The Maldondo Confirmation: Abel Was I Ere I Saw . . . State Politics
If, as once suggested by John Nance Garner that the vice presidency of the United States isn’t worth “a bucket of warm spit” (“spit” being a PG-13 version of a different bodily function Garner had in mind), then what can we say about the lieutenant governor of California?
Sure, the LG sits on university boards and gets to weigh in on environmental measures as a voting member of the State Lands Commission. Besides getting to serve as acting governor when the real McCoy leaves state airspace, he’s first in line for the top job should something occur to the guv.
But otherwise, it’s dullsville — a few quick remarks before the State of the State Address, checking to see if the governor is out of state, out of power, or in the obit pages. The most recent lieutenant governor underscored the needlessness of the office: John Garamendi turned two whales’ misadventure up the Sacramento into a sad effort to make himself relevant to local media.
That said, it’s the fight over Garamendi’s would-be successor — State Sen Abel Maldonado — that speaks volumes about the current state of California politics. My old boss, Gov. Pete Wilson, argues for his case in today’s San Diego Union-Tribune.
On paper, Maldonado’s confirmation should be a no-brainer. His parents came to California in the 1960s to work as braceros, saved their earnings and bought a small parcel of land where they grew strawberries. Today, the Maldonado family is one of America’s largest growers of broccoli and cauliflower.
As for the son, he tilled political soil. At 27, he was on the cover of Time as the nation’s youngest mayor (Santa Maria, Calif.). At present, he represents a state senate district that spans central and coastal California, which requires the need and the talent to balance both Republican and Democratic sensibilities. Should Maldonado become lieutenant governor of California, he would be the first Hispanic to hold that job.
Yesterday, Maldonado underwent his first confirmation hearing in Sacramento. Pretty, it wasn’t. And that’s because there’s nothing particularly pretty about state politics these days.
But we did learn two things:
1) The Budget, Spending and Taxes. Senate leader Darrel Steinberg repeatedly pressed Maldonado on the state’s fiscal outlook — taxes, spending, the budget process. Maldonado tried to play it straight down the middle: he might go along with a proposal to increase the tax withholding on independent contractors; he won’t buy into an elimination of the two-third vote requirement for adopting budgets. Steinberg and the Democrats will continue to push for higher taxes as a better alternative to spending cuts. If Governor Schwarzenegger wants his pick, it may come at a steep price — like privating promising the Democratic leadership that he’ll go lighter than advertised on education and safety-net cuts.
2) “It’s Not Easy Being Green”. If the budget puts Maldonado in a box with Democrats, the environment and offshore oil do the same as far as skeptical Republicans are concerned. Schwarzenegger wants to drill, for revenues’ sake; Maldonado so far says he’s a no vote if the matter were to come before the Lands Commission. That pleases the Democrats voting on Maldonado’s fate but kinda leaves him sideways with the guy who first offered the job — not to mention GOP activists who might be going for him June primary (both for drilling and Maldonado’s siding with Arnold on last year’s budget deal).
Watch for both of these dynamics to spill over into the rest of the legislative session, as well as the big two statewide races. Will Arnold cave into pressure from the Democrats over budget cuts? Will Republican candidates stick to their guns (and their drill bits) over offshore oil exploration?
Stay tuned. The Legislature has until Feb. 22 to give a thumbs-up or thumbs-down on Maldonado, otherwise he automatically gets the job.