Insider Edition

New Senate leader Kevin de León starts off on a sour note with glitz-fest

New Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, second from left, had a glitzy inauguration ceremony at the Walt Disney Music Hall in Los Angeles.
New Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de Leon, second from left, had a glitzy inauguration ceremony at the Walt Disney Music Hall in Los Angeles. The Associated Press

After a year of shame and scrutiny, the California Senate could use a fresh start.

The swearing-in of a new president pro tem this week offered the perfect opportunity to kick-start the healing process by showing equal measures of enthusiasm, humility and sobriety about this important handover.

Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León nailed enthusiasm at his inaugural bash Wednesday at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles. But humility and sobriety must have been drowned out by all the self-congratulation going on.

We get that de León is excited about being one of the most powerful politicians in one of the most influential states in the nation. It’s a proud moment for the son of a single mother from Mexico who worked as a housekeeper. It’s the American dream, and he’s probably still pinching himself.

And it’s absolutely appropriate to celebrate the ascension of the first Latino to hold that position since the 1800s – though in a state where Latinos are fast becoming the majority and are well represented in Sacramento, that’s not quite the feat it once was.

But the ostentatious display Wednesday indicates de León might have a blind spot when it comes to public perception.

Here’s a view he might not have considered when planning this party: A legislative body recovering from the conviction and sentencing of Sen. Rod Wright for lying about living in his district; the corruption indictments of Sens. Ron Calderon and Leland Yee; and Sen. Ben Hueso’s arrest for drunken driving after a late-night party in the Capitol. Perhaps the new leader of that same body should not have begun his tenure with a glitzy fest for 2,000 of California’s politerati, funded by special interests.

De León defended the location of his party by saying it was in his district and close to the homes of the working-class people who elected him. Close in distance, perhaps. But Disney Hall and this camera-ready event may as well have been in Fiji to the average Angeleno, let alone the working-class folks who cannot afford even the cheap seats at Disney Hall.

The $50,000 gala was paid for by the California Latino Caucus Foundation, which gets its money from the people, companies and organizations who have business before the Legislature: oil companies, lobbying associations, labor associations, health care companies, utilities, etc. This wasn’t a party for the people, this was the Special Interests Ball.

We don’t want to deny de León his moment of glory, only remind him that he’s taking over a Senate suffering from severely compromised credibility.