State politicians aren’t sure about Maldonado’s chances for lieutenant governor.
Thursday, December 17, 2009
If the governor has his way, State Sen. Abel Maldonado, who represents coastal Monterey County, will be in the lieutenant governor’s chair in February, leaving Democrats and Republicans to engage in a rare battle for his state Senate seat.
But that’s a big if.
“I’ve managed to upset both sides,” Maldonado says on a visit to the Weekly, part of a swing through the state to argue his confirmation case. “If it’s qualifications and the ability to do the job, which are the requirements of the constitution, there won’t be an obstacle. But if it’s straight political, I could have some challenges.”
The moderate Republican crossed party lines to break a state budget impasse earlier this year, angering fellow GOP legislators. “We were on the verge of bankruptcy,” Maldonado says. “I wasn’t raised not to pay my bills.”
As lieutenant governor, Maldonado could shift the balance of power on the State Lands Commission, whose members voted 2-1 to ban oil drilling off the California coast last February. Maldonado says his voting record against off-shore drilling speaks for itself. However, The San Luis Obispo Tribune recently reported that he wouldn’t “unequivocally oppose” it.
“WE WERE ON THE VERGE OF BANKRUPTCY. I WASN’T RAISED NOT TO PAY MY BILLS.”
The Legislature has until Feb. 16 to vote on the nomination, but if it fails to act, Maldonado automatically becomes lieutenant governor.
Editorials from The San Jose Mercury News to The Los Angeles Times support his confirmation. But Democratic Party chair John Burton has said no way will Maldonado win the post.
Former State Assemblyman Fred Keeley, who strongly denies rumors he’s eyeing Maldonado’s Senate seat, agrees. “I’d be willing to bet my tasseled loafers that the only way Abel Maldonado is going to become lieutenant governor is if he runs in an election,” he says.
Senate President Pro-Tem Darrel Steinberg (D-Sacramento), who would head the confirmation process as Senate Rules Committee Chair, declined to comment but has expressed concerns about the cost of a special election to replace Maldonado.
Still, if Maldonado leaves the Senate, it could be a big win for Democrats, putting them just one vote away from the two-thirds majority needed to pass a budget. Maldonado notes that when he was elected five years ago, Republicans enjoyed a 1 percent voter registration advantage in the district, which stretches along the coast from Santa Maria to Santa Cruz. Now, Democrats have a 6 percent edge.
Republican political observer Jack Pitney, a professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, says he’d advise the Democrats to use it. “But they seem to be placing more emphasis on a desire to deny Gov. Schwarzenegger victory,” he says.
That’s not a good way to reward someone like Maldonado, who reaches across the aisle for compromise, observes Republican political consultant Allen Hoffenblum. “How the hell can they get him to vote [their way] if they slap him in the face?” he asks.
The race is a tantalizing prospect for former Santa Cruz Assemblyman John Laird, a Democrat, who is seriously considering a run. “I’m being encouraged from so many quarters, but I have to take a cool look,” he says, noting that President Obama easily carried the district, and that Prop 8, the anti-gay marriage initiative, which was approved statewide, lost by three points there – both favorable trends for Laird.
Assemblyman Bill Monning (D-Carmel), who was also rumored to be mulling the race, says he’s inclined to stay put, adding that he’s more concerned with how Maldonado would vote on off-shore oil drilling as lieutenant governor.
On the Republican side, Assembly Minority Leader Sam Blakeslee of San Luis Obispo and Monterey’s Jeff Davi, who now serves as a Schwarzenegger appointee to the state Real Estate Commission, are both thought to be considering running. Blakeslee declined an interview request and Davi says it’s premature to comment.
If Maldonado is confirmed, he’d likely face State Sen. Sam Aanestad (R-Grass Valley) in a 2010 primary. State Sen. Dean Florez (D-Shafter) and Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn have surfaced as potential Democratic opponents.
But a stint as lieutenant governor is no sure path to power for an ambitious politico like Maldonado. “If you look at the list of people who have held the job,” Pitney says, “most of them have rocketed to obscurity.”