Unlike the November ballot that will be crowded with choices on taxes, marijuana and more, voters have only one measure to decide on the June 7 primary ballot.
On balance, Proposition 50 is worth supporting as a step to help keep California’s legislators in line. It is a constitutional amendment that would allow the state Assembly or Senate to suspend a lawmaker without pay or benefits.
We hope that this tool is rarely needed – and it should only be used for criminal cases or egregious misconduct, not for political retribution.
While it would be better if Proposition 50 more specifically laid out when it could apply, there is a safeguard. It would require a two-thirds vote of the Senate or Assembly, rather than the simple majority to suspend a lawmaker now and only with pay.
The Legislature can expel one of its members, but that isn’t necessarily fair when a lawmaker has been charged, but not convicted.
That predicament arose in 2014, when three senators were charged with crimes. The Senate, under the leadership of then-President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg of Sacramento, took the unprecedented step of suspending all three – Rod Wright, convicted of perjury and voter fraud; Ron Calderon, indicted on corruption charges; and Leland Yee, also accused of corruption.
While they were suspended, all three continued to draw their $97,000 annual salary. Calderon and Yee kept getting paid until their terms ended; Yee later pleaded guilty and is in prison, while Calderon still hasn’t been tried. Wright didn’t resign until after he was sentenced to jail, an outrage.
To improve accountability, Steinberg proposed Proposition 50 and legislators overwhelmingly supported it.
On Thursday, state senators stepped on their message by voting to lift the fundraising blackout period they imposed on themselves after the 2014 scandals. The Senate rule banned senators from taking campaign donations during budget negotiations and the final month of the session.
President Pro Tem Kevin de León, seeking to protect his members, pushed to lift the ban because Democratic Assemblywoman Nora Campos of San Jose is challenging Sen. Jim Beall, another San Jose Democrat. Campos could raise money, but Beall could not. Hard-knuckled politics trumped principle.
Whether Proposition 50 passes or not, it’s ultimately up to voters to use the ballot to police elected officials.