SACRAMENTO . (AP) — The first Latino to head the California Senate in more than 130 years will celebrate his new post with far more pomp and expense than a typical affair marking a change of leadership at the Capitol.
Sen. Kevin de Leon, a Democrat from Los Angeles, has invited 2,000 guests, including about 200 officeholders, to witness his swearing-in as Senate president pro tempore during a Wednesday ceremony at Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown Los Angeles.
The California Latino Legislative Caucus Foundation, which receives donations from special interests seeking influence in the Legislature, is picking up the estimated $50,000 tab.
The invitation lists the event as the “Inauguration of Kevin de Leon,” using language usually reserved for presidents and governors. The soiree will feature a 15-member, all-female mariachi band called Mariachi Divas.
The party comes during a year when two Democratic state senators were suspended after being charged in separate federal corruption cases, a third resigned after being sentenced to jail for perjury, and a fourth is facing DUI charges after a night of drinking that included late-night revelry with Latino caucus members inside the Capitol.
“I would think in light of the last couple of years, the leadership of the Senate would be extra careful not to be engaging in excess of any kind,” said Jon Coupal, president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association. “This is not a coronation. I think what people want today is serious, workmanlike approaches to government.”
Latino caucus spokesman Roger Salazar disputed the perception that the event is too elaborate.
“This being the first Latino pro tem in 130 years, this was worthy of being underwritten by the caucus and also worthy of celebration,” he said. “This is an historic event.”
De Leon spokesman Anthony Reyes later said the senator is participating in other community events as well.
“This is a big event for the (Latino) community,” Reyes said. “It’s a really happy event down here. I know Sacramento doesn’t see it that way.”
De Leon’s counterpart in the 80-member state Assembly, Democrat Toni Atkins of San Diego, was sworn-in inside the Assembly chamber earlier this year. The first lesbian to hold the post celebrated with a gospel choir, a gay and lesbian color guard, and her family.
Outgoing President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, held a low-key swearing-in ceremony inside the Capitol when he assumed leadership of the 40-member Senate six years ago.
The celebration for de Leon was set to kick off Tuesday night with a fundraiser for the California Democratic Party with a top ticket going for $50,000. The Wednesday swearing-in at the Frank Gehry-designed concert hall also includes a reception for previous donors to the Latino caucus.
Tickets to the swearing-in are free and have been distributed to community groups, activists and others. The state attorney general, insurance commissioner and state superintendent of public instruction all plan to watch as de Leon is sworn in by California Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye.
After the ceremony, guests can attend a reception in a blocked-off street outside the concert hall, with food and drinks paid for by the caucus.
The chairman of the caucus, Sen. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, has reported more than $81,000 in contributions were made this year to the California Latino Caucus Foundation, including $25,000 from Chevron, $10,000 from the Western Growers Association, an agriculture trade group, and $10,000 from Esai Inc., a pharmaceutical company. He reported raising $114,000 for the foundation in 2013.
Previous ceremonies took place at the state Capitol and have been relatively low-key, according to the California State Library’s research bureau. An exception was former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, whose elevation to Assembly speaker in 1998 featured a mariachi band. He was the only politician in the Assembly or Senate to previously refer to his swearing-in as an inauguration, the researchers found.
De Leon’s opponent on the November ballot, fellow Democrat Peter Choi, said the event shows the Democratic Party is not in touch with voters.
Terming it an inauguration shows “a certain arrogance,” Choi said.