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Schwarzenegger taps Abel Maldonado for lieutenant governor

The Republican has crossed the aisle on some key votes and also aspires to being elected to the job next year, making his confirmation by the full Legislature less than certain.

November 24, 2009|By Shane Goldmacher
  • Moderate Republican Abel Maldonado's appointment as lieutenant governor to replace John Garamendi, who was elected to Congress, needs legislative approval.
Moderate Republican Abel Maldonado's appointment as lieutenant… (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Sacramento — State Sen. Abel Maldonado, a moderate Republican from Santa Maria who has parted with his caucus on key votes at the request of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, has been chosen by Schwarzenegger to be the next lieutenant governor.

Schwarzenegger, a fellow Republican, made the announcement Monday at a taping of "The Jay Leno Show."

If confirmed by the Legislature, Maldonado would replace John Garamendi, a Walnut Grove Democrat, who was recently elected to Congress.

The governor called Maldonado "a terrific, loyal man that has worked very hard in public service." He added: "But he's also into bipartisanship and post-partisanship, so he can cross the aisle. He makes decisions based on what's best for the people rather than what's best for the party."

Conservatives view Maldonado, who voted for tax increases last year despite having signed a pledge not to do so, as heretical. Moreover, Democratic leaders, who hold the legislative majority, warned Schwarzenegger against appointing a GOP politician with designs on being elected to the job when the current term expires next year.

The 42-year-old Maldonado has long been interested in higher office.

He has also been among the few ideological allies Schwarzenegger has had in the Legislature. In February, Maldonado was one of six Republicans to support Schwarzenegger's push for a temporary tax increase as part of the state's spending plan.

But first, he insisted that the package include a proposition for the statewide ballot that would open primary elections in California to voters of all political parties. The measure, which would benefit political moderates such as him, will go before voters in June.

Maldonado comes from an immigrant family that built its small family farm into a thriving agricultural business with several hundred acres of land and a large staff. He spoke at two national Republican Party conventions, including last year's. He ran for state controller in 2006, losing to a more conservative Republican in the primary election.

The lieutenant governorship is largely a ceremonial post, though the official sits on several boards, including the University of California regents, the California State University trustees and the State Lands Commission. The latter board, with Garamendi as the swing vote, rejected the expansion of an offshore oil drilling platform near the Santa Barbara coast earlier this year.

The Legislature has 90 days to act on Maldonado's appointment. If a majority of either house disapproves, the nomination is rejected.

Several of Maldonado's colleagues in the state Senate are running for lieutenant governor and are likely to pressure others to vote against him.

"I don't see the Senate confirming him," said one such senator, Democrat Dean Florez of Shafter, in a statement Monday.

But Democrats could have something to gain by approving Maldonado. His Senate district is one of the state's few swing districts, and voter registration there leans Democratic.

If he vacated the seat, Democrats might win it, gaining one of the two remaining votes they need to secure a two-thirds majority in the Senate. Two-thirds support is necessary to raise taxes and pass a budget in the Legislature.

State Sen. Jeff Denham (R-Atwater) has said that if Maldonado is confirmed and runs for the office next year, Denham will run against him. "It is difficult to see how a candidate who has voted for a massive tax increase could possibly win a statewide Republican primary," Denham said.

Monday was not the first time Schwarzenegger dropped political news on a Jay Leno program.

It was on the "Tonight Show" that Schwarzenegger first announced his candidacy for governor in the recall election of 2003.

shane.goldmacher@

latimes.com

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