Shame To See Wright Go

SEPT. 17, 2010

You don’t find the words “state senator” and “indicted” in the same headline very often. But when I saw this Sept. 16 Los Angeles Times story on the eight-count felony indictment of Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, for perjury and voter fraud, I was surprised. I didn’t know much about him, beyond the fact that he’s only been in the Senate a couple years and was known as a moderate, so I rushed over to the Capitol to find out more about his allegedly living outside his district.

Considering the publicity, the building was eerily quiet. Up on the fifth floor, there wasn’t much in Wright’s office beyond a few staffers and a Capitol Television News Service camera crew hoping they could get Wright on tape (he’s in Southern California right now). When I asked for a comment on the indictment, the receptionist referred me to Cine Ivery, Wright’s press aide in Inglewood.

“We have not put out a statement,” Ivery said by phone. “We are not going to put out a statement.”

OK then. Given the Times story, that isn’t too surprising. “Wright listed as his residence a home in the district he wanted to represent, but county authorities allege that he did not live there,” the Times reported. “The indictment comes almost a year from the day in 2009 when authorities searched two homes owned by Wright, one in Inglewood, in the 25th Senate District that he was elected to represent in 2008, and the other in Baldwin Hills, in the neighboring 26th District.”

Ivery’s refusal to comment left me no other option but to prowl the Capitol halls. But surely there, where the state’s laws are written and budgets (eventually, hopefully) passed, people would be bursting with inside information.

“I just heard about it this morning,” one Democratic staffer told me (except for Ivery, no one interviewed for this story wanted his or her name used).

“Yeah, I didn’t know anything about the indictment until I saw the Times story,” a Republican staffer said.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg put out a statement on Thursday saying Wright is still “presumed innocent” and that Wright has his “full support,” but I got the notion that Democrats are angrier at Wright than the Republicans, who are, if anything, kind of disappointed.

“If he’s indeed guilty, I hope this sends a message to officials that tolerance of this sort of subterfuge is waning,” one Democratic staffer told me. “I have no reason to dislike him, but he doesn’t have a lot of fans around here.”

Indeed, at a time of ideological polarization, Wright is as moderate as they come. When you look at his district, which stretches in a crooked arc from the poor areas of Inglewood and Compton through Long Beach and San Pedro to the rich Republican Palos Verdes Estates and pretty much exemplifies why some people want redistricting, this isn’t too surprising.

“Look at this budget plan,” a Republican staffer said, handing me a copy of Wright’s five-page proposed budget plan from late January of this year. “It could have been written by a Republican.”

Indeed, the plan called for “broadening” the personal income tax to “help reduce some of the class war currently being waged in California.” It proposed exempting a portion of the sales tax on manufacturing equipment purchases, reducing all sales taxes by one percent and delaying the state’s global warming laws three to five years. It also said that big spending cuts will have to happen.

“In the future California government will have to live within its means and look at other sources of revenue less susceptible to volatility,” the plan states. “The cold reality is that the world is in the middle of a serious recession. If your job is eliminated, it’s a depression for you. It is unrealistic for anyone to assume this economy would not have an adverse impact on state government.”

If Wright is guilty, he needs to be out of the Senate as soon as possible. But given his more than reasonable views on the budget, it’ll be a shame to see him go.

-Anthony Pignataro

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