SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — So far in 2014, each month has brought news of another arrest or conviction of a Democratic California state senator. The latest was Wednesday's arrest of Sen. Leland Yee of San Francisco on federal corruption charges, news that roiled the capital and led one of Yee's opponents in the race for secretary of state to call the Legislature a "corrupt institution."
Democrats hold large majorities in both chambers of the Legislature and should be flying into election season this year, easily passing legislation and setting the agenda after taming California's busted budgets and turning their Republican rivals into a "superminority" in the nation's most populous state.
But now their dominance could be dampened by new revelations of dirty dealings by Democrats in the state Senate. One senator was convicted of voter fraud and perjury, and two others face federal charges for alleged misdeeds that include accepting large financial bribes for friends and family in exchange for legislation and orchestrating weapons and drug trafficking to help pay off campaign debts.
U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein of California joined a growing list of officials Thursday in distancing themselves by demanding Yee's resignation. The Democratic leader of the state Senate, President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, warned Yee to resign or face suspension by his colleagues, saying "he cannot come back."
Yee has only announced he is dropping out of the secretary of state race.
"I know what people are thinking. This is the third incident the Senate has had to deal with," an emotional Steinberg said. "We are going to do everything in our power to uphold the integrity of the Senate and do the people's business and still have a great and productive year."
Yee's lawyer says the senator plans to plead not guilty to charges of accepting more than $42,000 to influence legislation and introduce an undercover FBI agent to an arms trafficker.