SACRAMENTO -- The leave of absence by Sen. Roderick Wright (D-Inglewood) has left the 40-person state Senate with just one African American member, a situation that is sparking concern about a lack of diversity.

Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), now the chamber's only black member, said more needs to be done to encourage underrepresented groups, including women and African Americans, to run for office.

"We need more diversity," said Mitchell, who is hosting a forum on promoting political leadership by black women during the California Democratic Party's state convention this weekend in Los Angeles.

Wright took a leave of absence pending a May 16 court hearing in which he will ask a judge to invalidate a jury’s verdict that found the senator guilty of eight felonies, including perjury and voter fraud. Prosecutors said Wright lied when he said he lived in the 35th Senate District.

If the verdicts are confirmed, Wright will have to choose whether to resign or face expulsion by the Senate, according to Senate leaders. A special election would be held in a district whose demographics are shifting.

Today, 35% of the registered voters in the district are Latino and 31% are African American, according to the California Target Book, which analyzes political contests in the state.

Democratic Assemblymen Steven Bradford of Gardena and Isadore Hall of Compton live in the Senate district and are members of the Legislative Black Caucus, and California Target Book said one or both would probably run in a special election if the seat became open.

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