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Sen. Rod Wright, Despite a Perjury Conviction, Remains California’s Most Honest Politician

By on January 28, 2014
State Senator Rod Wright

Here’s a bit of irony: California’s most honest politician is the only one guilty of perjury.

On Tuesday morning, a jury found State Senator Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, guilty of eight counts of felony voter fraud, perjury and filing a false declaration of candidacy. The jury of nine women and three men, which began deliberating last Friday, sided with prosecutors who had argued that Wright never lived in the 25th Senate District, which he was elected to represent.

Even Wright conceded at trial that his official residence wasn’t his only residence.

“If you asked me where I stayed the most, that’s kind of unfair,” Wright said on the stand. “I have three residences.”

At his March 12 sentencing, Wright could face up to eight years and four months in prison. Wright will likely maintain his seat in the Senate while his lawyers work on an appeal.

Wright may have lied to get elected, but he’s been one of the few truth-tellers in Sacramento.

Wright’s conviction is another blow to a state Senate, which has been embroiled in scandal. But, unlike State Senator Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, Wright’s not accused of corruption, pay-to-play allegations, or being on the take. He’s been found guilty of not living in his district, a charge that could be credibly made against numerous California elected officials. After all, members of Congress don’t have to live in their districts.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, described the verdict “as a punch to the gut.” It’s also a blow to honesty in Sacramento.

Wright may have lied to get elected, but he’s been one of the few truth-tellers in Sacramento. Ask Republicans and Democrats, members and staff, lobbyists and reformers. They’ll tell you Wright always provides a refreshing dose of honesty, while the rest of the building is busy delivering spin. His commitment to the truth has often put him at odds with his Democratic colleagues.

“Wright often bucks his party’s orthodoxy,” observed Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters. “But his self-appointed role as Democratic contrarian is in many ways refreshing and valuable to the legislative process, because he brings a level of common sense to many issues that is otherwise lacking in the robotic positions taken by members of both parties.”

An expert on energy policy, Wright has questioned whether the state’s environmental policies are based on sound science or over-hyped talking points. He’s supported gun control, but has also earned the National Rifle Association’s “Defender of Freedom” Award. And, in an era of term-limited memories, the avid history buff has reminded his colleagues it’s not always wise to rush to be the first in the country to adopt a new government regulation.

Yep, State Senator Rod Wright just might be the only politician in California that consistently tells the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Except for when it comes to where he lives.

Regulations: “No Other State Was this Stupid”

State Senator Rod Wright passionately explains why he introduced legislation to improve “California’s burdensome regulatory climate” with a story of the catalytic converter. Wright’s SB 560 was soundly defeated by his fellow Democrats.

Why is Gas So Expensive in California? We Should Know the Cost of Regulations

In this clip, Wright explains the energy crisis, high gas prices and why the state should know the costs of its regulations.

Wright: “The only thing you know now is that your gasoline is some of the most expensive in the country. There’s something to me that ought to be inherently wrong when a guy in Compton is paying more per gallon of gasoline that a guy in Honolulu.”

“Regulations happen, and they were not thought through.”

Gun Rights: It’s 2 O’Clock in the Morning, What Do You Want to Have Available

Wright’s been a consistent defender of gun rights. In the clip below, Wright says, “You have to ask yourself the question, it’s two o’clock in the morning and someone just breaks into your home, what do you want to have available to you?”

Stop Pretending with Buzz Words Like Reform

Wright’s consistently cut through the political “reform” rhetoric so common in Sacramento. Classic Wright, “Hell, you don’t even know what’s in this bill. It doesn’t matter because you believe it”s reform. That’s the buzz word, reform.”

Rebutting Spin in Committee Testimony

Anyone who has testified before one of Wright’s committees knows they better be prepared. In 2011, Wright defended GOP Senator Jean Fuller’s bill to hold state agencies accountable for their regulations. He asked the Sierra Club, “So you think every regulation that’s ever done should stay in existence forever.”

Correcting Myths: Everyone Should Go to College

You’ll hear plenty of talk in Sacramento about vocational or career technical education. Wright’s not afraid to speak honestly about a topic that’s usually loaded with political correctness.

It’s time to rethink the mantra that every child should go to college.”

If a student intends to be a car mechanic, he doesn’t need a foreign language.

Why should kids who are good with their hands be denied the training that will make them exceptional machinists, bio-technicians, electricians, welders, dental assistants, nurses or master carpenters? When did these professions become afterthoughts?

As for “tracking” poor, predominately minority kids into manual labor, Wright told Sacramento Bee columnist Dan Walters, “We’re simply disenfranchising damn near 70 percent of the kids who attend high school. We’re just tracking them into prison now.”

Government Exists on the Vig, Like Tony Soprano

Wright’s never been afraid to use colorful analogies to make his point. While politicians love to hype what they’ve done “to create jobs,” Wright cuts through the spin:

As California and the nation face significant economic challenges, the new political mantra is jobs, jobs, jobs. However, there is a tendency to look at jobs in isolation from other economic factors. We must remember, government exists on the “vig,” as Tony Soprano would say. The vig is short for vigorish, how much money a bookmaker or gambling establishment makes on a bet. Businesses create jobs and grow the economy and government gets a “piece of the action,” not the other way around. In government, we often get it twisted.

Facts First, Not “Us vs. Them” Rhetoric

Wright routinely reframes “us vs. them” legislative debates. In this clip, he tackles why it’s a bad idea to punish landlords. SB 603 by Senator Mark Leno would have mandated statutory damages in security deposit disputes, “regardless of a showing of bad faith.”

