Earth-shaking news in California politics broke this morning with word of the arrest of State Senator Leland Yee (D, SD-8) on charges of public corruption, including soliciting donations beyond the allowed limits in return for legislative services and –ahem!– firearms trafficking. You can read the indictment (PDF) via the NBC BayArea site (1). From their article on the arrest:
California state Sen. Leland Yee was arrested on public corruption charges as part of several arrests made by the FBI Wednesday morning during a massive FBI sting, the FBI told NBC Bay Area.
U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag of the Northern District of California said that Yee and current Chee Kung Tong leader Raymond “Shrimp Boy” Chow were among 26 defendants charged in a federal criminal complaint.
Yee and Chow were arraigned before Federal Magistrate Judge Nathaniel Cousins in San Francisco this afternoon.
The federal criminal complaint, filed on March 24, was unsealed in San Francisco Wednesday, charging the defendants with firearms trafficking, money laundering, murder-for-hire, drug distribution, trafficking in contraband cigarettes and honest services fraud, announced Haagm FBI special agent David Johnson and Internal Revenue Service, Criminal Investigation, Special Agent in Charge José M. Martinez.
Yee was charged with conspiracy to traffic in firearms without a license, and to illegally import firearms as well as a scheme to defraud citizens of honest services.
Chow’s charges include money laundering and conspiracy to trafficking contraband cigarettes.
From what I gather from skimming the indictment, Yee stands accused of soliciting bribes both to retire his debt from his failed mayoral run in San Francisco and to fund his current campaign for Secretary of State. He is also accused of offering to facilitate an arms deal through New Jersey between a dealer Yee knew and “UCE 4599,” an unidentified FBI undercover agent… in return for a “donation.”
The connection between Senator Yee and “Shrimp Boy” Chow seems to be Keith Jackson, a well-known Bay Area political consultant and associate of Yee. Chow, who has a long record and has been under investigation for years, introduced UCE 4599 to Jackson, who then apparently started supplying weapons for UCE 4599’s “associates” to guard their (imaginary) marijuana farms in Northern California. Jackson and others also apparently ran their own drug ring and even attempted to solicit murder-for-hire. Jackson was also Yee’s money-maker for the illegal donations.
There is no accusation that Senator Yee had anything to do with drugs or murder-for-hire, but, still, he sure keeps nice company.
Aside from the organized crime drama and political corruption, this has serious implications for the Democrats in California. Yee is the third state senator (2), all Democrats, to be indicted or convicted in the last several months. Senator Roderick Wright was convicted of felony voter fraud in January, while Senator Ron Calderon was indicted for corruption in February.
Since the 2012 election, Democrats have held a supermajority in the California legislature, controlling both chambers with two-thirds majorities. Under the state constitution, that gave them the power to do pretty much whatever they wanted: pass irresponsible budgets, fund wasteful programs to their heart’s content, you name it. The Republicans were bystanders, and it didn’t look like they’d have any power any time soon.
Then the majority started crumbling in the state senate. First came Andy Vidak’s (R-SD26) surprise victory in a 2013 special election, then the conviction of Wright and the indictment of Calderon. That last broke the supermajority in the senate, and now Yee’s troubles (3) deepens the hole they’re in. Now, at least, the Democrats have to actually deal with the Republican senate caucus, if they want to get anything done. This means Proposition 13, the measure that protects homeowners from exorbitant property taxes and mandates a 2/3rds majority to raise taxes, making it a prime Democrat target, is safe for a while. The Democrats are likely to regain those seats, given the districts, but a smart Republican or independent candidate might make some populist hay running on a clean government platform. We’ll see.
From a larger view, this is what happens in a state when a party overwhelmingly dominates for too long: without credible opposition, legislators and other government officials come to feel entitled, become complacent, and think of themselves as rulers, not employees subject to the audit of the people. Corruption sets in. California has long been dominated by the Democrats (in the legislature, for decades), but a conservative friend in a long-time Red state has voiced similar complaints. It shows the problems that can set in when a strong two-party system withers to one.
One hopes that revelations such as Senator Yee’s purported activities will lead to soul-searching among the Democrats (4) and the rise of good conservative candidates in more areas to help redress the balance.
For the sake of California’s political health, we need both.
RELATED: More from the San Jose Mercury News.
PS: Did you know Yee once sponsored a measure to require state buildings to be designed according to Chinese Feng Shui principles? There’s a reason we’re called “Crazyfornia.”
(1) And kudos to them for linking to a primary source. Too few online MSM outlets do that.
(2) But not the last, I bet.
(3) Because Senate President Steinberg (D) is desperate to keep those seats in Democrat hands, rather than risk a special election, Wright and Calderon have been allowed to go on “paid leave,” rather than being expelled. Yes, they still draw a salary, but at least they can’t vote. I’m sure Yee will be shown the same “courtesy.”
(4) Oh, stop laughing. It could happen. Maybe.
(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)