Abel Maldonado attends a press event in 2010 held by the then opposing candidate… (Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles…)
Former lieutenant governor and state lawmaker Abel Maldonado filed papers Thursday to explore a run for governor.
The move allows Maldonado, a Santa Maria Republican, to begin raising money as he decides whether to challenge Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown, who is up for reelection in 2014.
"It's time for a new direction. We need a new way," said Maldonado, 45. "Some will resist the change, and to those, I say you will like irrelevance even less. I think it's time that we move forward with some bold ideas, bold solutions and I believe we can do better as Californians."
Maldonado, a moderate who lost a congressional race in Central California last year, had been widely believed to be planning a gubernatorial run and had said he would make a decision soon.
The California Republican Party hasn't elected a statewide candidate since 2006, and GOP voter registration in the state is at less than 30% — a historic low. Fred Davis, who is advising Maldonado on media and advertising strategy, acknowledged that a race against Brown would be difficult.
"Obviously it's a tough race. Obviously Jerry Brown is popular," Davis said. "But we live in a state that is absolutely about to fall into the abyss. At some point the average guy is going to figure that out."
John Weaver, who worked on the presidential campaigns of Sen. John McCain and Jon Huntsman Jr., has signed on as senior advisor. Vincent Harris will lead Maldonado's online effort.
Davis said he believed Maldonado's family history would appeal to a broad cross-section of voters, including Latinos, who will be critical in deciding the next governor. "There's just something about him that is the American dream," Davis said.
Maldonado's parents are Mexican Americans who once worked in the fields and now own a large farming operation on the Central Coast.
"My dad always says only in America can a poor man and a poor woman meet each other, work hard, save and plan and eventually see their son as the lieutenant governor of California," Maldonado said.
Married with four children, Maldonado was appointed to the No. 2 post in 2010 by then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger after John Garamendi was elected to Congress. Schwarzenegger made the move after Maldonado, then a state senator, crossed party lines in 2009 to vote for tax increases.
He sought to keep the post in the 2010 election but lost to current Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom. In 2012, Maldonado sought unsuccessfully to unseat U.S. Rep. Lois Capps, a Democrat who has long represented the Santa Barbara area. He had made an unsuccessful bid for state controller in 2006.
Democrats pointed to those losses.
"This is a candidate who couldn't get elected to Congress in his home district less than five months ago," said Tenoch Flores, spokesman for the California Democratic Party.
Ace Smith, a spokesman for Brown's political operation, said Maldonado "represents the failed policies of the past." If he decides to run, Smith said, "voters will have a clear choice between someone who nearly bankrupted the state and someone who got the state back on its feet."
Republicans not involved in any current gubernatorial campaign said a Maldonado run could help the party rebuild and reach out to Latino voters.
"He has a biography that is very attractive for a Republican Party that is trying to progress its image with California voters," said GOP strategist Rob Stutzman. But Brown "is a Democrat. Obviously he has a significant advantage. He'll have all the resources that he'll need" and the advantage of incumbency.
Still, Stutzman said, "we're a long way from a November '14 election. Things could change."
Republican Assemblyman Tim Donnelly of Twin Peaks is also considering a run, and Orange County businessman Neel Kashkari has hired a pollster and is believed to be weighing a bid.