Legislators spend lots of time regulating our personal behavior, but ignore bad behavior within their own ranks.
Sex scandals are, of course, not confined to members of any particular party or worldview, despite efforts by the Left to portray them as a result of patriarchy and sexism — and efforts by some on the Right to portray them as the result of post-modern values. Powerful people often behave in despicable ways because they feel entitled — and they can get away with it. It’s as simple as that.
Nevertheless, it is amazing watching the California State Capitol, that bastion of progressive values and endless Nanny-like efforts improve the rest of us, become embroiled in a far-reaching sex scandal. It’s just the latest example of our “betters” spending so much time instructing the common folk that they neglected to spend much time policing themselves.
The left-leaning California Legislative Women’s Caucus last week released a scathing statement noting that “the indefensible actions of some male members of the Legislature show a lack of accountability and remorse.” It blasted “the absence of repercussions” and a “pervasive culture of sexual harassment within California politics.” The Legislature has not enforced its own zero-tolerance policies, the letter explained, which has “given rise to the power and influence these men possess within the establishment.”
In mid-October, more than 140 women who worked in and around the state Capitol, including six current legislators, published an open letter. “As women leaders in politics, in a state that postures itself as a leader in justice and equality, you might assume our experience has been different. It has not,” they explained. They said that men in the Capitol have “leveraged their power and positions to treat us however they would like.”
The media have interviewed prominent Capitol insiders who have told their tales. News reports found that the Legislature has paid out $850,000 in taxpayer-funded settlements involving harassment allegations over two decades. Some Capitol staffers talk about women being pressured into signing non-disclosure statements — or just seeking out new jobs to avoid the people they accuse of sexual harassment.
The biggest blockbuster involved a former staffer who now is an Assembly member representing Los Angeles’s San Fernando Valley. Following the release of the letter, the Sacramento Bee reported that “A longtime legislative staff member says she was groped by Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra at a public event eight years ago and continues to deal with repercussions of what she feels was an inadequate response by the Legislature.”
Bocanegra offered a statement of apology recently for the 2009 incident, but pressure has mounted for him to resign. “In light of this revelation, Bocanegra cannot be taken seriously as a representative of the people who elected him without this knowledge, and we ask that he step down immediately,” opined the Los Angeles Daily News in a recent editorial.
Perhaps reflecting the culture these women describe, a Bee article noted that Bocanegra’s “colleagues have largely stayed silent” about reports of the incident. Furthermore, he had broad support from his colleagues when he ran for the seat three years after the incident. The matter was the subject of a Rules Committee disciplinary action.
Scandal isn’t anything new for the California Legislature, nor is hypocrisy.
Former Sen. Leland Yee, a San Francisco Democrat known for his strong support for gun control, was arrested in 2014 for public-corruption and gun-trafficking charges. Undercover federal agents, investigating organized crime in the city’s Chinatown, accused Yee of having accepted contributions for political favors and say he “also discussed buying weapons overseas and bringing them to the U.S. with two associates and an undercover agent,” according to a Washington Post report. He ultimately pleaded guilty to one felony count of racketeering.
Around the same time, Sen. Rod Wright, D-“Inglewood,” was sentenced to 90 days in jail after being convicted of perjury and voter-fraud charges. I put Inglewood in quotations, because while he represented that downtrodden district, prosecutors said he actually lived in the more upscale Baldwin Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles. Unlike U.S. representatives, California legislators are required to live in the district they represent.
In 2016, Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud and received a 42-month prison sentence. As Southern California Public Radio reported, “As part of the agreement, Calderon admitted to accepting thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for supporting certain pieces of legislation. Prosecutors dropped more than 20 other charges in exchange for the agreement.” The Yee, Wright and Calderon arrests came around the same time, yet the Legislature was accused of acting in a less-than-robust manner.
As Sen. Joel Anderson, R-El Cajon, noted at the time, the Legislature responded with mandatory ethics training and voted to first suspend rather than expel the legislators. That gets to the heart of the matter. Powerful people will sometimes abuse their power. But it’s even worse when their colleagues don’t act decisively. And it’s especially appalling when those same legislators spend most of their time regulating and lecturing the rest of us.
In 2015, the state passed a “yes means yes” law governing college campuses. The bill’s authors, Sens. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles, and Hanna-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara, pointed to “the need for an affirmative, unambiguous standard of consent for sexual contact.” In a way, the recent sexual-abuse allegations at the Capitol suggest that behavioral standards in the Legislature have indeed been “affirmative and unambiguous.” If you’re a powerful person, then you can affirmatively expect to evade accountability.
Harassment is not a progressive problem per se, but we can at least dispense with the progressive vanity that they offer hope for improving human behavior.
Raul Bocanegra (YouTube screenshot)