Senate Democrats on Thursday blocked a move to expel their Democratic colleague Sen. Rod Wright by sending a Republican proposal to the Rules Committee, where it could permanently stall.
Sen. Steve Knight, a Republican from Palmdale, introduced a resolution to expel Wright from the Senate because a jury found him guilty of eight felonies last month for lying about living in the district he represents.
“This will be precedent-setting,” Knight said as debate on his measure was being quashed on a 21-13, mostly party-line vote.
“We have gone past any time period where someone has been convicted of a felony and not resigned.”
Wright went on a paid leave of absence on Tuesday and has been removed from his committee assignments, causing Democratic Senate leader Darrell Steinberg to say the move to expel Wright would “make zero practical difference.”
Permanently expelling Wright is premature, Steinberg said, because the action couldn’t be undone and Wright is planning to ask the judge to overturn the jury’s guilty verdicts. He is scheduled to be sentenced May 16.
“Senator Wright has already left the building. And unless the judge sets aside the jury’s verdict, Senator Wright will not be coming back,” Steinberg said during his floor speech.
Steinberg acknowledged that judges almost always uphold juries’ verdicts, but said Wright is not technically convicted until the judge finalizes the jury’s verdicts.
“The integrity of this institution cannot tolerate a convicted felon in its ranks. But at this point in time Senator Wright is not a convicted felon,” Steinberg said.
The showdown on the Senate floor came exactly 109 years to the day since the California Senate last expelled any of its members. On Feb. 27, 1905, the state Senate expelled four senators for bribery, said Senate Secretary Greg Schmidt.
Republican senators brought up two more recent instances in which senators were convicted of crimes – Frank Hill and Joe Montoya, who went down in the FBI’s Shrimpscam corruption sting of the early 1990s.
“I don’t understand, nor do my constituents, why this is going on,” said Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford. “In the past, after three weeks, after conviction – before sentencing – they resigned.”
Sen. Joel Anderson, R-Alpine, criticized Democrats for using their majority power to set aside a vote on Wright’s fate and said their support for him amounts to partisanship. Democrats will lose their two-thirds supermajority in the Senate if both Wright and Sen. Ron Calderon, who was indicted last week on 24 counts of corruption, leave office.
“You guys are the supermajority, you can do anything you want any time you want. ... Except for of course, if two members are expelled from this house. And then you would have to work with us to get that supporting vote,” Anderson said.
Steinberg said that several Republican senators face allegations that they do not live in the districts they represent. He looked toward Senate Republicans as he quoted a passage from the New Testament in which Jesus says, “Let him who is without sin among you cast the first stone.”
Call Laurel Rosenhall, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1083. Follow her on Twitter @LaurelRosenhall.