Saturday, June 21, 2008

The Shady Calderon Family In The Legislature

David Lazarus, the consumer columnist in the L.A. Times, had a fairly good column in Wednesday's Business section about how state Sen. Ron Calderon had taken $80,000 in drug industry contributions and then introduced sleazy legislation that would allow the drug companies to share private individuals' prescription records with mass mailers.

The bill is thankfully dead for now, failing to get support in the pertinent legislative committee. But hold your breath -- such bills have a bad habit of being resurrected in the waning hours of a legislative session when so much is going on in the rush to get out of Sacramento that no one is paying attention.

The Calderon bill would have given individuals a right to opt out of such disclosures of private information about their personal habits. But since most people don't follow what is going on very closely and won't take the time to opt out if they know what is happening, an "opt out" provision provides scant protection to the public. Lazarus does a good job of showing this.

But I nonetheless found the Lazarus column lacking in one important particular. It did not mention that Ron Calderon is the younger sibling of Charles M. Calderon and Thomas Calderon, who served in the Legislature earlier. In fact, there has been a Calderon in the Legislature from essentially the same East Side area around Montebello since 1982.

Name identification, and heavy lobbyist contributions, have been responsible for putting one Calderon after another into the Legislature, where each have served special interests, not the public interest.

To put a rude word on the record of all three brothers, they are dishonest. They are in politics for one reason, and that is to feather their own pockets with cash from the insurance and other industries. It is a sordid story that now goes back more than a quarter century. But the weak Sacramento press corps has scarcely ever examined the depredations of this lowlife family.

I once had a clash as a reporter with Steve Peace, a San Diego state senator at the time, over some lobbyist-serving legislation he was introducing. On a back stair of the capitol, I told Peace I thought he was a crook. "How can you say that?" he demanded. "I know one when I see one," I responded.

This did not quite match the time I suggested to then-State Sen. Alan Robbins that (this was before term limits) he could "afford to go straight," because he had made a lot of money in private real estate and, in any case, he would be in the Legislature for life.

"I'm considering it," Robbins replied. But he wasn't considering it enough, or soon enough, because a few months later Robbins was indicted and later convicted of taking bribes. He served a term in the federal prison in Lompoc.

I well remember the time Robbins told me with tears in his eyes that he faced a prison term. He could easily have implicated manyh others, but he did not.

The Calderons, so far, have been luckier. Federal prosecutors have not been so diligent with them. Yet one Calderon after another has been a tool in the hands of unsavory interests, and Charles Calderon, if memory serves me, walked out of Sacramento with thousands of dollars in campaign contributions in his pocket. He wisely would not meet with me for an interview about it.

I once drove the late Ernest Debs, a Los Angeles County supervisor, out of public office after a long career by showing the special interest money he was getting persistently, and by quoting the then-mayor of Beverly Hills, the late Jake Stuchen, as saying Debs solicited a bribe to keep a high rise building from being built in West Hollywood that would have cast a shadow on certain private homes in Beverly Hills.

The reports induced then-Los Angeles City Councilman Ed Edelman to jump into a contest against Debs, and when Debs saw Edelman coming, and my heavy coverage of the race, he decided to retire, citing his health. "I want to live," Debs declared, and then he did go on living, until he finally died at age 98. He too took a large amount of campaign contributions into private life.

It was possible to get rid of Debs, because county supervisor is a more visible position than state legislator, and once he had well known opposition, Debs was a sitting duck, (although, I might add, it is rare that any serious opponent arises to a sitting supervisor either).

But with the Calderons, they seem to go on and on, and nobody, certainly not in the press corps, pays sufficient attention.

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