I have withheld comment on what is perhaps the most pervasive and controversial news item of late: the indictment of State Senator Leland Yee. I have held off for a couple of reasons. It’s still possible (though slim and none are the chances) that either he was set-up by his fundraising honcho in exchange for lesser jail time for said honcho by the feds... or he was, in fact, entrapped by the feds. Also, in the interest of full disclosure, Sen. Yee is a friend. (Not in the “Shrimp Boy” mold but more than just a legislator.)
And it is disheartening to see what appears to be a Jekyll-Hyde persona. When Yee was arrested last week on suspicion of public corruption and gun trafficking (and falling just shy legally of dealing with Muslim terrorists), it was hard to reconcile the man recorded by undercover FBI agents; the Leland Yee that I and many others knew just simply did not fit the portrait described by federal prosecutors. (Now the fact that Yee was depicted as frenzied in his search for campaign money is, in-and-of-itself, hardly newsworthy. Many elected officials are ‘frenzied in [their] search for campaign money.’)
It was the path that Sen. Yee chose that elicited shock and awe.
So what’s next? As was noted by one Sacramento pundit, imagine that you are an employee working in the food mart of the corner gas station. One night, you’re arrested for driving under the influence. You show up for work the next day, and your employer fires you for getting arrested.
Your due process rights for the drunken driving charge are limited to the criminal charge, not to whether or not your employer can fire you for getting arrested. People can disagree about the fairness of the law, but that’s the law.
Now, imagine that you are a state senator and that you have been charged, indicted, arrested and/or convicted of crimes that relate directly to your job as a legislator. Can you be “fired” by the Senate?
The CA Constitution says, “Each house shall judge the qualifications and elections of its Members and, by roll call vote entered in the journal, two-thirds of the membership concurring, may expel a Member.”
After the three state senators, all DEMOCRATS [Ron Calderon, Rod Wright and Yee], were either charged, indicted, arrested, tried and/or convicted of felonies directly associated with the performance of their official duties, the question arises as to what should be the proper reaction of the state Senate. (Assuming the State Senate wishes to keep any semblance of trust and respectability by the public.)
We have seen a stream of newspaper articles, blogs, editorials, op-ed pieces and general conversation about the three state senators involved in this maelstrom of unethical and, perhaps, criminal behavior, and what should be done about it. Some argue the weak case that the state senate has done the right thing to suspend them with pay and not take stronger action unless and until they are convicted and sentenced.
IMHO: They are wrong.
Our democracy is strong but it needs the constant trust in and confidence from the voters that their electeds represent them honestly and above reproach. So as much as it pains me to say, a paid vacation for three disgraced state senators will not do it. Immediate expulsion will.