The great sexual misconduct purge of 2017 claimed its first victim in the California Legislature on Monday when State Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra resigned. And although he didn’t call his accusers the C-word (unlike one film director), he did manage to write one of the most self-defeating resignation announcements in recent years.
Bocanegra had been disciplined in 2009 for groping a female staffer, according to the Los Angeles Times. Following the Harvey Weinstein scandal, accusations against Bocanegra and other figures in the state capitol multiplied. Earlier this month, the Times published a story in which six women accused Bocanegra of unwanted advances, including allegations that he forcibly kissed two of them and reached for one woman's crotch.
The 46-year-old Democrat initially announced that he would not seek re-election in 2018 but would serve out the rest of his term. For a number of female legislators, including the chair of the bipartisan women's caucus, Cristina Garcia, that wasn't good enough. She and others signed a letter demanding that he resign immediately, and on Monday Bocanegra relented.
But instead of bowing out graciously and humbly, Bocanegra vigorously denied the charges against him and suggested that his accusers fabricated their accounts. His announcement, posted on Facebook, began by explaining that he had initially wanted to resign immediately, but "community leaders" had convinced him to serve out the rest of his term so as not to cost taxpayers a special election or leave his district without representation. The announcement went on to say:
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. 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.
It went on to say:
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 don’t even know what to think about that statement," State Assembly member Laura Friedman says. "He seemed very angry. It’s disturbing." She added: "We absolutely can’t try people in the court of public opinion, but the accusations that were made were very credible. It was a surprising statement, given that he went from apologizing to flat-out denial of guilt."
"He decided to go down swinging," says political consultant Matt Rexroad. "Maybe he doesn’t care. Maybe he thinks his political career is over."
Bocanegra could not be reached for comment.
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Jessica Yas, president of the San Fernando Valley Young Democrats, called the statement "tactless, snarky and self-serving."
"It blamed his victims," Yas says. "It calls them liars, when they're clearly not, not in my book. It tried to absolve him of any guilt, which doesn’t make sense, because why would he be resigning if he didn’t do anything wrong?"
Shortly after Bocanegra resigned, a State Senate committee voted to strip Sen. Tony Mendoza of his leadership positions. He's been accused of sexually harassing a female "fellow" (a low-level temporary position for a recent graduate, slightly higher than an intern) and firing aides who knew about it. Mendoza has denied the accusations and is not stepping down.
"Personally, I think he should resign," says Assemblymember Garcia, whose district overlaps with Mendoza's. "I do know that other people are trying to pressure him to resign. He’s not returning their calls."