Column: Constituent non-service
SAN DIEGO — Many Latino lawmakers have nicknames. In California, we continue the tradition. Often times, we call them “defendant.”
In a state where Latinos make up more than 38 percent of the population, it’s shameful to see Latino legislators act as if the rules don’t apply to them. With reckless ways and questionable behavior, it’s no surprise that some wind up booked and fingerprinted.
The newest member of that club is state Sen. Ben Hueso, who was arrested for drunk driving last week near the state Capitol in Sacramento. California Highway Patrol officers said they saw the Democrat from San Diego driving a state vehicle the wrong way down a one-way street. The legislator showed “objective signs and symptoms” of being under the influence of alcohol, was given a field sobriety test, and got booked into the county jail at about 3:30 a.m.
You would think that those called to lead would have the common sense to call a taxi.
Hueso doesn’t drink alone. A few hours earlier, he was photographed, shirt untucked, on a balcony in the Capitol reveling with four other Democratic members of the Latino Caucus. All the merry men appear to be singing and have drinks in hand. One of them — Assemblyman V. Manuel Perez — told a newspaper they were drinking tequila.
Naturally. If you’re going to make a fool of yourself, and embarrass your community, you should stay true to your culture.
Mind you, this was only the after-party. Earlier, the Latino legislators and another two dozen of their colleagues from the Latino Caucus had feasted on what Perez called a “nice dinner” at an Italian restaurant, where — according to another photo — wine was served with the meal.
What’s with all the pictures? Are these lawmakers proud of behaving like college kids?
And why were the legislators celebrating to begin with? Did they just write and pass some important piece of legislation to serve Latino constituents by improving education, expanding health care, preserving the environment or creating jobs?
No, that would be too much work — and bear too much of a resemblance to leadership. The caucus was celebrating because it was time to say goodbye to departing members, including Perez.
At least one caucus member might be saying goodbye for a long time. In February, state Sen. Ron Calderon was handed a 24-count federal indictment. Calderon allegedly accepted $100,000 worth of bribes, trips and cushy jobs for his children in exchange for pushing legislation that benefited a hospital engaged in billing fraud and participated in a film industry tax scheme that was really an FBI sting. Calderon, who has denied wrongdoing and refused to resign, was suspended in March.
I’ve written about Latino lawmakers for a quarter-century, not only in California but also in Texas and Arizona. And stories like these still disappoint me.
The legislators usually wind up far removed from the constituency they’re supposed to represent. The chasm is made wider by their arrogance, the feeling that they’re something special. Many seem astonished that they’ve gotten this far in life. So, as with many other elected officials, the goal becomes simply to get re-elected. This means steering away from controversial subjects and not challenging the powerful, and so they rarely get anything done. One day, they’ll retire, and no one will remember them.
Here’s what people shouldn’t forget. Latinos no longer have the luxury of putting up with misbehavior and mediocrity from those they elect to represent them. Under siege over immigration, underserved by both parties, and underwater when it comes to educational attainment, economic prosperity and political power, America’s largest minority needs serious leadership provided by serious people. Those who aren’t serious ought to be bounced from office.
When he was released from jail, Hueso initially told reporters that he planned to “pursue [his] innocence.” Less than an hour later, he issued a statement apologizing for “unacceptably poor personal judgment” and taking “complete personal responsibility for my actions.”
Speaking of poor judgment, there is one more actor in this telenovela. It was Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who took the photo of the five amigos — including Hueso — drinking and singing on the Capitol balcony. She then proudly posted the photo on Twitter at 11:19 p.m., with the caption: “Loving my Latino Caucus boys.” The next morning, after word got out that Hueso had been arrested, the love was gone — and the photo deleted from the legislator’s Twitter account. Gonzalez spent the rest of the day ducking reporters.
#Oops. #Embarrassing. #Latinoleadersmakingusproud.
Ruben Navarrette’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.