In the Assembly, Democrats are employing tactics that seem designed to pressure the governor into signing bills. Assembly Majority Leader Alberto Torrico, D-Newark, sent a letter to Attorney General Jerry Brown asking him to investigate whether the governor’s strategy is illegal. He cited a part of the state constitution that says it is a felony to seek to influence a legislative vote by means of “bribery, promise of reward, intimidation or other dishonest means.”
“While politicians are certainly allowed to express their disagreements in any way they find productive, they are not allowed to refuse to perform their sworn duties in order to force the legislature to accept policy positions,” Torrico wrote. “And public officials are specifically prohibited from the kind of direct ‘horse trading’ in which a government official agrees to take, or not take, a certain action in exchange for a specific vote.”
Assembly sources said some Assembly Democrats even suggested on a conference call last week that the lower house should impeach the governor if he imposes a mass veto. The constitution says the Assembly has the “sole power of impeachment” and that it can pursue it on a majority vote for unspecified “misconduct in office.” The Senate would then conduct a trial.
The idea seems to crop up every time lawmakers are frustrated with the governor, said Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco. It appears to be mostly talk for now.
“I know some members have mentioned the possibility of impeaching the governor,” Torrico said, adding, “There’s certainly a growing number of members who consider the governor’s extortion tactics to be illegal and a dereliction of duty. But (impeachment) has not been discussed formally in the caucus as an option.”
This sounds like a bluff on all counts, although the Governor’s actions certainly violate the spirit and (depending on your reading) the letter of the law about using “bribery, promise of reward, intimidation or other dishonest means” to influence a legislative vote. I don’t expect Jerry Brown to act on it, however, because he’d probably welcome the ability to threaten the legislature in this manner were he the Governor.
And yet, if the Governor were to veto the entire legislative session because he couldn’t get his way on water (and doesn’t that represent a failure of HIS leadership, not the legislature’s?), I would say a case could be made that using extortion and running the state like a Hollywood negotiation is grounds for removal. What’s more, while a two-thirds vote for removal in the Senate would be unlikely (though, given Schwarzenegger’s standing in the Republican Party, not completely out of the question), just saddling him with the legacy of impeachment would be a crushing blow to his ego, not to mention his efforts at putting a happy face on his astonishingly awful leadership.
I don’t think this is much more than a parlor game. But just so we know the rules, a Governor can be impeached for “misconduct in office” by a simple majority in the Assembly. According to Article 5 of the Constitution, it seems that during impeachment – not removal but impeachment – the Lieutenant Governor becomes Governor. (“The Lieutenant Governor shall act as Governor during the impeachment, absence from the State, or other temporary disability of the Governor or of a Governor-elect who fails to take office.”) Given that John Garamendi could be elected to Congress in four weeks, the line of succession appears to show that the President Pro Tem of the Senate would be next in line. So if the unthinkable happens, by November 3 we could be looking at Governor Darrell Steinberg.