Brushing off domestic-abuse allegations that cost him political clout as the fabrications of a vengeful ex-wife, an unapologetic Assemblyman Roger Hernández, D-Baldwin Park, returned to the Assembly on Friday after a prolonged medical leave and vowed to remain through the session’s end.
“There is no amends to make here,” Hernández said when asked about his relationship with fellow legislators.
Hernández has experienced a tumultuous few months, and he conceded that his run for Congress is in jeopardy. After a judge granted his ex-wife a restraining order, finding credible her claims that Hernández had beaten and verbally abused her, Assembly leadership pulled Hernández’s committee assignments.
He subsequently took a medical leave for unexplained reasons and has not been at the Capitol for weeks. On Thursday, Assembly speaker Anthony Rendon, D-Paramount, said he did not know if Hernández would be back for the session’s crucial final stretch, when votes are at a premium.
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But Friday morning, Hernández was back on the Assembly floor chatting with colleagues. He later said he intends to stay for the session’s duration, after which term limits will force him out of the Legislature.
While Hernández said a doctor’s note he submitted to the Assembly allowed him to return on Friday, his presence seemed to catch leadership off guard.
“He did not tell us he was coming,” said John Casey, a spokesman for Rendon.
In a wide-ranging interview with reporters, he said he had taken time off to treat high blood pressure, yielding to the advice of his doctors to manage an issue for which he said he has been taking medication since his mid-20s.
“My blood pressure was in a dangerous zone,” Hernández said. “It’s no secret I’ve been going through a very traumatic experience in my life, one that’s brought me a tremendous level of stress, a tremendous level of anxiety.”
He said he had not attended a rehabilitation facility, saying the suggestion he had “is rhetoric that is spewed out by spin doctors that wish to demonize me.”
“This whole notion of drug abuse is a notion that has been put out by what most people around here call the haters,” Hernández said.
Despite a judge granting a restraining order to Hernández’s ex-wife, Baldwin Park City Councilwoman Susan Rubio, Hernández said the judge had erred and bought into falsehoods Rubio leveled in an attempt to damage him politically.
“Domestic violence, in my opinion, is the worst thing. To me, it’s right on par with murder, child abuse,” Hernández said, later adding that “I never have struck a woman.”
According to Hernández, Rubio sought to rekindle their marriage after he had severed relations, attempting multiple times to make contact and only later alleging he had beaten her. He said he plans to sue Rubio for slander.
“What her accusations have done to me caused me nothing but a lot of pain. They’ve caused me a lot of pain and caused me a lot of suffering. … I’ve seen a depression that I’ve never seen before in my life,” Hernández said, later calling her “so evil and so dark” and a “trained actress” who deceived a judge. He pointed out that she had acted in community theater.
An attorney for Rubio said Rubio and Hernández had “a mutual period of reconciliation” after divorce proceedings commenced but that it collapsed after Rubio concluded that Hernández “wasn’t going to get better.” The attorney, Crystal Boultinghouse, said Hernández was “denying the facts” that led to the domestic violence order being granted.
“This wasn’t political at all,” Boultinghouse said. “This was solely because of the domestic violence he committed during the relationship.”
Before he lost his committee assignments, Hernández presided over a panel that halted a bill to offer more family leave. The since-revived measure was a priority of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus, whose leaders had publicly called for Hernández to take a leave in response to abuse allegations, and some saw an act of retaliation in his committee shelving the bill.
Hernández rejected that notion, saying Gov. Jerry Brown had vetoed a similar measure and denying he had the power to defeat the bill himself.
“No member of the Legislature can unilaterally or singlehandedly kill any bill,” he said.
With his time in the Legislature set to expire, Hernández has challenged Rep. Grace Napolitano, D-Norwalk, for a seat in Congress. But on Friday he acknowledged that his campaign had sputtered amid the turmoil, saying “I don’t have the fight in me anymore.”
“This attack that’s been made by my ex-wife has been, quite frankly, like a Tonya Harding baseball bat to my knees. It has crippled my reputation. It has crippled my ability to fairly run and seek this office,” he said.
“The decision will be made by the voters,” he added, but “my energy today can’t be spread thinner than it already is. I’m focused on my health.”
Editor’s note: This post was updated at 2:33 p.m. Aug. 19 to include Crystal Boultinghouse’s response to Hernández.