Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendón deserves praise for yanking the committee assignments of his fellow Democrat and supporter, Assemblyman Roger Hernández, last week.
But more must be done. The domestic violence allegations against Hernández have been an elephant in the room for months, shadowing every debate on every women’s issue and crime bill before the Assembly. It’s hard to be the party of equity and justice when women keep accusing one of your key members of assault.
Out of deference to Hernández’s due process rights, and, perhaps, out of loyalty to a colleague who helped make him speaker, Rendón stood by Hernández until Friday, even amid Hernández’s now-ex-wife’s claims that he beat her with hands, belts and broomsticks.
The abuse accusations weren’t the first against the Baldwin Park lawmaker. Four years ago, a girlfriend made similar claims, though prosecutors, citing a lack of evidence, didn’t file charges. The wife, a Baldwin Park councilwoman, had photos; in April, a Los Angeles judge granted her a temporary restraining order. Democratic leaders of the legislative women’s caucus publicly called then for Hernández to take a leave of absence while his case was pending.
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But for some Democrats, including some women, putting principle above party loyalty was too tall an order, and Rendón resisted the calls from Sens. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, and Cristina Garcia, D-Bell Gardens, to “send a strong and consistent message” on domestic violence.
Rendón should pledge gender parity, in numbers and juice, when he makes committee assignments after the November elections. Shorter term, he should revive the family leave measure.
Hernández not only remained, but used his chairmanship of the Assembly Labor and Employment Committee to kill a priority of the women’s caucus, a bill to make family leave more available to new parents. Only after the judge on Friday ordered Hernández to stay away from his ex-wife for the next three years did Rendón at last act, saying Hernández had “problems in his personal life” and “should focus on resolving them.”
Politics requires loyalty, and justice requires due process. Rendón had reasons to be cautious. Hernández, as in 2012, has denied wrongdoing, and in any case voters will have the last word: He is running now against Rep. Grace Napolitano for Congress.
But Rendón needs to make it clear, culturally, that values matter in his chamber. He can start by pledging gender parity, in numbers and juice, when he makes committee assignments after the elections. Shorter term, he should revive the family leave measure when lawmakers reconvene in August. Parents shouldn’t pay for political score-settling. And how about a woman on Hernández’s old, all-male Labor committee?
This ugly case has given the new speaker an opportunity to send a message that he should not waste.