Will Nunez scandal hurt Villaraigosa Senate run?

fabian nunezIt’s looking like former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa is running for the U.S. Senate seat now open with Sen. Barbara Boxer’s impending retirement.

He’s “very, very close to running,” close friend Fabian Nunez told the Los Angeles Times. “There’s still a possibility that he decides not to run. I doubt that’s going to be the case.”

It’s curious Nunez is making this semi-announcement. Villaraigosa himself is hampered by a personal scandal involving his marriage and affairs.

But Nunez’ scandal was far worse, and likely will come up if Villaraigosa runs for the higher office. Nunez got his son’s murder sentence commuted by another close friend, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. The Times reported in 2011:

Esteban Nuñez, who was sentenced to 16 years in prison for his role in the October 2008 stabbing death of college student Luis Dos Santos near San Diego State, had his prison term commuted to seven years by the governor.

Along with a tax increase, $20 billion deficits and a crashing state economy, the commutation tainted the final days of Schwarzenegger’s ill-starred seven years in office.

‘Help a friend’

A year ago, the U-T San Diego reported on how the family of the murder victim, Louis Santos, still is not reconciled to Schwarzenegger’s action:

In a statement, Schwarzenegger called the sentence “excessive” because he did not believe Nuñez had inflicted the fatal wound. He also cited Nuñez’s previously clean record. Critics are convinced Schwarzenegger, a Republican, was motivated to help his ally, Fabian Nuñez, the Democratic Assembly speaker. Schwarzenegger’s “of course you help a friend” comment to Newsweek a few months later only reinforced those suspicions.

Schwarzenegger’s April 2011 quote “goes toward his total attitude. He taunted us,” Santos said.

Santos said the statement made him even more than determined to see the court process through to the end.

“The pain and the memory of the events will never go away. I can’t stick my head in the sand,” Santos said.

Santos is not alone. In court papers, Deputy District Attorney Laura Tanney claimed the remark reflected a “cynical and mocking attitude.”

‘Boring question’

The commutation also outraged Bruce Henderson, the father of Keith Henderson, a victim who survived Nunez’ assault. And another cynical remark by Schwarzenegger was recorded. Henderson wrote in May 2011:

News of Schwarzennegger’s clemency for the man who tried to kill my son took me back again to that first agonizing day at the hospital. When I checked into a hotel that night, I turned on the TV as the local news was covering the story, and watched as paramedics pushed a gurney into an ambulance. A blanket covered an unidentified victim. Then, I recognized my son’s scuffed sneakers sticking out from the blanket. Realizing how very close we had come to losing him, I started shaking.

Esteban Nunez is incarcerated at Mule Creek State Prison, where he was transferred to a “sensitive-needs” unit after the Nunez family sent to the warden’s assistant a new Kindle, which was later returned….

Recently leaving an event, Schwarzenegger was asked by a reporter for a comment on the Nunez commutation. The ex-governor dismissed it as a “boring question,” and strode away from the TV camera. As he did, Schwarzenegger made a loud snoring sound.

And that’s how politics really is played in California.


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  1. Rex the Wonder Dog!
    Rex the Wonder Dog! 7 February, 2015, 22:00

    Banana Republic. Two sets of laws. That is all you need to know about Amerika today. I think the sentence was 15 years, not 16, but this lose had more than half of it cut, a sick act.

    Reply this comment
  2. SeeSaw
    SeeSaw 8 February, 2015, 09:03

    The Nunez situation should not be used by opponents of Villaraigosa because it had nothing to do with him and he should not be blamed for any portion of someone else’s family situation. I don’t think the ethnicity of the candidate should be a point for or against. Villa is not even on my list, though–he is a has-been.

    Reply this comment

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John Seiler

John Seiler

John Seiler has been writing about California for 25 years. That includes 22 years as an editorial writer for the Orange County Register and two years for CalWatchDog.com, where he is managing editor. He attended the University of Michigan and graduated from Hillsdale College. He was a Russian linguist in U.S. Army military intelligence from 1978 to 1982. He was an editor and writer for Phillips Publishing Company from 1983 to 1986. He has written for Policy Review, Chronicles, LewRockwell.com, Flash Report and numerous other publications. His email: [email protected]

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