Leland Yee pulls out of race for California secretary of state as pressure mounts for him to leave Legislature

lrosenhall@sacbee.comMarch 27, 2014 

A day after Sen. Leland Yee was charged with corruption and conspiracy to traffic weapons, he dropped out of the race to become California’s next secretary of state and faced mounting pressure to leave the state Senate.

Senate leaders are preparing to suspend Yee with pay as early as this morning when the Senate convenes.

The San Francisco Democrat sent a letter Thursday to Secretary of State Debra Bowen announcing his immediate withdrawal from the race to lead the office that oversees California elections. But his name will remain on the June ballot because state law prohibits it from being removed since he’s already declared his candidacy, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office said.

Also on Thursday, California’s two U.S. senators – both of whom have deep roots in Bay Area politics – called on Yee to resign.

“The allegations against Senator Yee are shocking. It has become clear he has lost the confidence of his colleagues and for the good of his constituents should step down,” said a statement from U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a former San Francisco mayor and supervisor.

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer said in a statement that she agreed with Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg’s demand Wednesday that Yee resign. Steinberg has demanded that Yee leave by today.

“If these allegations are true, they are beyond outrageous,” Boxer, who represented part of San Francisco in the House, said in a statement.

Yee was arrested Wednesday as part of a massive FBI sweep that involved more than two dozen people accused of running guns, selling drugs and arranging murder for hire. A 137-page FBI affidavit detailing the five-year investigation alleges that Yee operated in a pay-to-play fashion as he raised money for his secretary of state campaign and to pay off debt from his unsuccessful run for San Francisco mayor, performing favors in the Capitol for donors who turned out to be undercover agents. It also says he offered to help an undercover agent pull off an illegal international arms deal.

It was the latest turn in what’s already been a tumultuous year for Democrats in the state Capitol. Last month, a federal grand jury indicted Sen. Ron Calderon of Montebello on 24 counts of corruption. And in January, a Los Angeles jury found Sen. Rod Wright of Baldwin Hills guilty of perjury and voter fraud for lying about living in the district he ran for in 2008.

Republicans in the Senate moved to expel Wright and suspend Calderon a few weeks ago but Steinberg blocked a vote on the measures by sending them to the Steinberg-led Senate Rules Committee. Instead, Wright and Calderon took paid leaves of absence, allowing their colleagues in the Senate not to cast a vote on their fate.

The Legislature’s lawyers say senators don’t have the right to revoke pay unless a lawmaker is permanently expelled.

Republicans are prepared to introduce a resolution to suspend Yee when the state Senate meets today at 9 a.m.

“We need to act decisively in order to begin restoring the public’s trust,” Senate Republican leader Bob Huff said in a statement. “Senate Republicans agree with Senate President Pro Tem Steinberg that Leland Yee is not welcome here anymore and he must resign from the Senate or face swift suspension by his colleagues.”

Huff also called on the Rules Committee to act on the resolutions he wrote to suspend Calderon and Wright.

“While I appreciate Senator Steinberg’s assurances that ‘neither Calderon nor Wright are coming back,’ we must treat all three equally,” Huff’s statement says.

“Only then can the Senate move beyond this dark cloud of ethics violations and corruption.”

Call Laurel Rosenhall, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1083. Follow her on Twitter @LaurelRosenhall.

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