By Dan Walters | CALmatters Columnist
Three down, but how many to go?
Last Thursday, Tony Mendoza became the third state legislator and the first senator to resign after being accused of sexual harassment in the scandal that has enveloped the Capitol.
As his fellow senators were meeting in closed “caucuses,” mulling whether to expel or suspend him, an aide to the Artesia Democrat walked up to the Senate’s front desk and submitted a vitriol-filled resignation letter.
As he had in the past, Mendoza said he was a victim of a “farcical” investigation that violated his rights and declared that Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, his one-time weekday roommate, “will not rest until he has my head on a platter to convince the MeToo movement of his ‘sincerity’ in supporting the MeToo cause.”
While Mendoza doesn’t deserve any sympathy, he may have a point about de León, who will step down soon from the Senate’s top leadership position and is running against U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein.
De León was initially behind the curve as the MeToo movement against harassment exploded last year, and needs to get out in front if he is to have any chance of unseating the state’s most prominent Democratic woman politician.
Before announcing Mendoza’s resignation, de León told the Senate, “we will not tolerate harassment or sweep it under the rug.”
That pledge will be tested as both the Senate and the Assembly handle multiple complaints about how legislators have behaved.
Mendoza was accused of harassing several young Capitol aides and a Senate-ordered investigation, conducted while he was on paid suspension, concluded that it was “more likely than not” that the allegations were true.
As Mendoza’s fate was being decided last week, Senate leaders were receiving another report on Sen. Bob Hertzberg, a Van Nuys Democrat, who’s been accused of overdoing his characteristic hugs that gave him the nickname of “Hugsberg.” One former assemblywoman says that his hugging morphed into molestation, and if the Mendoza pattern is followed, a summary of the probe’s findings will be released publicly.
Meanwhile, over in the Assembly – which already has seen two accused Democratic members resign – Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, a Bell Gardens Democrat who had become an outspoken champion of the MeToo movement, also stands accused of groping men on several occasions.
Garcia has voluntarily suspended herself while an investigation is underway but has, much like Mendoza, denied any wrongdoing and portrays the charges against her as a political vendetta.
There are other cases out there that have not yet been made public, so no one can say with certainty how many legislators will eventually be forced out in this election year.
Speaking of which, election year resignations mean a spate of special elections to fill the vacant seats.
Elections to replace the two banished Assembly members, Democrats Raul Bocanegra and Matt Dababneh, have already been scheduled and it’s likely that Gov. Jerry Brown will call one to replace Mendoza. That could create a particularly unusual scenario, since Mendoza’s term also expires late this year.
Candidates are already filing for his seat — and Mendoza says in his resignation letter that he’s still thinking of running again. Simultaneously, however, there probably will be special elections to place someone in his seat for the remainder of his current term.
According to the deadlines of state law governing special elections, his short-term replacement could be seated in mid-August, just two weeks before the biennial session ends, and that short-timer could be a critical vote on major last-minute legislation.
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