Yee, the Senate will vote to immediately suspend Yee and remove him from all committee assignments, including his chairmanship of the Human Services Committee.

“We recognize that someone is not considered guilty, is innocent ’til proven guilty but these allegations are serious and involve gun-running and things that frankly are surreal,” said Steinberg.  “The indictment itself is shocking and surreal.”

Yee is the third Democratic State Senator to be indicted on criminal charges in recent years.

Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello) was charged in February for taking “tens of thousands of dollars in bribes” from undercover FBI agents who were posing as Hollywood studio executives. The FBI said Calderon took about $100,000 in bribes “in exchange for official acts, such as supporting legislation that would be favorable to those who paid the bribes and opposing legislation that would be harmful to them.”

Sen. Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood) was convicted in January for perjury and voter fraud pertaining to his residency in the district he represented.

Both Wright and Calderon were granted a leave of absence from the Senate, but Steinberg said he recognized that that arrangement was “no longer sufficient” after Yee’s arrest.

“One case is an anomaly, two is a coincidence, but three? That’s not what this Senate is about, nor does it accurately reflect the integrity and honorable work of my colleagues,” said Steinberg.

Under the suspension, Yee, Calderon, and Wright are barred from returning to the Senate until they are cleared of the wrongdoing.

“Let me be clear in terms of what we intend to do with regard to Sen. Yee and the other two individuals. They will not come back to the Senate, period, unless and until they are acquitted of the charges. Period,” said Steinberg.

The charges against Democratic lawmakers called into question the leadership of Steinberg, who is serving his eighth and final year in the Senate.

Steinberg insisted that Senators and their staff undergo “intensive” mandatory ethics training “on a regular basis.”

“My message to my members…is that ethics and your reputation are what matter,” said Steinberg. “And you ought to be able to always say ‘No’ to your friends. You always need to separate the receipt of a campaign contribution from your vote and from your official action. And that’s the way this body works. That’s the way this body works. And yes, that’s what I preach. But I don’t have to preach it too loud to the vast majority of people who’ve been elected to this state senate by, you know, almost a million people because they act that way.”

Sen. Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles) defended Steinberg’s leadership, arguing that three lawmakers are ultimately responsible for their own actions.

“There’s nothing that Darrell does that enables or creates the conditions for this type of behavior in this great institution. He has led this great institution with grace and with dignity,” said De Leon. “These are three individuals who are three adults who are responsible at the end of the day for their own actions. We don’t have a nanny to watch them 24/7. That’s a question that’s better suited for the constituents of these three respective Senators who vote for them and send them up to Sacramento.”

The suspensions of the three lawmakers mean that Democrats will lose their super-majority in the State Senate. However, Steinberg said he is determined to not let the corruption charges distract the Senate from taking up the Democrats’ agenda.

“I’m going to insist that we get pre-school done, that we get criminal justice reform done, that we get more advances in the environmental law done, that we get our water bond done, that we get a whole host of things. That’s what we’re going to do. And that’s what counts,” said Steinberg.


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