Editorial: If Sen. Ron Calderon doesn’t step down, he should be removed

02/25/2014 12:00 AM

02/25/2014 6:14 AM

State Sen. Ron Calderon must go.

Ideally, the Montebello Democrat would resign from public office, allowing someone not under indictment for bribery and corruption charges to represent his constituents.

Calderon surrendered to authorities and was arraigned Monday on 24 federal charges that allege he took money from a hospital executive in exchange for favorable legislation and from an FBI agent posing as a movie producer seeking state film tax credits.

If Calderon is not honorable enough to step aside during this criminal case – and we have no reason to believe he is – then the Senate should suspend him.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said last week that he would do just that if Calderon didn’t step down, or at least take a leave of absence. On Monday, Steinberg said that he’d give Calderon until the following Monday to act.

That’s a fair amount of time. But if history is any indication, Calderon won’t go willingly from the seat of power he’s allegedly traded for gifts, patronage for his family and large amounts of cash. When details about the federal investigation were made public last fall in a leaked federal affidavit published by Al Jazeera America, Calderon was unrepentant and cast himself as a victim. He said he was being targeted by the FBI because he refused to wear a wire and inform on Steinberg and Sen. Kevin de Léon.

We believe strongly in the principle that people are presumed innocent until proved guilty, and therefore won’t advocate Calderon be locked away without due process. He faces 396 years in prison, which is the maximum sentence he could receive if convicted on all the charges. But elected seats aren’t just jobs or a paycheck; they are positions of enormous trust. When serious, and credible, accusations such as these arise that suggest a lawmaker is abusing that public trust, he or she must be removed from the position until the case is resolved.

That’s true in the case of Calderon – and in the case of state Sen. Rod Wright, who was convicted in late January of perjury and voting fraud by a Los Angeles jury. Last week, Wright’s sentencing was delayed until May. Yet Steinberg has refused to suggest Wright ought to step down, at least not until a judge takes the step of affirming the jury’s verdict. On Monday, Steinberg continued to defend his decision by pointing out that the charges against Calderon “go to the heart of all we do.” In Wright’s case, he said, there is is still a legal question pending over the meaning of “residence vs. domicile.”

True, living outside one’s district pales in comparison to charges of bribery. But both are violations of the public’s trust. And both Calderon and Wright should be shown the Capitol door.

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