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  • Mario A. Guerra

The case to clean house and reframe leadership in Sacramento

June 29, 2018


By Mario A. Guerra

California is facing a major crisis with its political leadership. The epidemic of elected officials alleged to have subjected staff and others to inappropriate acts including sexual harassment and assault by abusing their position of power is inexcusable and must be dealt with immediately.

Two members of the state legislature, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens) 58th and State Senator Tony Mendoza (D-Artesia) 32nd, whose districts overlap, are amongst the latest elected leaders to have allegations against them brought to light.

As the former mayor of Downey, I understand representation. And we are literally left without a representative in Sacramento right now. Both are on leave as investigations against them proceed (Ms. Garcia is on unpaid leave while Mr. Mendoza has been on fully paid suspension ). Our communities deserve better.

If true, their actions are reprehensible, immoral and are cause for their immediate removal from office. Only due process will determine the outcome from their accusers’ reports of inappropriate behavior. In the meantime, we should remain cautious of those seeking to make false claims for political or personal motives. All sides should be heard. The fact that the allegations against them come from multiple people is of concern as a pattern of terrible behavior.

At the same, staffers and those who are powerless – without any benefit in making public statements or claims – should be taken seriously. And for elected officials like Mr. Mendoza, who has a history of being reprimanded for misconduct with staff and political activities (he received one of the largest fines ever handed out by the FPPC — over $50,000 for money laundering in 2016), public scrutiny already is heavy as he has diminished the public trust with his prior actions and violations.

Newly-released records show his pattern of inappropriate behavior and reprimands goes back to his days in the Assembly in 2010. So where were the leaders who knew this back then but still thought to endorse him for his Senate seat? Why would elected community representatives endorse him now knowing these things?

In our democracy, the government is the public trust and elected officials are by de facto its trustees. The office held by individuals has greater cause and purpose than any one individual.

In other words, when you fail as a representative in your actions and activities, you discredit those around you working hard on behalf of the greater public good and tarnish the office for the next person to step into the role.

State leaders must create an environment and culture wherein ethics and good behavior are the driving force behind the work done on behalf of the public. Transparency and accountability should be the norm rather than just bullet points thrown out in press releases and conferences.

For those who have made truthful claims and found the strength to speak up in the face of retribution or personal attacks, an apology is needed from the legislature that has seemingly allowed such bad behavior to persist.

And to those who have had allegations made against them by multiple individuals – it seems that the “out of character” defense becomes meaningless when you’ve either been told to change your behavior towards and around female staffers and interns, as is the case with Mr. Mendoza, or you take part in activities that can compromise your character. In either case, a private investigation is warranted and if you have nothing to hide or you didn’t commit any lude acts or crimes you should be vindicated.

But as a father with two daughters, your actions are reprehensible. Your defense that there was “no touching” is as embarrassing as your continued invitations to your interns to your hotel rooms.

The realization, however, is the scrutiny of the public’s watchful eye is ever present and the ultimate checks and balance needed to keep policy-makers from misusing their authority. Elected officials are, after all, temporary employees sent to represent the interests of communities of hard-working Californians – not sent to Sacramento for self-indulgence.

We need representation. We want ethical leaders that put the public trust before their own. We deserve better.

Mario A. Guerra is the former mayor of Downey and past president of Independent Cities Association. He can be reached at www.marioaguerra.com.