The federal corruption and bribery charges leveled against State Senator Leland Yee of San Francisco mark the third embarrassing scandal this year for Senate Democrats and their party, which control both houses of the state legislature and every statewide office in California.
Coming on the heels of recent tangled legal troubles of two other high profile Democratic state Senators – Ron Calderon of Montebello and Rod Wright of Baldwin Hills – Yee’s arrest may now hand the beleaguered state Republican Party an opening in a midterm election year, political observers say.
“Sacramento turns out to be the “House of Cards,” quipped Bill Whalen, a fellow at the Hoover Institution and former strategist for Republican Gov. Pete Wilson, in a reference to the popular Netflix drama about corruption in Washington.
Prior to Yee’s arrest Wednesday, “Republicans could have one conversation with voters – what Democrats do with their power,” Whalen said. “Now they can discuss not only what they do on the job – but how they do their job.”
That means the GOP can now add a key issue to their 2014 political armaments – “ethics.”
For California Democrats already challenged in 2013 midterm elections by a more energized and angry GOP electorate, “at this point, they’re at substantial risk,” said Larry Gerston, a professor of politics at San Jose State University of Democrats. “Right or wrong, people will begin to look at that Democratic majority as enabling a culture of corruption…and this gives the Republicans an opportunity to take the ball and run with it.”
Underscoring the new terrain, California Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar almost immediately issued an outraged statement about the latest scandal for Yee, a 2014 candidate for California Secretary of State.
“Once again, the Senate has been tarnished by another FBI raid of a Senator’s capitol office,” he said in a statement issued just after the Democrat’s arrest. “There are hundreds of visitors in the State Capitol each day, and those who witnessed this morning’s events have every reason to be concerned about whether the Legislature is more concerned about serving themselves than the people.”
GOP strategist Rob Stutzman said Yee may represent a Democratic tipping point in a key political year. “You can now argue this is a real culture of corruption within the party in charge in Sacramento,” he said. “And let’s not forget – the (FBI) investigations are supposedly ongoing.”
The Democratic Party‘s latest troubles with Yee come weeks after Calderon became the high profile target of FBI investigations that resulted in federal corruption charges after he was accused of accepting almost $100,000 in bribes in tony meals and fancy golf games.
Faced with a possible suspension from office, the Southern California lawmaker opted to take a leave of absence – and will continue to take paychecks while he confronts the charges.
His absence has already cost Democrats their 2/3 critical “supermajority” in the Senate, and could undermine party leaders efforts to pass critical legislation.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle