The California state Senate’s decision to suspend three wayward members resolves nothing.
Leland Yee, Rod Wright and Ron Calderon should be tossed out on a rail. Expelled, not suspended.
A public servant can commit no greater transgression than to violate the public trust. That trust is what differentiates public service from private-sector employment. It’s not a job; it’s a duty. It’s what impelled Alpine Republican Joel Anderson to stand alone in Friday’s 28-1 vote to suspend. He wants all three expelled.
“The fact (is) that you stayed in a room with somebody who tried to bribe you,” Anderson tells me. “If you engaged in a conversation where somebody asked you about delivering automatic weapons, you’re not taking the job as seriously as you should. You’ve lost your way; it’s time to go home. You’re done.”
Agreed, and for that, you don’t ask people to resign unless you mean it. It’s like that time-honored advisory: Never draw your firearm unless you intend to use it. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg had to know these guys would never resign. They all need the money. They’re all facing hefty legal fees and/or serious campaign debt. None of them has other outside work. Why quit when you can get suspended and still get paid?
One might argue that you can’t expel someone chosen by “the people.” But we choose candidates we assume will serve honorably. If that candidate wins and is dishonorable, are we still getting the person we voted for?
Steinberg prefers to let due process be the final arbiter. You mean we should do that while paying three representatives not to represent nearly 3 million constituents in three different districts?
“We’re telling them, you’re too nefarious to cast a vote on the floor,” Anderson said, “but we’re still going to pay you.”
How about this: You lose all salary and benefits until proven innocent. If found innocent, you’re remunerated retroactively. If you’re convicted – Wright already has been – the taxpayer is out nothing.
Indeed, Yee can actually use the campaign money he’s collected to pay his legal defense. The rules – written by lawmakers – allow for that. His secretary of state campaign account contained $134,000 as of March 17, according to recent campaign finance filings, and there’s $518,000 he paid a company earlier this year to reserve airtime for his now-defunct candidacy for secretary of state.
Funny how he’ll be able to ask to get back as much of that as he can, but if he’s convicted, I doubt he’ll be returning the salary he’ll have collected from us while he was suspended.
Funny how elected officials create different sets of rules that you and I would never be accorded, and then, when caught red-handed, it’s all about due process and equal treatment under the very same laws some of these officials have spent their careers skirting.
Why haven’t our three lawmakers been expelled? Here’s why: How many Gold Domers are squirming about things they may have done in the past or may still be doing right now regarding fundraising or the kind of people with whom they’re photographed, or whatever comic cornucopia of baubles they may have accepted?
Expulsions mean questions. If Wright complains about being expelled for “mis-identifying” his address, a couple of others might face the same problem. Ya think they wanna raise a stink?
Pay to play? Bribes? Money for favors? Do you suppose other lawmakers wonder, “What if what I did comes too close to cutting corners and suddenly the light shines on me?”
The last thing these people want is anyone being called in and asked: Where do you live? Who’s this donor? Who’s that consultant? Where’d that money come from?
Remember, Yee is accused of taking campaign contributions for setting up meetings, writing letters and issuing proclamations. How many lawmakers do you think are guilty of that? Maybe not for gun runners or Chinese gangs, but how many even want to be questioned about the possibility of impropriety?
The Capitol simply does not want to have hearings on how business is actually conducted in the Capitol.
“One is an anomaly; two is a coincidence; three?” Steinberg said.
You know what three is? Three is too much heat to not do something. Friday’s vote wasn’t about sending a message; it was about covering keisters.
Exactly what assurances did we get? An office-by-office ethics review? A conduit for would-be whistle-blowers wherever a suspicion of impropriety exists?
How does that solve the problems that led to the improprieties in the first place?
How convenient for the Senate to sweep this little package under the rug so it can pretend an incident like this will never happen again.
Abandon hope, all Yee who enter here.
Bruce Maiman is a former radio host who lives in Rocklin. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.