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September brings problems for the Legislature

September 17, 2010 | 11:19 am

What is it about September bringing bad news about the state Legislature? This week lawmakers set a new record for the longest budget stalemate, and one of their own, state Sen. Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood) was indicted on charges of perjury and vote fraud over allegations he did not live in the Senate district he represents.

It was Sept. 9 of last year when Republican Assemblyman Mike Duvall of Yorba Linda resigned over explicit remarks about sexual conquests. There is concern in Sacramento that Wright’s indictment is yet another hit that will further damage the public perception of the Legislature.

"The PR nightmare of the Legislature just goes into another chapter," said Larry Gerston, a political scientist at San Jose State University. He said the latest incident could erode public support for initiatives on the November ballot that would give more power to legislators and change how their districts are drawn.

While some lawmakers downplay the potential impact on the initiatives, there is frustration that the indictment will make some people more cynical about the Legislature as a whole.

"I don’t doubt that it does," said Sen. Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles). "But today he [Wright] is an innocent man until a jury of his peers says otherwise."

Sen. Ron Calderon (D-Montebello), who often voted with Wright as part of a moderate bloc in the Senate, praised his colleague as thoughtful and articulate. "His indictment is a setback to the Senate, the Legislature as a whole, his constituents and all Californians," Calderon said. "I remain hopeful that when all the evidence is weighed Senator Wright will be exonerated."

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) plans to be active in his backing of Wright.  "Rod Wright has my full support and is presumed innocent," Steinberg said, adding "I intend to personally contribute to his Legal Defense Fund."

--Patrick McGreevy in Sacramento