SACRAMENTO (KCBS) — The leader of the California Senate voted to suspend all three of their own members who are fighting criminal charges.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg told reporters on Friday that made the decision to act after Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco was indicted on federal charges this week.
Friday’s 28-1 vote in the 40-member chamber came amid one of the most severe ethical crises in modern times for the Legislature in the nation’s most populous state.
Steinberg moved to suspend senators Ron Calderon and Rod Wright. Calderon also faces federal corruption charges, while Wright was convicted of voter fraud and perjury. Even so, the three men will continue receiving their $95,000 annual salaries.
The vote came after Yee, who’s facing charges corruption and conspiracy to traffic firearms, officially announced he was dropping out of the race for secretary of state on Thursday.
On the senate floor Friday morning, 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.”
The charges against Yee include conspiracy to deal firearms without a license, conspiracy to illegally transport firearms, six counts of a scheme to defraud citizens on his services, and wire fraud. A handcuffed and shackled Yee was released on a $500,000 unsecured bond Wednesday evening and was scheduled to return to court Monday to revisit the terms of his release.
Larry Gerston, a political analyst and professor at San Jose State University told KCBS that a suspension or a leave of absence have similar results.
“In one case, the legislator takes the action. In the other case, the Legislature—in this case the Senate—takes the action. But the bottom line is that the individual no longer has any official business while he or she is on this leave,” Gerston said.
Gerston said it’s unlikely that there will be an special election to fill Yee’s seat if he ends up leaving office.
“We’re talking about somebody leaving office with only a few months left. And not only in this case are there only a few months left, but the district itself disappears, courtesy of redistricting,” he said
Since Yee has not been convicted, Gerston said it’s possible that he could file a lawsuit to challenge a suspension.
Despite Yee dropping out the of the race for secretary of state, his name will still appear on the ballot.
“That race was among the most competitive races that we were seeing shape up for the fall ballot,” David McCuan, a political scientist at Sonoma State University, told KCBS.
There are still four candidates running for office — three Democrats and one Republican — but McCuan said the Democrats will have to overcome the political damage left by Yee’s arrest, as well the recent felony charge against Ron Calderon and felony conviction of Rod Wright, both Democratic Senators.