The big news from late last week, and last weekend, was State Senator Tony Mendoza’s (D- Artesia) resignation from the California Legislature moments before the State Senate was going to vote on whether or not to expel him. His fiery resignation letter hinted that he was not ruling out running for re-election to the position he was resigning from. Over the weekend at the California Democratic Party’s convention, Mendoza made it clear that he is running for re-election.
There is nothing in the Joint Rules of the Senate and the Assembly, Senate Rules, or the California Constitution that prevents Mendoza from doing so after resigning. Actually, had Senator Mendoza been expelled, there is still nothing that prevents him from running for re-election. And should he win re-election, there is nothing in the California Constitution, Senate Rules, or Joint Rules that allows the California Senate to not seat him. Considering Mendoza’s current lawsuit against the Senate, it would not be surprising if he were to sue again should the Senate take actions to remove him from that body.
Something clearly needs to be done. As part of the California Legislature’s overall effort to clean house and make the building a safer work environment for staffers there should be something in place – rule, law, or otherwise – that prevents those who resign, or at the very least are expelled, due to sexual harassment from returning to the Legislature. This current gap in rules and law that allows lawmakers who have resigned or been expelled over sexual harassment to return to office is a glaring hole in the protections for staffers.
The bill introduction deadline for 2018 was 1½ weeks ago, but there are a few options legislative options the Legislature could pursue – gutting and amending a bill, or introducing a committee bill among – for there to be a legislative fix this year. Even then, the new legislation would need to have an urgency clause added to it – making the bill effective immediately upon the Governor’s signature, but requiring a 2/3 vote in each house to pass – for it to prevent Mendoza from taking a seat in the State Senate. Without the urgency clause, the new law would go into effect in January of 2019; after Mendoza would have taken his seat in the Senate should he win re-election. But in the likely case that the sexual harassment allegations against Mendoza become a campaign issue, and he still gets re-elected, the law could be challenged in court on the basis that voters knew about the allegations and his resignation, and elected him anyways.
If the California Legislature truly wants to address this issue, it could put a constitutional amendment on the ballot and have the voters decide on whether or not a member of the Legislature who resigned or was expelled from their position can be allowed to be re-elected to a position in the Legislature. Constitutional amendments, unlike bills, are not beholden to legislative deadlines and can be introduced in the Legislature at any time. That constitutional amendment could be on the ballot come November. And a statewide vote on the amendment, were it to pass, would counter the voter argument Mendoza could use against a change in statute that I mentioned earlier.
However, as was shown recently with Prop 8, even constitutional amendments that are passed by California’s voters can be challenged and taken to the California Supreme Court. But for this to go that far, it will come down to appetite of Mendoza, and/or some other Senators to be named, to continue the fight to that point.