California voters hoping to use the November ballot box to express disgust about corruption in the state Legislature won’t get the chance to do so this year because of a missed deadline by — you guessed it — the Legislature.
Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg had pushed a bill that would have placed a constitutional amendment on the fall ballot to ask whether voters want to continue paying the salary and benefits of legislators who are suspended by their colleagues for inappropriate or illegal behavior.
We’ll go out on a limb here and speculate that they do not.
Steinberg had pushed the bill through the Senate rather easily last May, but the Assembly, somehow, couldn’t manage to find the time to get to it before the deadline to place items on the November ballot had passed. To paraphrase Gov. Jerry Brown’s famous remark, well, you know, stuff happens. Or doesn’t, in this case
To be fair, the issue is of much greater moment in the Senate. Last March, the Senate took the unprecedented step of suspending Sens. Rod Wright, Ron Calderon and Leland Yee, all of whom had been charged with crimes.
In fact, Wright, D-Baldwin Hills, had already been found guilty by a Los Angeles jury of perjury and voter fraud and was awaiting final determination.
Calderon, D-Montebello, and Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, both face federal bribery charges that stemmed from separate FBI sting operations. The charges against Calderon detail a fairly run-of-the-mill political bribery case. But the ones against Yee were really quite spectacular, alleging that he was involved neck deep in an illegal gunrunning operation through shady contacts in the Philippines.
Steinberg knew that the public was furious about the apparent corruption, so he and his colleagues voted to suspend all three members. In doing so, however, it was discovered that there was no provision in the state constitution that allows revocation of the senators’ salaries and benefits.
Again, the public outrage and condemnation was swift and loud.
As a small gesture designed to begin repairing the Senate’s broken image, Steinberg carried the constitutional amendment himself. But his colleagues in the Assembly rebuffed him by not acting on the bill.
Steinberg has asked the Assembly to consider the bill anyway before the fast-approaching end of this year’s session. His spokesman says that he wants it passed so that the amendment can make it on to the 2016 ballot.
It is a smart move because Steinberg is termed out and will be leaving the Senate at the end of this session. If it isn’t passed this year, we doubt seriously it ever will be.