SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Democratic Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra, the focus of mounting sexual harassment allegations, said Monday he won't seek re-election next year but some party leaders are pressuring him to immediately step down.
The two-term lawmaker from Los Angeles is the first political casualty since sexual harassment allegations became a hot-button topic in the capital last month.
Bocanegra's announcement came after a weekend when members of the California Democratic Party's executive board called on him to resign and hours before the Los Angeles Times reported six more women have accused him of inappropriate behavior including groping and kissing.
Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, a Bell Gardens Democrat and co-chair of the Legislative Women's Caucus, said Bocanegra should step down immediately.
"Don't wait till 2018. Leave now," Garcia wrote on Twitter. It's troubling that Bocanegra is deciding his fate on his own terms, she said.
"He shouldn't be the one driving this discussion about what happens with him," she said.
Amar Shergill, a Democratic Party board member started a petition seeking his immediate resignation and that of Democratic Sen. Tony Mendoza, who faces an investigation into his behavior toward several young women who worked for him. Mendoza, of Artesia, has not commented on the call to step down and has denied any wrongdoing. The state party has taken no formal position.
Democrats would temporarily lose their legislative supermajorities if the two stepped down, but the party would almost certainly win both seats back in special elections because of strength in those districts.
Bocanegra issued a statement on Facebook announcing his intent to step down next year.
"As you may know, news stories were reported a few weeks ago about a regrettable encounter when I was a legislative staffer in 2009," he said. "It was a moment that I truly regret, that I am very sorry for, and for which I have accepted responsibility for my actions."
"These news reports have since fueled persistent rumors and speculation, and I do not believe that this is in the best interest of my constituents to continue to serve next term," he wrote.
Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon, who last year appointed Bocanegra majority whip where he's tasked with rounding up votes for the Democratic leadership, did not call on Bocanegra to resign. However, he said if the allegations are verified by investigators he will push to remove Bocanegra from office.
Rendon also announced Bocanegra would be out as majority whip, though hours earlier Bocanegra said he'd leave the job.
"The decision to deny constituents the representation of their elected official can be a difficult one, but make no mistake: If the investigation affirms the allegations, I will move to immediately expel Mr. Bocanegra from the Assembly," Rendon said.
Allegations against Bocanegra first came to light last month, when legislative staff member Elise Gyore said she had reported him to Assembly investigators in 2009, when both were staff members, after he stalked her around a nightclub and put his hands down her blouse at an after-work event. He was told to stay away from her but not otherwise disciplined by the Assembly Rules Committee.
The allegations described to the Times by six women span from 2009 to 2014, when Bocanegra was a staff member, candidate for office and elected lawmaker. They include instances of kissing and groping, as well as repeated solicitations for dates.
None of the women reported Bocanegra's behavior to the Assembly at the time, but Jennifer Borobia has since filed a complaint, the Times reported. The two both worked for former Assemblyman Felipe Fuentes.
Over a several year period starting in 2009, Bocanegra repeatedly asked her on dates through text messages and emails, even after she rejected him, she told the Times.
"These allegations are extremely disturbing, especially since they come after Mr. Bocanegra had previously been investigated and disciplined as a staff member and agreed to stop any harassing or abusive behavior," Rendon said of the Times' story.