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State senators' leaves of absence deprive Democrats of supermajority

Two leaves of absence in the state senate are changing the balance of power in Sacramento.
March 3, 2014 12:00:00 AM PST
Democratic State Senator Ron Calderon is taking a leave of absence as he faces federal corruption charges. Another Democrat, Senator Roderick Wright, has also taken a leave of absence. That's changing the balance of power in Sacramento.

Those two leaves of absence change the way the state senate will do business for the next few months. Without a two-thirds majority, the Democrats will now need at least one or two Republican votes to get certain bills passed.

Calderon says he is not resigning, and will have his day in court.

"I expect this to be a lengthy period of absence continuing until the end of the session in August. I will take this time to focus on fighting these charges," Calderon said. "I do not want to distract from the important work of the Senate and my colleagues on serious issues affecting my constituents and the people of California."

"The criminal pieces of this are ongoing, but in terms of the senate, we move forward now," said State Senator Darrell Steinberg, president pro-tem of the senate.

Calderon's departure takes away the two-thirds "supermajority" for Democrats in the state senate. Senator Roderick Wright is also on a leave of absence after he was convicted of lying about living in the district he represents.

"If Democrats want to get certain policy priorities done they're going to need a Republican vote or two, and that may be difficult to find," said Jaime Regalado, emeritus professor of political science, California State University Los Angeles.

There are plans to put a "rainy day fund" proposal on the ballot in November, as well as a proposal for a new tax on oil that will require a two-thirds majority.

"There's still a lot of anger in both parties," said Regalado. "It's not as rancorous as it is in D.C., but it had been."

"The supermajority is important, but not nearly as important as the senate itself," said Steinberg.

Calderon was arraigned last week on charges he accepted bribes totaling $100,000 in cash and trips. Some of the money he allegedly accepted from an undercover FBI agent.

By taking leaves of absence, both Wright and Calderon he will continue to get paid their salaries, more than $95,000 per year each.

"We agree that we need to come up with a process that is more relevant today, and that may very well include suspending without pay for certain behavior," said state Senator Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar).

Calderon is termed out of office in November, so it is likely he will not return.

Wright, who is scheduled to be sentenced in May, is trying to get his conviction overturned so he can return to the state senate.


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