Sens. Alex Padilla, Darrell Steinberg

State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), right, and Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) confer after a bipartisan vote to suspend three Democratic senators. The three — Ronald Calderon, Leland Yee and Roderick Wright — will continue to be paid. (Steve Yeater / Associated Press / March 29, 2014)

By Patrick McGreevy
March 28, 2014, 4:28 p.m.

SACRAMENTO — Reeling from embarrassing bribery, corruption and voter fraud scandals, the state Senate took the unprecedented action Friday of voting to suspend three Democratic lawmakers from office pending the resolution of criminal charges against them.

The paid suspensions of Sens. Leland Yee, Ronald S. Calderon and Roderick Wright all but guarantee Democrats will not regain their supermajority in the Senate this session. And the controversies are expected to become anti-incumbent campaign fodder in other districts in this year’s elections.

The bipartisan 28-1 vote came two days after Yee was arrested in his hometown of San Francisco and charged by federal authorities with conspiracy to traffic in firearms without a license and accepting campaign funds in exchange for political favors.

Calderon, of Montebello, was indicted last month and charged with accepting nearly $100,000 in bribes for official favors, and Wright has been convicted of lying about living in Inglewood in his Senate district. They had both previously been allowed to take voluntary leaves of absence to fight their separate criminal cases.

“I think this is a black mark on the institution,” said Senate Republican leader Bob Huff about the spate of scandals. “The Senate took needed and decisive action today to help restore the public’s trust in this great institution.”

The Senate has never before suspended one of its members, according to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), who called Yee’s alleged actions “sordid.”

In previous weeks, Steinberg had blocked Republican attempts to oust Calderon and Wright, but on Friday he said the allegations against Yee “changed my point of view.” He said having three such cases required firmer and equal action.

“An affirmative suspension puts this house on formal record that we unequivocally distance ourselves and the Senate from the unfathomable allegations contained in the Yee indictment as well as the other cases,” Steinberg said.

Steinberg has seen Wright’s case as different because he says residency laws are ambiguous.

But he saw more serious crimes alleged in Calderon’s bribery indictment and the case alleging that Yee accepted payments to help arrange an illegal arms deal and influence marijuana laws. As a result, Steinberg had called on Yee and Calderon to resign, but they refused. Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday called on all three
lawmakers to resign.

Steinberg could have called a vote to expel the members permanently, but he decided not to do that.

“The satisfying thing would be to expel them immediately,” Steinberg told his colleagues. “But I reluctantly conclude that what would be satisfying and popular would also run afoul of the most basic American principle of due process and the idea that people are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.”

Sen. Joel Anderson (R-San Diego) cast the only vote against the suspensions, saying he thinks the three senators should be expelled.

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