For Donnelly, who did not return calls from The Times, the gun episode is an issue in his reelection effort. "It's been a huge embarrassment to responsible gun owners like myself,'' said challenger William Jahn, mayor of Big Bear Lake. The other contestant is John Coffey, a Democratic educator from Barstow.
It remains to be seen whether arrests will cost the lawmakers their jobs.
Voters do look at such things as candidates' legal problems, said Allan Hoffenblum, who analyzes election contests in his nonpartisan California Target Book. But he noted that other elected officials have run afoul of the law and still salvaged their government careers.
Former state Sen. Art Torres, a Democrat from Los Angeles, pleaded no contest to drunk driving in 1987 and 1990 but was later elected to a third term and subsequently headed the state Democratic Party. After state Sen. Roy Ashburn (R-Bakersfield) pleaded no contest to drunk driving in 2010, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed him to a $128,109-a-year post on the state Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board.
Voters may no longer see their representatives' troubles as abnormal, said Michael Josephson, founder of an ethics advocacy group in Los Angeles.
"We're in an era when people are on one hand more cynical and on the other hand more forgiving,'' he said. "I guess there is a percentage of voters who are willing to say, 'This is my guy, good or bad.'"