Bocanegra Saga Embroils the Assembly

Scott Lay
Publisher of The Nooner

Raul Bocanegra announced intention to resign on September 1, 2018, thus avoiding a special election, just as the Times was preparing a story on 6 women who alleged inappropriate sexual advances while he was a staffer, a candidate, and a legislator. Previous, the lone allegation was while he was a staffer.

Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Downey), who chairs the bipartisan Legislative Women’s Caucus, called for him to resign immediately on Twitter. Los Angeles City Councilwoman Nury Martinez, whose husband is Bocanegra’s district director has also called for him to resign immediately. Martinez is a likely candidate for an election to succeed him. 

Assemblyman Matthew Harper (R-Huntington Beach), who is vice-chair of the Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee, called for a guarantee from the state to reimburse Los Angeles County the cost of running a special election in Bocanegra’s district, also on Twitter.

Meanwhile, the murmurs have begun about a move to expel Bocanegra when the Assembly reconvenes January 3–something that would be very uncomfortable for Assembly Democratic leadership. Anyone can make the motion, but it requires a two-thirds vote to actually expel the member. There is no burden of proof. The California Constitution simply provides that “[e]ach house of the Legislature shall judge the qualifications and elections of its Members.”

There are 25 Assembly Republicans. Add the 14 Assembly Democratic women, and it would require just 15 of the 41 Democratic men to join to reach a two-thirds vote. With all Assemblymembers facing election next year, finding those 15 is unlikely to be too difficult. Additionally, a motion would be a test for Speaker Anthony Rendon in an already anxious caucus.

I’m not going to name names, but I can count at least 15. What is most likely, in my opinion, is that they communicate informally to Rendon about their intention and Rendon goes to Bocanegra to avoid the embarrassment to Bocanegra and the Democratic Caucus of an actual posted vote on an expulsion.

An additional factor is that, even with expulsion or resignation, Democrats would retain a 54-vote supermajority through the special election.

In 2016 following the disgraceful 2014 year in the State Senate, voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional suspension process that allowed for a member to be suspended with or without pay on a two-thirds vote, without going as far as expulsion before a conviction. That followed the situation of Ron Calderon (corruption/pay-for-play), Rod Wright (residency), Leland Yee (corruption and, well international gun running). Calderon’s case took 2 years, during which he took a paid “leave of absence,” and was termed out in 2016 anyway. Wright’s case took 3.5 years from indictment to conviction, although it was clearly nothing. Yee’s case was only a bit over a year because he pled guilty.

I don’t see the suspension process being used in Bocanegra’s case. There’s no “pending trial” in these cases and too many people are just too angry and want to see a new representative from the district. It’s possible that it would be used at this point in Senator Tony Mendoza‘s case, as the outrage in the State Senate has been more muted and the number of allegations are far fewer.

A special primary election would be April 3 and, if no candidate receives over 50% in the primary, a special general would be held on the same date as the regular June 5 statewide primary election. Of course, the 39th Assembly district wouldn’t have a legislator to vote in the interim, although the Rules Committee would appoint or retain staff to provide constituent services until a member is elected.

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