SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Democrats in the Senate derailed an attempt Thursday by Republicans to expel a legislator convicted of perjury and voter fraud, prompting pointed comments by lawmakers from both parties.
Democrats, who control the 40-member chamber, used a parliamentary maneuver to send Senate Resolution 29 to the Senate Rules Committee, where it could die without a hearing.
It would have taken a two-thirds majority vote of the full Senate to expel Sen. Roderick Wright.
The attempt came two days after Wright, a Democrat who represents a Los Angeles-area district, announced he would take an indefinite leave of absence as he awaits sentencing May 16.
Republicans Joel Anderson of Alpine, Steve Knight of Palmdale, and Andy Vidak of Hanford said Wright’s conviction on eight felonies last month in Los Angeles County merits expulsion, not a leave that will allow him to continue receiving his $95,291 annual salary.
They cited two previous cases involving Democratic Sen. Joseph B. Montoya in 1990 and Republican Sen. C. Frank Hill in 1994. Both resigned under pressure after being convicted of felonies.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, dismissed the attempted expulsion as “political theater, pure and simple.”
“California is suffering from one of the most severe droughts in this state’s history, and yet we are spending the people’s time today on a resolution that would make zero practical difference,” he said. “Senator Wright has already left the building.”
Two Democrats voted with 11 Republicans on the vote involving the resolution, as the matter was referred to committee on a 21-13 roll call.
“Don’t hide behind substitute motions,” Anderson urged Democrats. “Be clear. Say, ‘Look, I believe that Rod Wright should stay to the end.'”
He later added that the move by Democrats “is nothing more than a bullying motion, in my opinion.”
Anderson said keeping Wright in office plays to voters’ perception that, “All you politicians, you think you’re above the law. You think you don’t have to follow the law.”
The debate came as Democrats seek to force Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, to resign or take an indefinite leave after he was indicted last week on corruption charges alleging that he took bribes in exchange for legislative favors.
Calderon pleaded not guilty and has not said whether he will leave the Senate. He was absent Thursday on personal business.
If Wright and Calderon leave the Legislature, Democrats would lose the supermajority that lets them act on any matter without Republican support.
Anderson said Democrats appear to be protecting that increasingly narrow two-thirds majority by leaving open the option that Wright could return to cast a deciding vote if he is merely on leave. Steinberg, clearly agitated, gave his word that he would not restore Wright’s voting status for that purpose.
Steinberg and his fellow Democrats have said Wright can keep his seat until a judge formally enters the verdict at his sentencing.
Wright’s lawyer has said he intends to ask a judge to overturn the jury’s decision, a motion that Steinberg supports because he believes state law is unclear when it requires legislative candidates to live in the district they seek to represent. Wright was convicted of lying about his legal residence.
Two Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, said they accept that reasoning but voted Thursday to allow a vote by the full Senate.
Steinberg told reporters his goal was to move past the issue, but Anderson said he won’t let the matter die.
“I’m not going to stop until I get a vote,” he said.
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