California Gov. Jerry Brown today called on state Sen. Leland Yee, who faces federal corruption and gun trafficking charges, and two other senators to resign after the state Senate passed a resolution suspending all three.
“Given the extraordinary circumstances of these cases-and today’s unprecedented suspensions-the best way to restore public confidence is for these senators to resign,” Brown said in a statement this afternoon.
The state Senate passed a resolution this morning to suspend Yee, D-San Francisco/San Mateo, after a federal criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday revealed that he allegedly offered political favors in return for campaign donations and schemed to bring illegal guns into the country. Yee was arrested and arraigned Wednesday and released on $500,000 bail.
Two Southern California state senators, Rod Wright, D-Baldwin Hills, and Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, were also suspended by the 28-1 vote. Wright was convicted earlier this year on perjury and voter fraud charges, and Calderon has been charged with bribery and corruption.
Both Wright and Calderon have been on paid leaves of absence since earlier this year. However, senators can return from paid leaves of absence whenever they choose, while a suspension can only be lifted by another vote of the senate.
On the senate floor this morning, state Senate President Darrell Steinberg said he wished the disgraced senators would resign and spare the legislature “the stigma associated with their alleged actions.”
“Leave please,” he said. “We’ve made that request and apparently they will not.”
Yee withdrew his candidacy for California Secretary of State Thursday but has not commented on calls for his resignation.
In a statement released after the suspension vote, Yee’s defense attorney Paul DeMeester said, “Suspension is the right step for now, and is appropriate in a system that presumes the innocence of the accused.”
Steinberg said under the resolution Yee and the others “cannot serve another day in this senate going forward unless they are exonerated.”
Steinberg said Yee’s arrest had changed his mind about allowing Calderon and Wright to take leaves of absence.
“After Wednesday’s events I recognize that is no longer sufficient,” he said.
However, he argued that expulsion, a more extreme option, would “run afoul of the basic American principles of due process and the presumption that people are considered innocent until proven guilty.”
Steinberg said the actions of the three senators bring forth questions on “senate culture” and he called for an ethics review to be held in each office on April 7.
“We must do more here in the Senate,” and he called for each office to “take stock.”
The senate leader said despite required ethics training, “there are some things you just can’t teach…I know of no ethics class that teaches about the dangers of gun running and other such sordid activities.”
Senate Republic Leader Bob Huff, R-Diamond Bar, issued a statement supporting the suspensions, saying they were necessary to restore the public trust in the senate.
“I have been asked if this behavior is systemic to the institution-that it goes with the territory-but I don’t believe it does,” Huff said. “While it is very troublesome that we have three separate senators in one year convicted or charged with various felonies, most of us are honest, hard-working citizens truly honored to represent our districts.”
As part of the resolution, Yee is suspended from his office until his criminal case has been resolved.
Yee is charged with one count of weapons trafficking and scheming to defraud citizens of his honest services by allegedly soliciting and accepting campaign contributions in a federal criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday.
He is one of 26 defendants named in the complaint, which also includes notorious San Francisco gang leader Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow and former San Francisco school board president Keith Jackson, who is implicated in a planned murder-for-hire scheme.
Sascha Lekach, Bay City News