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Senate Committee Approves Schwarzenegger's Pick for Lieutenant Governor

by Greg Lucas, published

Gov Arnold Schwarzenegger’s pick to fill the vacant lieutenant governor’s job was unanimously approved on a bipartisan vote by the Senate Rules Committee on February 3.  Sen. Abel Maldonado, a Santa Maria Republican, was approved on a 4 to 0 vote. Sen. Sam Aanestad, a Grass Valley Republican, didn’t vote because he is a candidate for lieutenant governor. 

“This has been something I never thought I would go through, this process. I’ll never forget where I come from. I’ll never forget whose money government spends. Most important, I’ll never forget who put me in office,” Maldonado said before the committee vote.  To take office, the full Senate and the 80-member Assembly must still approve Maldonado. The state constitution says that if those votes don’t occur within 90 days he would also be able to take office.

The clock runs out February 23, the same day lawmakers must act on a series of emergency budget-cutting measures. Any bill increasing taxes would require the support of a handful of Republicans, such as Maldonado.  If he takes office, Maldonado would be the only California Latino statewide officeholder.

A key reason for Democratic support in the committee for Maldonado was his breaking with fellow republicans and voting in February 2009 to pass a budget that included temporary tax increases to help close a $42 billion budget gap between revenues and spending commitments. “You crossed over last year -- and other times -- and last year to help avoid $25 billion of even deeper cuts to vital public investments including education and higher education,” said Senate President Pro tempore Darrell Steinberg, Sacramento Democrat, before casting an “aye” vote for Maldonado.

In exchange for his support of the budget, Maldonado, 42, insisted on three things: Placement of a constitutional amendment on the June 2010 ballot to create open primaries in state elections, a ballot measure to ban raises for legislators in years when the state is in the red and elimination of a proposed 12-cent gas tax increase.

The open primary ballot measure was written by the California Independent Voter Project, which helped create the California Independent Voter Network.

While Maldonado largely supported the positions of the GOP governor who nominated him, he told the committee that deeper cuts to public schools and social programs cause greater harm to the economy. Multi-billion cuts -- $2.4 billion for public schools alone -- are called for in both areas in Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Maldonado, who described himself as “open-minded, reasonable and pragmatic,” also appeared to break with the governor over a proposal to expand offshore drilling in Santa Barbara. Schwarzenegger proposes uses $100 million in oil lease royalties from expanded drilling off Santa Barbra to help balance his budget. The lieutenant governor is one of three members of the State lands Commission which regulates offshore drilling in state waters, which extend three miles out to sea.  Maldonado said he opposes the project because even though the company that would receive the go-ahead to increase drilling has committed to removing its platforms, that agreement isn’t enforceable because the platforms are in federal waters. 

“Could you vote for the proposal if there was a federal guarantee the platforms come down?” Steinberg asked. Maldonado said if there was such an assurance he would consider voting for the increased drilling.

The lieutenant governor also sits on the University of California Board of Regents and the California State University Board of Trustees.  Maldonado, who recounted how he picked strawberries with his parents as a child, said he didn’t “see where we can add another fee” to the 32 percent increase already approved by the regents. He said he favored greater savings at the University of California’s “executive level.”

If confirmed, Maldonado would fill out the last year of John Garamendi’s term. Garamendi vacated the office after being elected to Congress in a special election in 2009.  A factor in whether Maldonado wins confirmation is a belief among some Democrats that they could take his coastal seat, which stretches from San Luis Obispo into Monterey and Santa Cruz. Former Assemblyman John Laird, a Santa Cruz Democrat, has expressed interest in running for the seat.

Sen. Gil Cedillo, a Los Angeles Democrat, made the motion to approve Maldonado saying he did so in the spirit of “comity” and the collegial traditions of the Senate, despite his differing political views. The Senate’s new GOP leader, Bob Dutton of Rancho Cucamonga, voted for Maldonado but said that, like Cedillo, “I too share my philosophy with Abel about 50 percent of the time. So maybe he is the right person.”

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