Contra Costa Times (California)
SACRAMENTO — Sen. Don Perata‘s bid for leader of the state Legislature’s upper house took an ugly and potentially fatal turn Friday when he blamed fellow Democrats for precipitating news stories questioning his fund-raising practices.
Perata, D-Oakland, said he expects to be exonerated by a Senate ethics investigator looking into his dealings. “I think it will be seen for what it is, simply political leverage by somebody who would rather have the job that I want,” he said.
The two other leading candidates to succeed Senate President Pro Tem John Burton, D-San Francisco, whose final term ends this year, said they were “shocked” and “dismayed” by the accusation.
Senators Sheila Kuehl, D-Los Angeles, and Martha Escutia, D-Norwalk, said they had nothing to do with the Legislature’s inquiry or the news stories.
“I guess if I were being charitable I would say that is a statement made while he was in a fit of temporary insanity,” Escutia said. “I am just absolutely stunned and very disappointed. I don’t know what else to say.”
The East Bay politician’s latest tack could hurt his credibility among the Senate’s 24 other Democrats. Ultimately, the misstep could undermine his campaign to take over a celebrated post considered to be the Capitol’s second most powerful behind the governor.
“There is enough time it could go either way,” said Sen. Dede Alpert, D-San Diego. “There is time to make Don a candidate that doesn’t exist anymore or time to clear things up and make the case to the Democratic caucus that he is the best choice.”
Perata made his comments at a noon press conference before his luncheon speech to the Silicon Valley Manufacturing Group. He was asked about recent newspaper articles probing his financial dealings with friend and business partner Tim Staples.
“First of all, I believe the attacks are directly related to an internal leadership fight that is going on to succeed the current pro tem, who is termed out,” Perata said. “This looks like a political campaign that is being conducted on the front page of the newspaper.”
Later Friday afternoon, spokesman Jason Kinney said Perata was not referring to Escutia, Kuehl or other legislators but rather “people who would benefit” from their success. Kinney declined to specify.
“The truth is, the higher you stand on the political pedestal the more people want to knock you down,” Kinney said.
Senate leaders last week asked the Committee on Legislative Ethics to examine allegations that Perata may have improperly funneled contributions through a committee run by Staples.
The inquiry was spurred by a letter from the Santa Monica-based Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights. The consumer advocacy group said it was concerned Perata may have used the affiliation to launder money and enrich himself. Perata defended his conduct as “ethically and legally correct.”
His remarks troubled Alpert. “I am a little surprised at this,” she said. “Usually we keep family squabbles within the family. If people felt it was true, it would be something we would talk about in a caucus.”
Until Friday, the quiet, behind-closed-doors jockeying for leader of the Democratic-controlled Senate had stuck to the institution’s mold. Unlike the often raucous Assembly, the Senate has long prided itself on a collegial, cool-tempered atmosphere befitting a country club or college faculty association.
Kuehl predicted Perata’s comments would catch the attention of many senators. “I’m disappointed at his paranoia, and I think he ought to pay more attention to clearing his name than to making accusations against other members.”
Contact Andrew LaMar at [email protected]