In recent weeks, two state assemblymen have resigned their seats amid sexual harassment accusations: Raul Bocangera (seven women accusers) and Matt Dababneh (two women accusers), both Democrats, from Pacoima and Encino, respectively.
Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, has taken a month-long paid leave of absence while he is being investigated over similar allegations from three women. Several female legislators have urged Mendoza to resign while our own Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, has drafted a resolution to expel Mendoza from the state senate. Mendoza has been stripped of his leadership posts including his chairmanship of the Senate Banking Committee.
Mendoza fired three aides after they reported alleged inappropriate behavior toward a young female colleague to the Senate Rules Committee. He denies any connection of his plight to these firings.
Then there is the curious case of Sen. Robert "Bob" Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, who has been accused by former Central Valley Assemblywoman Linda Halderman (she filed a complaint in 2011 or 2012) and two other unnamed women currently serving the California Legislature of inappropriate, prolonged hugging. Hertzberg's persistent hugging is so well known he has earned the nicknames "Hugsberg" and "Huggy Bear" in the State Capitol.
His spokeswoman, Katie Hanslik, said Hertzberg will now be more mindful of whether people are comfortable with his hugs in the future, according to the Associated Press. For his part, Hertzberg released a statement promising to tone down his hugging: "… I apologize to anyone who may have ever felt uncomfortable, and I will change how I greet people moving forward." It is unclear whether there is any senate investigation of Hertzberg's lingering embraces of women lawmakers.
Back to former Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra.
Bocanegra is no stranger to being accused of sexual harassment, as he apologized for sexually harassing a woman, Elise Flynn Gyore (a Senate staffer), in 2009 when he was chief of staff to then-Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes, D-Los Angeles. The complaint remained secret until last October when Gyore went public.
Bocanegra was the first of the accused lawmakers to be publicly identified for facing discipline after an open letter signed by nearly 150 female legislators, consultants lobbyists and others who work in state politics was circulated in October of last year saying there is a "pervasive" culture of sexual misconduct at the Capitol.
Bocanegra was quoted on October 27, 2017, in the Los Angeles Times, as saying he was "deeply regretful." He resigned on November 27, 2017, as a result of the sexual harassment allegations.
Despite the 2009 incident, Bocanegra went on to get elected to the Assembly in 2012 with vast support of the Democratic establishment, including those who knew of the attack on Gyore, such as former Sen. Ron Calderon, Gyore's boss at the time. Leading up to Bocanegra's election, 12 San Fernando women politic activists sent a letter to Assembly Rules Committee Chair Nancy Skinner requesting information related to the 2009 incident be made public. There request was denied. The voters were kept in the dark.
In 2014, Bocanegra lost his re-election to a political unknown, Patty Lopez. Lopez beat Bocanegra by just 464 votes out of just over 44,000 ballots cast in the general election after being swamped by Bocanegra in the primary. The cocky Bocanegra was caught off guard in the general election as he traveled around the state campaigning for other Democratic candidates instead of taking Lopez seriously.
Lopez was pretty much ignored during her term by Democratic leaders. Bocanegra would defeat Lopez the next time around in 2016, again with the broad support of the Democratic power brokers who knew about his groping yet helped him rise in his legislative career.
Six candidates have emerged to run for the seat opened up by Bocanegra's resignation. All but one of them are Democrats, including former one-term wonder Patty Lopez. The odds-on favorite to win this seat is Luz Rivas. Rivas founded a non-profit organization, DIY (Do It Yourself Girls) that helps prepare fourth-to 12th-grade girls for science and technology careers.
Rivas' campaign for the 39th Assembly District is off to a strong start with endorsements from a few prominent Democratic leaders in Congress and the Los Angeles City Council, along with California Secretary of State Alex Padilla.
It would be refreshing to see Patty Lopez make a comeback. She beat the "powers that be" once. It will be tough political sledding.
In light of all these sexual harassment accusations swirling around our Capitol, using H. L. Mencken's definition of democracy as "the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard," should be a wake-up call or warning to all of us. Public opinion polls reveal the majority of voters are ignorant in their knowledge and understanding our our government. Civic education is a must now more than ever. If not, we are destined to "get it good and hard."
Mark Salvaggio is a former Bakersfield city councilman and longtime local political observer. The opinions expressed are his own.