SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A 2011 surveillance video shows a woman with a bag walking into a Neiman Marcus store and trying on clothes. She buys some items and returns others before being stopped outside the high-end department store by security workers.
The woman was then-state Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi, who pleaded no contest in the shoplifting case a few months later and was placed on three years' probation.
Now, the Democrat is asking voters in state Senate District 10 in the San Francisco Bay Area to send her back to the Legislature.
Her campaign in the June 3 primary election has the potential to become yet another black eye for the Senate, where three Democrats have been charged in felony cases and suspended.
In recent months, two senators pleaded not guilty to federal corruption charges, while another is awaiting sentencing after being convicted of voter fraud and perjury.
If elected, Hayashi would still be on probation for misdemeanor grand theft when she is seated in December.
Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg declined to comment about whether a Hayashi win in the district would hinder his efforts to rebuild public trust in the 40-member chamber.
After the suspensions, Steinberg ordered senators and staff members to take an ethics training class and cancelled the caucus' most lucrative fundraiser. In addition, a number of campaign finance reforms and ethical practices have been proposed in recent months.
Meanwhile, Hayashi's Democratic opponent, Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski, has exploited her run-in with the law by posting a two-minute clip of the surveillance tape — complete with narration and suspenseful music — on the website MugShotMary.com.
The posting also notes that Hayashi was arrested during her final term in the Assembly and says she walked out of the store with a white blouse, black skirt and leather pants worth nearly $2,500.
"Do we really need another criminal representing us in Sacramento?" the website asks.
Hayashi's well-funded campaign has fought back, accusing Wieckowski through campaign mailers and the website Bob-The-Bully.com of bullying women and minorities.
Her BobProtectedRapists.com website hits the bankruptcy attorney for casting the lone committee vote against a bill that prevents people convicted of sexually assaulting a spouse from receiving alimony after a divorce.
Wieckowski said it's fair to question Hayashi's fitness for the Senate seat if there is doubt about her honesty and integrity — especially after the suspensions of the three senators.
"It tarnishes the Legislature as well as city councils and school boards because we lose the public trust and we lose the confidence people have in us to govern," he said.
Hayashi said Wieckowski is exploiting her "painful" incident to gain a political advantage. She said she unintentionally walked out of the store without paying for the items, accepted responsibility and apologized.
"My life and my accomplishments are so much more than one personal mistake," she said.
In recent months, Democratic Sens. Ronald Calderon of Montebello and Leland Yee of San Francisco were indicted on federal bribery and corruption charges. Calderon is charged with accepting $100,000 in bribes for friends and family in exchange for influencing legislation, while Yee was accused of accepting bribes and orchestrating weapons trafficking to help pay off campaign debts.
Another Democrat, Sen. Rod Wright, was convicted for lying about the location of his legal residence in Los Angeles County.
A recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California suggests that Californians are largely unfazed by the charges against the lawmakers.
Some 36 percent of likely voters statewide say they approve of the way the Legislature is handling its job. That's about the same as it was in January, before the lawmakers were suspended, and even higher than the Legislature's 29 percent approval rating a year ago.
The Senate seat sought by Hayashi includes western Alameda County and parts of San Jose and Santa Clara. Half of the registered voters are Democrats, 17 percent are Republicans, and 25 percent are not affiliated with any party.
Under California's top-two primary format, Hayashi and Wieckowski could both survive the primary and face each other again in the November general election. Peter Kuo, an insurance agent, is the lone Republican in the race.
No matter the outcome, one observer says the contest has provided entertaining political theater.
"It's great to watch," said Larry Gerston, a political science professor at San Jose State University.