California: Political corruption affects Democrats and constituents

Suddenly, Democrats lost their Supermajority in California’s senate after three of its members were suspended due to accusations of corruption. The trio are of ethnic…
California: Political corruption affects Democrats and constituents

Sen. Ronald Calderon, D-Calif., speaks on his state concurrent resolution 25 at the Mexican Cultural Institute in Los Angeles on Friday, Jan. 24, 2014. U.S. Sen. Calderon introduced state concurrent resolution 25, calling on President Obama to halt deportations of legalization-eligible undocumented immigrants. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Suddenly, Democrats lost their Supermajority in California’s senate after three of its members were suspended due to accusations of corruption.

The trio are of ethnic background: an Asian, an African-American and a Latino:

  • Roderick Wright was convicted January 29 on eight felony counts of lying about his residence. Prosecutors said he claimed to live in Inglewood, in the Los Angeles area, while he actually lived in the more upscale area of Baldwin Hills —outside his Senate district. He faces a sentencing hearing on May 16. He said to the media he didn’t do anything wrong and feels singled out by prosecutors.
  • Also from the Los Angeles area, Senator Ronald Calderon, who represented district 30 since 2006, was charged with accepting $100,000 in bribes as well as meals and high-priced golf games in exchange for action on legislation.
  • Leland Yee’s case shocked many people. This well-mannered San Francisco politician is known for his politeness and for promoting government openness, gun control and for supporting workers’ right to get represented by unions.

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The shocking news is that he was indicted on charges for public corruption and… gun trafficking! Apparently, Yee was disparate for cash to cover his campaign debts and he was caught trying to sell guns —even a mobile rocket launcher— to an undercover FBI agent.

All three requested, and were granted, a leave of absence with pay while the courts decide their situation.

While corruption cases do not surprise citizens, the number of elected officials involved, the short period of time between each case and the political cost for Democrats is getting lots of analysis and attention around California.

Also the timing of these events are bad for Democrats because this is an election year and Republicans are looking for a good opportunity to regain some of the political share.

The FBI has filed a 137-page affidavit outlining a detailed corruption case against Leland Yee, who is accused of asking for campaign donations in exchange for introducing an undercover agent to an arms trafficker.

California Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, right, leaves the San Francisco Federal Building, Wednesday, March 26, 2014, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Consequences

So, what happens when an elected official is suspended? He/she can’t perform his/her duties and has to wait for a final decision on the case. In these cases, courts will decide if they go to jail or they get exonerated. Till then, they can collect their salaries.

However, thousands of constituents, if not millions, lack political representation. In short, they are currently politically disfranchised.

In the meantime, their offices remain open and their staff have to perform some of their duties, such as interact with citizens and answer their community-oriented questions.

There is another effect Democrats worry about. As June primary elections get closer, they need the clear the political environment of any damage and move forward.

So they need all three suspended Senators to resign so Democrats can fill those sits as soon as possible and get to the pools in June with the political advantage incumbency provides.

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While Democratic control of the state majority isn’t at risk, loosing the supermajority (two-thirds of the votes on the State Assembly) could affect the passage of bills. Such majority is necessary, for example, to approve tax-related bills without considering the opposition’s opinion.

Currently, Democrats are dealing with a proposal to scale back an $11-billion water bond and place the new measure on the November ballot. Also a tax on oil pumped from the ground in California.

Both measures —of great importance for the economy of the state and for Democrats— may need the Supermajority to pass or face the challenges of the oppositions. However, the charged Senators are reluctant to resign.