Women who have experienced or seen sexual harassment in the Capitol are speaking out, but many fear the consequences of telling their stories. Emily Zentner The Sacramento Bee
Women who have experienced or seen sexual harassment in the Capitol are speaking out, but many fear the consequences of telling their stories. Emily Zentner The Sacramento Bee

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Capitol Alert

Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra resigns amid sexual misconduct allegations

By Alexei Koseff

akoseff@sacbee.com

November 27, 2017 09:38 AM

UPDATED November 28, 2017 09:22 AM

Facing mounting allegations of sexual misconduct, Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra on Monday announced that he would resign immediately rather than serve out the remaining nine months of his term.

In a statement posted to his Facebook page, the Los Angeles Democrat said he would not wait for the outcome of a legislative investigation into the allegations to resign.

“I did not want to undermine the credibility of any accusers so that each of us would have access to a fair due process. I believed in our system of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ and that the truth would come out clearing my name and reputation,” he wrote. “But clearly, the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ has been temporarily lost in a hurricane of political opportunism among the self-righteous in my case – to the detriment of both the accuser and the accused.”

The Senate, meanwhile, stripped Sen. Tony Mendoza, D-Artesia, of his committee chairmanship and two commission appointments as it investigates complaints of sexual harassment.

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In an emergency session, the Senate Rules Committee voted unanimously to remove Mendoza as chair of the Senate Insurance, Banking and Financial Institutions Committee and from appointments to the California Commission for Economic Development and the California Workforce Development Board. The vote took place without discussion.

“Today, the Senate Rules Committee showed that no lawmaker is immune from our zero-tolerance harassment policies,” Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León said in a statement. “This is only one important step – the next is a full, independent investigation led by outside experts, with publicly reported findings.”

The Bee reported last month that Mendoza fired three Capitol staff members after they complained to the rules committee about his behavior toward a fellow who worked in the office, including that he invited her to his home to review her résumé. Mendoza has called the allegations “unsubstantiated” and Senate officials have denied any connection.

The Senate said it has been reviewing the alleged misconduct since September and an investigation is ongoing. De León, who at the time lived with Mendoza, said he was unaware of the allegations, and he moved out of the home they shared after The Bee published its story. The rules committee also announced that it would move all future sexual harassment investigations to an outside legal firm.

Since then, two more women have come forward alleging that Mendoza behaved inappropriately toward them when they worked for him. One said he took her to a hotel suite at a state party convention and gave her alcohol, even though she was underage. The other said he sent her flirtatious text messages and repeatedly invited her to after-hours events, often alone, even though she was married.

Following the committee vote, Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Hanford, called on Mendoza to resign. In a statement, he also urged de León to support the passage of a bill extending whistleblower protections to Capitol staff members that has repeatedly passed the Assembly and then been blocked in the Senate.

Bocanegra originally declared last week that he would not run for re-election next year, shortly before the Los Angeles Times published a story where six women accused Bocanegra of sexually harassing or assaulting them during his time as a Capitol staffer and lawmaker.

But his legislative colleagues have placed increasing public pressure on Bocsanegra to step aside sooner than the Sept. 1, 2018, resignation date he set for himself.

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon announced an independent investigation of the allegations, and said he would move to expel Bocanegra if they were substantiated. Several Democratic Assembly members, including Cristina Garcia of Bell Gardens and Todd Gloria and Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher of San Diego, called on him to resign immediately.

“Raul Bocanegra’s resignation underscores the seriousness of the allegations against him,” Rendon said in a statement Monday. “One resignation, however, does not solve the problem. With the hearings beginning tomorrow under the leadership of Assemblymember Laura Friedman, and with the ongoing guidance of the Legislative Women’s Caucus, the Assembly will keep working to change the climate in the Capitol to stop sexual harassment and abuse.”

In his Facebook post, Bocanegra said his “original intention” was to resign immediately, but he did not want his district to be without representation in the upcoming legislative session. He said he changed his mind upon “further reflection during the recent holiday weekend.”

“By doing so I hope the community will have a new representative sooner rather than later,” he wrote. “Furthermore, it is my hope that in taking this action we can help clear the path so that women and men who have been truly victims of sexual assault and workplace harassment can step forward and get justice for any crimes committed against them. While I am not guilty of any such crimes, I am admittedly not perfect.

“I sincerely hope that my decision to resign immediately does not embolden those who are using this serious problem in our society to advance their own personal political gain, rather it is my hope that this action can instead help to widen the doors for victims of sexual assault and workplace harassment to find justice and solace,” he added.

Seven women have now come forward with experiences of sexual misconduct by Bocanegra. Last month, longtime Capitol staff member Elise Flynn Gyore shared publicly, including with The Bee, that she was groped by Bocanegra at a public event in 2009. The Assembly investigated the incident and ordered Bocanegra, then a chief of staff, to stay away from Gyore.

The group “We Said Enough,” which circulated a letter signed by more than 300 asking for an examination of the culture of sexual harassment at the Capitol, said Bocanegra’s resignation and sanctions against Mendoza prove that the system needs to be overhauled. The group has called for whistleblower protection and independent investigations of harassment claims, among other things.

“Unfortunately, eliminating one or two bad actors does not change the environment: We need systemic change,” the group said in a statement.

Alexei Koseff: 916-321-5236, @akoseff