The Capitol’s worst-kept secret

By KATY GRIMES

Last August, state Sen. Pat Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa, announced that she would not seek re-election in 2010 – shortly after announcing that she would run for re-election.

Her announcement occurred soon after she made an inappropriate comment at a hearing to discuss global warming to a pastor who was testifying, leading many to question Wiggins’ rationality. She called the pastor’s arguments “bullshit.” A video of the exchange was posted on YouTube. While drawing widespread condemnation for her outburst, Capitol observers are wondering whether Wiggins is suffering from some type of illness.

While the health of Sen. Wiggins is in many respects a personal issue, Wiggins has been observed publicly and in Senate hearings making inappropriate comments, appearing confused, and using prepared scripts in meetings and when speaking, according to published reports and Capitol sources. This has led to various public-policy and political concerns.

Two of her district’s newspapers, The Santa Rosa Press Democrat and The Napa Valley Register, reported on her erratic behavior and outbursts, and apparent disorientation. “Speculation about Wiggins’ health and political future had intensified in recent months amid outbursts, odd displays of affection and the 69-year-old senator’s apparent inability at times to focus or remember things,” reported the Press Democrat in August. “In making her announcement, Wiggins acknowledged she had faced physical disabilities throughout her career. But she did not specifically address why she was not seeking another term … .” Her staff denied that she has a medical issue that impairs her ability to do her job.

Wiggins’ colleagues and friends were quoted as saying that her outbursts are uncharacteristic. Sen. Wiggins has been present for votes as recently as Nov. 4, 2009. The governor recently signed five of Wiggins’ seven authored bills. Given the recent work emanating from her office, the question remains, if Sen. Wiggins is suffering from an illness, who is performing her work? This is a question for Democratic Party leaders to address in the coming weeks.

With the Legislature preparing to start a new session on Jan. 4, 2010, and the continuing accounts of her declining health, the question of how to manage the remaining year in her Senate term is a question no one connected with Wiggins appears willing to answer.

Calls and messages left at Wiggins’ office were not returned.

When asked if there is precedence for this situation, Democratic political consultant Steve Maviglio explained, “I can’t speak to this particular situation but it’s my understanding that Wiggins continues to vote and participate in Senate deliberations.”

Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg’s office did not return calls about whether Wiggins will remain office or about holding a possible special election for Wiggins’ Senate seat.

When asked his opinion about why Senate leadership does not want to have a special election to replace Wiggins even though it appears that her district is strongly Democratic, Maviglio explained, “It’s up to the senator to decide if she wants to resign; it’s not something that they can be forced to do by the Senate pro Tem or anyone else.” Maviglio confirmed that it is a “safe” Democratic seat.

Immediately after Wiggins announced her decision not to run for re-election, Assemblywoman Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, announced her candidacy for Wiggins’ Senate seat. Evans has served five years in the state Assembly. Assemblywoman Evans’ office referred requests for information to her Senate campaign. The campaign did not return our calls.

Maviglio added, “In the Assembly, the only member I can recall being sick for a long period was Assembly member Nell Soto. She was out for an extended period upon doctor’s orders. She hoped to recover but didn’t, and decided not to run for re-election.”

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darrell SteinbergNoreen EvansPat Wiggins

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