Wright: “It’s wholly unfair to the landlords. Most landlords are not major corporations. Most landlords are mom and pop operations.”

Gun Control: Resisted the Usual Rhetoric, Political Spin and Playing to the Base

Rod Wright Accepting NRA Award

Both sides of the political spectrum routinely exaggerate, spin and play to the base on gun control debates. Wright’s always been focused on the facts. He’s voted for gun control legislation, but that didn’t stop the National Rifle Association from awarding him its 2002 “Defender of Freedom” Award. Wright’s opposed:

The Calguns Foundation, which has been challenging the state’s conceal carry laws, owes much of its legal standing to Wright. In 1998, then-Assemblyman Rod Wright, authored the state law that requires state agencies to universally apply its firearm permits and follow a written policy on the process.

Regardless of your stance on gun control, you’ve got to credit Wright with resisting the tendency to score political points.

Lone Defender of Enterprise Zones

Wright’s been recognized by the California Taxpayers Association for his work to defend enterprise zones. He was the only member of the legislature to oppose Senate Bill 90. As he saw it, enterprise zones hurt low-income communities at a time when the state had already hit those communities with budget cuts.

“So that we’re clear, we are eliminating the program that was called enterprise zones, and we are transforming into something else,” Wright said. “We’ll have a tax program, that’s a good thing … but the program that I helped write in 1984 was a program designed to help unskilled workers in low-income communities. … That program, the one that I wrote, is gone.”

Stopped Politicians from “Twisting the Facts” on Oil Tax

In an interview with UT San Diego columnist Steven Greenhut, formerly with the Orange County RegisterWright opposed an oil levy because of its economic impacts. Greenhut noted, “Wright is troubled by the twisting of the facts about the oil extraction tax, of the sort promoted in the Democratic resolution.”

“People never like to let the facts get in the way of a good political argument,” Wright said. “The problem is most people don’t understand oil markets in the world and in California.”

Policy Based on Reality, Not Platitudes

On the controversial subject of payday lending, Wright has based his arguments on reality – what life is really like and the options available to people experiencing financial hardships.

Where do people with credit issues get emergency cash? I have never seen any of those articles critical of payday loans offering real solutions.

What options would be available to this customer if the payday lender is driven out of business? They could sell or pawn their possessions for a fraction of their value. They could seek out a loan shark and assume the repayment risk that comes with that. If you think a payday loan is expensive try defaulting on a loan shark!

Traditional banks are allowed to hold government deposits where they pay minimal interest rates and make a sizeable profit. And as we have seen if the traditional bank makes a bad decision the government bails them out. So if those concerned offer no solutions, don’t close the door on the last hope for those locked out.

While the poor and credit-challenged appreciate your sympathy, if you can’t help, don’t hurt.

The Oracle of Energy

If Wright is forced to give up his seat in the State Senate, the most immediate impact will be felt in the state’s energy policy. In 2011, Wright first warned of the coming “Energy Crisis Part II,” a consequence of California’s renewable energy requirements, known as RPS or Renewable Portfolio Standard. With the passage of SBX1 2, the state approved “33% by 2020,” or  an epressed intent that a third of the state’s energy come from renewable energy sources by 2020.

The trouble with such legislating by slogan– it doesn’t explain how the state will achieve that goal. Instead, it kicks decision-making and authority to the state’s unelected Public Utilities Commission.

In his floor speech, “It Ain’t Necessarily So,”  which included footnotes, Wright spoke honestly about energy policy and the trouble with “33% by 2020.”

I have more issues with SB 2X than I have time to discuss today. However, I want my concerns on the record so that when this policy comes back in a few years as the “Energy Crisis Part II” it will be noted that someone raised the red flags before the train wreck.

One of my favorite movies as a child was “Porgy and Bess.” My favorite character in the cast was “Sportin Life” played by the late Sammy Davis, Jr. I am reminded of the song, “It ain’t necessarily so, I say it ain’t necessarily so, the things that you liable to read in “Joe’s” Bible, ain’t necessarily so.”

Members, last week in the budget committee we were making severe cuts to services. We reduced glasses, hearing aids, prescriptions and adult day health care. We even cut back on incontinence products for the elderly. Like you I have been inundated with calls from people concerned about the cuts. So today we are about to vote on a bill that could result in a 15% to 20% rate increase[1] to those same people. SB 2X could very well result in a $1.5 billion hit to the general fund without any demonstrable benefits.

The objective of SB 2X is unclear. 33% by 2020 is a great slogan, but what are we trying to achieve? In 2002 we were concerned about the price volatility of the natural gas market, so fuel diversity was the stated goal. But we have since learned that due in part to backup requirements and system demands, intermittent, non-dispatchable resources don’t reduce gas consumption. In fact some of the systems with the greatest use of the technologies specified SB 2X have seen actually their gas consumption increase. So if fuel diversity is the goal, the bill fails.

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About John Hrabe

John Hrabe spends his time traveling the world as a freelance journalist. When he isn’t on an international flight, John writes about state and national politics for CalWatchdog.com, FlashReport.org, Huffington Post and the editorial pages of the Orange County Register. John’s most recent high-profile investigation uncovered the questionable labor practices of Goodwill Industries, the nonprofit organization famous for its secondhand clothing stores.

10 Comments

  1. Glynda Perrotte

    January 29, 2014 at 5:43 am

    Really? You have got to be kidding me! Is there no one else who tells the truth in Sacramento? Come on.

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  5. JL. HAYNES

    January 29, 2014 at 8:11 pm

    Oh yea, and Jim Nielsen lives in a mobile home in Gerber. Wow, did you see that pig just fly by?

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