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DUI Arrest Is California Democrats’ Latest Blow

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SACRAMENTO (AP) – Democratic state Sen. Ben Hueso was arrested Friday for investigation of drunken driving after being stopped for going the wrong way on a one-way street, the latest black eye for the state’s majority party and the 40-member chamber.

Hueso, 44, of San Diego, was arrested by the California Highway Patrol at 2:39 a.m. and booked into Sacramento County Jail, sheriff’s Sgt. Lisa Bowman said.

He was released shortly before noon after posting bail of nearly $1,500.

“I think I have the right to pursue my innocence, and that’s what I’m going to do,” he told reporters, speaking softly, with a serious expression.

Hueso wore charcoal gray slacks, a red-and-white pinstriped dress shirt and black shoes as he walked from the jail to a waiting black van from the Senate’s sergeant-at-arms office. He said he would not discuss his whereabouts in the hours before the traffic stop or comment further “until this process is over.”

About 30 minutes later, Hueso’s office released a statement from the senator that seemed to contradict his comments to reporters as he left the jail: “I accept complete personal responsibility for my actions and any punishments that ultimately come my way as a result of this incident.”

Hueso’s seat was vacant when the Senate reconvened Friday, a week before the legislative deadline. The end of the legislative session, when lawmakers pass hundreds of bills, is typically a festive time after hours, with parties and fundraisers at bars and restaurants around the state capital.

Hueso was among the guests at a dinner hosted Thursday night by the Latino Legislative Caucus at a restaurant in downtown Sacramento, held to recognize members who are being termed out or leaving for other offices, but the dinner ended about 9 p.m., said Roger Salazar, a spokesman for the caucus.

“I left at 8:30, so I don’t know if there was an after-party or not,” said Democratic Sen. Ed Hernandez.

A photograph posted to Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez’s Twitter account late Thursday night with the message, “Yes … Loving my Latino Caucus boys” shows Hueso and four other lawmakers, several with drinks in their hands, hamming it up inside the state Capitol.

Gonzalez’s tweet was later deleted. When asked about the photograph Friday morning, Gonzalez said, “I have nothing to say” and then dashed into an elevator.

Other lawmakers who appeared in the photograph declined to comment.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said he was dismayed by the arrest.

“It’s a lapse of personal judgment, and I’m only glad that no one was hurt,” Steinberg said.

He said it was too early to say whether Hueso would face discipline from the Senate.

“Driving under the influence is not only against the law, it puts people in serious danger, and that’s not acceptable,” Steinberg said.

California lawmakers have taken steps this year to repair their image in the wake of the legal trouble and suspension of the three Democratic senators. Sen. Rod Wright, of Inglewood, was convicted for lying about living in his district, while Sens. Ron Calderon, of Montebello, and Leland Yee, of San Francisco, are fighting unrelated federal corruption charges.

This week, lawmakers approved legislation that would outlaw gifts from lobbyists, reduce the annual overall gift limit for lawmakers from $440 to $200, and ban the most extravagant types of gifts, such as sports and concert tickets, for elected officials and legislative staff.

Lawmakers also approved a proposed constitutional amendment sought by Steinberg that would allow lawmakers to be suspended without pay, an option that is currently not available. That measure will appear on the ballot in 2016.

Earlier this year, the Senate prohibited its members and candidates for office from raising campaign money during budget votes and during the final 30 days of the legislative session.

California Highway Patrol Officer Julie Powell said Hueso was driving a state-owned Ford Fusion when officers spotted him driving north on southbound 15th Street. He made a U-turn and headed in the correct direction before officers pulled him over near X Street. He was alone in the vehicle, Powell said.

Hueso is chairman of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and the Select Committee on California’s Energy Independence. He also serves on committees overseeing banking and financial institutions, natural resources and water, transportation and housing and education.

He was a member of the San Diego City Council for four years before being elected to the state Assembly in 2010, and he previously served on the California Coastal Commission.

He faces a re-election challenge from a fellow Democrat, Rafael Estrada, in November.

Hueso’s biography on his Senate website says he is married and has four sons.

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Associated Press writers Judy Lin and Don Thompson contributed to this report.

 

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press.

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