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Mark Vafiades

The California Capitol’s Culture of Corruption

Democrat State Sen. Ron Calderon returned to work this week, just a few days after FBI agents raided his Capitol office and removed numerous boxes in what was at least the appearance of an extensive criminal investigation.  It sure wasn’t spring cleaning.

Perhaps you may be thinking you missed the wall-to-wall news coverage and breathless newspaper reporters pursuing this story with Watergate-like zeal.  Well, don’t bother to go to Google now – you didn’t miss much.

Showing the absolute minimum journalistic curiosity, the Capitol press corps hasn’t had much to say about this and even less to report.  No matter your politics, this is a disappointing shortfall of public information.

Too harsh an assessment?  After being permitted by reporters the right to remain silent for a week, Calderon finally did meet the press outside his Capitol office.  He took no questions and went on the record – for a full 80 seconds.

With no apparent trace of irony, Calderon pledged to “to do my job that I was elected to do, attend my hearings, get my bills passed out of committee and onto the floor, and do the work of the state.”  The transcript is unclear if anybody busted out laughing.

The true trouble here is that one of the jobs Calderon was elected to do is not to become a target or be connected to a criminal investigation by the FBI.

While the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office haven’t disclosed the focus of the probe or why Calderon was targeted, CBS affiliates have reported it is connected to the finances of a Los Angeles-area water district with close ties to Calderon’s brother, former Democrat legislator Tom Calderon.

It is time for some fundamental questions:  How can Sen. Calderon stay in office?  And how can his brother aggressively represent clients with business before the Legislature?

The big losers – at least in the short term – are Calderon’s constituents.  There is no way they can be effectively represented by a man with such an ethical dark cloud hanging over his head.  At the very least, all the cities in this Los Angeles district should ask Calderon to step aside, at least temporarily.

But the challenge and the problem are not limited only to Calderon.

The man who should be facing the media for more than 80 seconds is the most powerful politician in the Legislature: State Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.  If he does not agree that Calderon must step down, he should explain why.  If this thought has not occurred to him, perhaps there is a larger problem.  Either way, it is not right that he has neither been asked, nor made to answer, this query.

And there’s a very good reason for this: Having achieved their fervent, decades-long goal of gaining two-thirds majorities in both houses of the Legislature, Democrats in Sacramento have become impervious to scrutiny and, I believe, carelessly dismissive of good governance.

One of their own had his office raided by the FBI and boxes of material removed.  And the Democrats’ response has been to say nothing, circle the wagons and wait for the heat to die down.

This is not only big news, it is an even bigger scandal.

While it is true that California voters have given Democrats sizable majorities in the State Legislature, perhaps those same people are now seeing one of the inevitable end results of providing absolute political power without insisting upon commensurate  political responsibility.

Now would seem to be an excellent time for all California voters – in any party, or no party – to conclude that the best and fastest remedy to address the California Capitol’s Culture of Corruption is to return at least a balance of power to Sacramento.  There is no other way.