State Sen. Rod Wright, who began his state political career nearly two decades ago and rose to chair the powerful Senate committee that targets alcohol and gambling, resigned from the Senate Monday effective Sept. 22, just days after he was sentenced for voter fraud and perjury.
Wright, 62, who was at the center of multibillion-dollar negotiations during the past three years to establish online gaming in California, acknowledged that he was done politically.
“My Senate career is over. My legislative career is over,” Wright told the Sacramento Bee in a telephone interview. “I don’t believe now that I did anything wrong. Certainly nothing criminal. But a jury saw differently… So I have to live with that.”
Wright, who has denied any wrongdoing, said he did not want to talk about his guilt or innocence. “It doesn’t matter what I think at this point. You have to move on with your life,” he told the L.A. Times.
He resigned his position in a brief note to Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento. The investigation, the legal battles, the trial and the sentencing procedures consumed almost seven years.
Wright faced expulsion from the Senate if he didn’t step down voluntarily.
Gov. Brown is expected to set the date for a special election to fill Wright’s vacant seat.
Wright, an Inglewood Democrat, was indicted in 2010 on eight felony counts of lying to the public and to elections officials about the location of his residence.
He was convicted earlier this year, but his sentencing was delayed several times since March 8 in Los Angeles County Superior Court. Last week, he was sentenced by Judge Kathleen Kennedy to three months in jail, ordered to perform 1,500 hours of community service and fined $2,000. He was barred from ever holding public office again. His jail time is scheduled to begin Oct. 31.
Under California law, state legislators – unlike members of Congress — are required to live in the districts they represent.
Wright, who was indicted by the L.A. County grand jury in 2010, was accused of falsifying his home address as an apartment in Inglewood, which then was within the boundaries of the 25th Senate District, where Wright ran for office in 2008.
Actually, Wright was living in Baldwin Hills, according to prosecutors. Wright improperly voted in five elections, and misrepresented himself in official documents when he registered to vote and filed his candidacy. Wright successfully ran for reelection in 2012. When he submitted his resignation, he was mid-way through his second, four-year Senate term.
Wright said during the trial that he believed he was following the law regarding his Inglewood residence and did not intend to claim the Baldwin Hills home as his primary residence. State legislators – unlike members of Congress – are required to live in the district they represent.
The Inglewood home was within the district; the Baldwin Hills home wasn’t. He was convicted of lying about his true address and lying on registration and candidacy documents.
During the past year, Wright is one of three senators – all Democrats – who faced felony charges. The others, Sens. Leland Yee of San Francisco and Ronald Calderon of Montebello, have been indicted on multiple federal corruption charges stemming FBI undercover operations. In the case of Yee, who at one time was a leading contender for the secretary of state’s office, the allegations include conspiring to smuggle guns and wire fraud.
As chair of the Senate Government Organization Committee, Wright wielded unusual authority on gambling issues and was viewed as the Legislature’s expert on internet poker, a policy issue that repeatedly has emerged in recent years.
The committee targets legislation dealing alcohol, gambling and horse racing.
Wright served as an aide to Rep. Maxine Waters, R-Los Angeles, before running for the Assembly in 1996. He was termed out from the Assembly in 2002.