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Democrat Newsom and Republican Maldonado for lieutenant governor

The two are the most qualified among their respective primary fields to become governor at a moment's notice.

April 28, 2010

Los Angeles City Councilwoman Janice Hahn comes to the race for lieutenant governor with a solid grasp of the duties she would face, which include serving on the state Lands Commission, the Ocean Protection Council, the California Commission for Economic Development and the UC Board of Regents. She would clearly hit the ground running in those positions. Her rival in the Democratic primary, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, is a recent convert to the lieutenant governor's race, having ridiculed the position when he was running instead for governor.

On the Republican side, state Sen. Sam Aanestad of Grass Valley enters the contest with a record of consistent and principled conservatism. He often backs positions The Times editorial page opposes, and vice versa, but it's hard to argue against the need in California's budget-busted environment for someone in a high-profile position who can skillfully articulate why we cannot continue spending more money than we have. He is facing off against Abel Maldonado, confirmed just this week as the appointed lieutenant governor after weeks of allegations from both sides of the aisle about his state Senate vote more than a year ago in favor of a compromise budget deal. That vote, critics charge, was less a matter of crossing the aisle in a spirit of cooperation than it was part of a bargain made in service of his own ambition.

The lieutenant governor's office might just be the perfect place for Hahn to work behind the scenes or for Aanestad to make a point. And yet The Times endorses, without hesitation, Newsom and Maldonado.

Why? Because despite all the make-work aspects of the job, the lieutenant governor is the governor's stand-in, and whoever fills the job must be ready to become governor at a moment's notice. Newsom, for all his cockiness, is a dynamic leader — one who is more suited than Hahn to guide the state, and one who in the meantime is more likely to use the platform of his position in a creative and constructive fashion, even if he's not currently an expert on the duties of the state Lands Commission. California needs Newsom's combination of brashness and smarts. Maldonado brings his own brand of brashness and exhibits the pragmatic centrism that California has been lacking of late. He'd be more likely than Aanestad to be a governor who could promote accomplishment over partisanship.

Newsom's task, if he prevails on June 8, will be to demonstrate in the coming five-month campaign that he can put his talents to use as lieutenant governor, rather than merely checking his Twitter account regularly for news about the governor's health. Maldonado, if he gets the Republican nod, must show there is some substance to back up his pragmatism. It may not be the state's most riveting race, but the candidates — if they are up to it — can make it a worthwhile debate for Californians.

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