Is this really the way state Senate President Pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg wants to be remembered? As a Senate leader more concerned about shielding his colleagues from public scrutiny than serving all Californians?
If not, Steinberg, D-Sacramento, had better rethink the Senate's refusal to turn over portions of the appointment calendars of two indicted and suspended state senators to this news organization, which has had to file suit to obtain the information for the public.
Under Steinberg, the Senate has done precious little to boost the public's confidence in its integrity in the wake of federal corruption indictments of Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, and Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco. (A third member, Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, has been suspended from his seat upon his conviction for living outside the district he represents.)
Now, the Senate Rules Committee, under Steinberg's direction, has rejected a public records request from the Los Angeles News Group -- sister papers to the Bay Area News Group -- seeking calendar entries for Calderon that would show with whom he met on specific dates outlined in an FBI affidavit. Calderon has been indicted on 24 counts that include public corruption, mail and wire fraud, bribery and money laundering.
In addition, Secretary of the Senate Gregory Schmidt rejected four recent requests from the Bay Area News Group to obtain calendar entries for Yee, who faces federal charges of public corruption, weapons trafficking and racketeering.
The written refusals to produce calendar records in both cases cite "concerns regarding legislative privilege, security, and the integrity of an ongoing criminal investigation."
But that "legislative privilege" is bogus -- based on the theory that legislators can't perform their "deliberative process" without hiding the names of people with whom they hold meetings. That's a preposterous conceit, essentially asserting that legislators best serve their constituents by meeting in secret with special interests who have access to the legislators because of money, power or -- perhaps, in these cases -- mutual interest in criminal acts.
Unfortunately, legislators have cover in the form of a 1991 court ruling, Times Mirror Co. vs. Superior Court, in which the court blocked a request for five years' worth of the governor's calendars. But the ruling distinguishes between that sort of blanket request and the kind of focused requests in this case. Gov. Jerry Brown and many other politicians provide their calendars for public inspection, as any public servant should.
There are even larger arguments than the legal ones. The integrity and legitimacy of the state Legislature are at stake here.
Steinberg has a chance to salvage some of the Senate's reputation, if he decides to put the rights of the people above the desired secrecy of disgraced legislators.