California Democratic politician Jesse Unruh’s famous description of Sacramento lobbyists rings true even today: “If you can’t eat their food, drink their booze, screw their women and then vote against them, you have no business being up here.” Unruh also said, “Money is the mother’s milk of politics.”
Remembering these cynical thoughts, California voters have a few people to thank for maintaining the Unruh status quo – and former Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg is one of the many.
The California Globe reported Tuesday that Sacramento Mayor Darrell Steinberg announced he is currently being vetted by longtime political ally California Governor Gavin Newsom for a judicial seat on the Third District Court of Appeals, despite not having practiced law for nearly three decades.
Some presume that Steinberg is really feeling the heat as Sacramento Mayor, and looking for a soft landing instead of running for another political office. Steinberg’s record as Mayor has been wrought with failed policies, including his disastrous homeless policies which have only grown the Capitol city’s homeless population to the larger than San Francisco’s, now spilling over into residential neighborhoods, parks and along rivers.
Steinberg’s real record should be considered before he lands a prestigious judgeship – he’s a politician, and not a jurist.
Looking back a few years, the California Senate scandals while Steinberg was Senate President in 2013 and 2014 were legendary, as was the gross mishandling of the aftermath.
Here is a primer on the hair-raising scandals while Steinberg was Senate President:
- Sen. Leland Yee: In 2014 State Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco was brought up on federal corruption charges, racketeering, and arms dealing. Known as “California Senate’s Top Gun Control Advocate,” Yee was indicted by a federal Grand Jury on seven federal felonies including bribery, and arms trafficking in illegal firearms and weapons. Yee wasn’t just trafficking in tiny pearl handle pea shooters – he was indicted for being involved in trafficking shoulder-mounted rocket launchers. In addition to being known as one of California’s leading proponents of gun control, Yee was accused of working with Chinatown gangsters and brokering arms deals with a Muslim rebel group based in the Philippines. Yea served only five years in prison and was released in 2020.
- Sen. Ron Calderon, D-Montebello, was indicted on federal corruption charges. According to the FBI indictment, Calderon allegedly solicited and accepted approximately $100,000 in cash bribes, plane trips, gourmet dinners, and trips to golf resorts, in exchange supporting legislation favorable to those who paid the bribes, and opposing legislation that would be harmful to them. The indictment further alleged that Calderon attempted to convince other public officials to support and oppose legislation. Calderon was sentenced to 3½ years in federal prison after pleading guilty to a federal corruption charge and admitting that he accepted tens of thousands of dollars in bribes in exchange for performing official acts as a legislator.
- Sen. Rod Wright, D-Inglewood, was convicted of perjury and voter fraud for lying about his legal residence in Los Angeles County. Wright was convicted of eight counts of perjury and voter fraud for lying about living in his district and was sentenced to 90 days in jail. Wright only served an hour in jail and two-an-a-half years of probation.
- Ironically, just hours after State Senator Ben Hueso, D-San Diego, voted to kill California’s burgeoning ride-share industry, he was arrested for driving under the influence. Hueso was sentenced to three years of “informal probation,” ordered to participate in a six-week alcohol education program, and fined $240 plus penalties – not exactly a fine for drunk driving the average voter would get.
Immediately following Steinberg, Senate President pro tem Kevin De Leon performed a mass firing of Senate staffers as Steinberg left him with massive debt. According to many Capitol insiders, Steinberg didn’t want to be the bad guy executing necessary layoffs.
That’s the opposite of leadership. Being in charge isn’t easy. But along with the title, Steinberg should have had the backbone to make the decisions needed to keep the Senate in budget and on solid human resource footing.
It appears Steinberg didn’t manage money or staff well.
But there is more.
The Senate’s Internal HR Scandal
In Spring 2014, an anonymous letter was sent to several California state senators with concerns about personnel practices and allegations of nepotism. The State Senate exploded in scandal. The Senate Human Resources department was accused of gross nepotism with claims that friends and family of key administrators got special access to taxpayer-funded jobs.
“Court records showed one of the Senate’s in-house law-enforcement officers had cocaine and marijuana in his system the night he was involved in a fatal off-duty shooting outside his Greenhaven-area home,” the Sacramento Bee reported. “The officer is the son of the Senate’s longtime head of human resources. Gerardo Lopez worked for the Senate for 15 years despite brushes with the law that include a citation for petty theft and charges of drunken driving.”
“Lopez was fired over the drug-use revelations, but he was not the only one with family ties to key Senate administrators.”
Dina Hidalgo, as head of human resources for the Senate played a major role in hiring friends and relatives – upwards of more than 40. Her immediate supervisor, Greg Schmidt, the Senate’s top administrator, had his own nepotism issues:
• Schmidt’s son Jeffrey worked for the Senate since February 2010, during which time his salary increased nearly 63 percent as he changed jobs.
• Schmidt’s daughter-in-law Beth Schmidt worked part time for the Assembly for nine years until 2016. During most of her employment in the California Capitol, Beth Schmidt was allowed to work remotely from her home near Salem, Ore.
• Schmidt’s nephew Kevin worked for the Senate for three years and then worked for Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the Bee reported.
The Senate spent $98,000 of taxpayer money to pay a private law firm to investigate this nepotism scandal. And under Steinberg’s direction, the Senate refused to release the final report of how Hildalgo and other Senate employees abused their positions of authority “to hire, protect and coddle friends and family,” the Bee said.
While Senate President, it was well known that Steinberg was shopping for another elected office. He opened a committee for Lt. Governor, and expressed interest in being Sacramento’s District Attorney as well as Mayor.
Capitol insiders were stunned at his bravado as it was painfully obvious that Steinberg mismanaged the State Senate budget and personnel. Imagining the disaster Steinberg would create as Sacramento Mayor or as Sacramento County’s District Attorney was unthinkable.
Steinberg’s real record is one of leaving calamity behind him for others to clean up. Does Darrell Steinberg sound like a judge who arbitrates the law, or a politician who should be judged?
For more on Steinberg’s record, read:
- Media Blasé when 368 Arrested, 131 Rescued in California Sex Trafficking Operation - February 6, 2023
- Senators Cruz, Manchin Propose ‘The Gas Stove Protection and Freedom Act’ - February 5, 2023
- Oakland Election Officials Defy Judge’s Order in Manual Recount in Mayor’s Race - February 3, 2023