State Senator Rod Wright, a former staffer for Congresswoman Maxine Waters and a veteran California lawmaker, has this February been convicted of being a law breaker. That’s relatively old news. The new news is that California State NAACP president, Alice Huffman, is convinced Wright has been selectively targeted and wrongly convicted. As such, she feels, we, the public, should continue to stand behind and support Senator Wright and agitate for his conviction to be overturned.
What would overturning mean in this case? Wright has filed a brief with the judge in the case to overturn the jury’s verdict since the law on residency, according to Wright, is “murky.” The likelihood of this happening is very, very low, however. He will be sentenced this May and most likely, the jury’s verdict will be upheld. Meanwhile, Wright has not resigned from the state Senate, nor has he been expelled (although Republican senators tried and failed to get that done). In fact, the state Senate has granted him a paid, indefinite leave of absence until after the May sentencing, even though the 35th district will get no Senate representation during that time. According to Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), “Unless and until there is a final conviction for a felony (in May), Senator Wright will continue as a member of the State Senate.”
Senator Wright was initially indicted by a grand jury in 2010 for lying on his voter residency papers, including his candidacy papers for the 25th senatorial district for the 2008 election. The case was carried by L.A. County’s former prosecutor, Steve Cooley, and his Public Integrity Unit. Huffman says this was part of a Republican selective enforcement, with a Republican county prosecutor pushing the case, and Republican lawmakers supporting it. Huffman also noted that state records do not indicate any other sitting state legislators ever being prosecuted and convicted of voter fraud and perjury, and that too raises questions about why now and why this Black legislator.
She also notes that State Senator Mimi Walters of Orange County (R-33) is in residency trouble, but is not facing similar perjury charges in criminal court. Senator Walters has, however, been charged in civil court on that issue, and is facing a request to the Secretary of State to have her name removed from the upcoming ballot for the 37th district seat because, according to the complaint, she does not live in that district.
Is this a case of color-coded injustice, as Huffman alleges, or is this a case of a corrupt lawmaker who thought he was above the law and could not be held accountable? Wright is a former assemblyman in the 48th district from 1996-2002. He represented the 25th senatorial district from 2006-2012, and with the change in the district based on state re-districting, the 35th senatorial area since 2013. He has owned a rental property in Inglewood for more than 25 years, according to county records, and tried to use that property as his legal residence for voting and candidacy purposes. According to testimony from residents there, however, Wright never spent even one night there, and did not change his official address until very recently. His known address is in Baldwin Hills, which is outside of the district he was elected to serve, which stretches from Westchester to Palos Verdes.
State law is pretty straightforward on this issue. ‘In order to be qualified to represent a district, a candidate must live within that district and be eligible to vote in that district.’ Wright was accused and convicted of eight counts of perjury and voter fraud regarding this law.
Interestingly enough, a counter point to Huffman’s claim of selective targeting of Wright, is the fact that in 1987, Wright, who was a professional political consultant then, was convicted for violating the California State Political Reform Act. He was sentenced to three years on probation and a fine of $2,500 for improperly helping former Compton City Councilman Floyd James win an election. Wright, then, is no stranger to charges of political chicanery, and he has been in electoral politics long enough to know the ropes. Whether aided by partisan dirty tricks or not, apparently Wright put himself into this pickle, and standing behind him may not be the politically wise thing for us to do at this point.
Wisdom indicates we’d better get a good, morally responsible candidate ready to run for his soon-to-be-vacated seat in the 35th senatorial district.
Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEI, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the stepparent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.
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