When a federal grand jury indicted state Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, a week ago, his colleagues demanded his resignation.
The charges “strike at the very heart of what it means to be a public official,” Senate President Darrell Steinberg said on behalf of his caucus. If Calderon doesn't resign or take a leave of absence, Steinberg said, “the Senate will seek to suspend him.”
Tough words — and an appropriate request.
Calderon is innocent until proven guilty, but the charges against him involve political corruption — abuse of the public trust. Holding office is a privilege, not a right, and Calderon can't legislate effectively with constituents justifiably questioning whether he's acting in their interest or simply trying to line his own pockets.
So where were Steinberg and his fellow Democrats a month ago when another senator was convicted of a felony?
The second senator is Rod Wright, an Inglewood Democrat. He was convicted in January of perjury and voter fraud for lying about his residence when he ran for the state Senate. Wright is awaiting sentencing, which will trigger his expulsion from the Legislature.
His colleagues could expel him now. Instead, Steinberg said any such action should wait until sentencing, citing “ambiguity” in the law.
After his sentencing was postponed from March until May, Wright requested and was granted a leave of absence.
If there is ambiguity in the state's residency laws for legislative candidates — and it is a subject worthy of discussion — Steinberg and his colleagues ought to amend the law.
By finding their own ambiguities — Steinberg's spokesman said Wright isn't “technically convicted yet” because he asked for a new trial — legislators strongly suggest a double standard and feeds public cynicism about them.
On Thursday, Democrats fended off a GOP resolution to oust Wright. Monday is Steinberg's deadline for Calderon to quit or take leave. In this case, he should take a leave because of the cost to taxpayers if he quits.