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Wright Case Hits Close To Home For Many California Lawmakers

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

Rich Pedroncelli / AP

The uproar in the California State Senate over a lawmaker convicted for living outside his district boundaries will likely continue Monday.  Some Republicans are expected to once again push for the suspension or expulsion of Sen. Rod Wright (D-Los Angeles).  But Wright’s case hits close to home for many other senators, too.

Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg is a devout Jew, so it’s not often you hear him cite the New Testament.  But there he was on the Senate floor Thursday, quoting Jesus to the Pharisees: “Let he who is without sin among you first cast a stone.”

The context: An effort by Senate Republicans to force a vote to expel Democrat Rod Wright, whom a jury convicted a month ago of perjury and voter fraud.

“In my calculation, over a quarter of members in the minority party on this floor today have had their own residency status questioned at the time that they filed for office,” Steinberg said.

And as he led the charge to sidetrack the GOP expulsion motion, Steinberg promised to investigate Republicans alleged to live outside their districts too.

“That’s an interesting bait and switch,” responded Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff.  He points out none of his caucus members have been convicted of any felonies – or even charged, like Democratic Senator Ron Calderon, who's the center of an undercover FBI investigation. “Those are the issues we’re dealing with,” Huff said after Democrats blocked the Wright expulsion motion Thursday.  “The rest is just smoke and mirrors.”

Yet Huff has said he has sympathy for Wright, who’s taking a leave of absence as he pushes a judge to overturn his conviction on the grounds that the district residency law is too vague.  And on Thursday, Huff suggested he would have opposed the expulsion motion had Democrats allowed a vote.

“There is a strong case to be made that there has been precedence, that a jury’s findings have been overturned, andwe should give him the benefit of the doubt,” Huff said. 

Huff and Steinberg agree the law can be unevenly applied: one district attorney might charge; another might not.  And both want to look at rewriting the law once the Wright case has run its course.

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