Whitman recently launched her Latino Coalition; her campaign said it meant to "engage Latinos in the Republican Party and involve them in unprecedented ways."
Unintended consequences surface in politics as in life, and that is another concern for those trying to figure out whether to block Maldonado or sanction his appointment. The state's last free-for-all nomination process involved Gov. George Deukmejian's appointment of a little-known Republican member of Congress, Dan Lungren, as treasurer after the death of incumbent Democrat Jesse M. Unruh in 1987.
After a raucous debate, the nomination was scuttled by Senate Democrats. And Lungren's martyrdom helped propel him into two terms as attorney general and a run for governor as the GOP nominee in 1998. He is now back in Congress.
The circumstances were different -- Lungren was a dependable GOP vote -- but Democrats with memories were a little queasy last week about potentially turning a little-known legislator into a Latino victim of politics-as-usual.
Ultimately, Maldonado's fate may give the state another clue about where it is on matters of ethnic politics. Republican strategist Mike Madrid, who has long worked to open his party to Latinos, said he believes that times have changed enough that the nomination battle, if there is one, will not center on ethnicity.
"Time and the demographics of these things have changed," he said, alluding to Latino progress in elective office. "Is the Latino community going to be rallying around or lying awake at night or coming to his defense? No, they're not going to."
But others suggest that, if nothing else, the changing California is going to force legislators to stop and think.
"The Democrats now have to think about voting against a Latino," said USC political scientist Sherry Bebitch Jeffe. "And so do the Republicans."
Each Sunday, The Week examines implications of major stories. It is archived at latimes.com/theweek.